Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.Hello, and welcome to the latest edition of RISKS, the TUC’s weekly update on union health and safety news. If you find this info useful, why not forward it to a colleague? They can sign up to RISKS here.
Unions have demanded that hard-won workers’ rights are protected after media reports suggested that Jacob Rees-Mogg is drawing up a list comprising over 1,000 EU-derived regulations to be ripped up, including workplace safety, employment and environmental protections. The TUC said these rules provide an essential protection against the erosion of working conditions, which are already under threat. And Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors’ union Prospect, said: “No-one is clamouring for a bonfire of red tape, not business nor unions. This an obvious distraction designed to buy off the prime minister’s backbench critics.” TUC news release
. Prospect news release
. The Express
Conservative ministers committed a ‘criminal injustice against working people’ by letting so many die unnecessarily during the Covid-19 pandemic, BFAWU’s national president has said. Speaking at the union’s conference, Ian Hodson said unions were the safe choice and called on workers to “organise in our workplaces and make demands to improve our lives.” He said: “You can see the difference in lives lost in non-organised workplaces compared to ones which are organised by trade unions that have health and safety committees.” He added: “If people feel that they are unsafe in the workplace due to an outbreak of coronavirus, then they have the right to remove themselves. And if our members decide to take that action, this union will support them.” Morning Star
and related story
Overstretched NHS staff often have no time for breaks or food during their shifts and are worried this is affecting their ability to do their jobs, according to a UNISON survey. More than half (53 per cent) said they are unable to take regular breaks and almost one in six (16 per cent) only have time to grab snacks like crisps or chocolate during busy shifts. The figures are based on a survey of 8,573 health staff working in hospitals or mental health trusts across the UK. Some (7 per cent) say they never take a break, one in seven (15 per cent) only rarely and three in ten (31 per cent) only do sometimes, according to the results. UNISON said this non-stop work culture has been triggered by intolerable pressures on the NHS caused in part by staff shortages and the pandemic-related treatment backlog. UNISON news release
The haulage industry should be given a two-year deadline to recruit more lorry drivers and improve facilities or face a new supply chain levy, a group of MPs has said. The transport select committee said the sector needed to “get its house in order.” It called for minimum standards for facilities, including security, clean showers, toilets, healthy food options and services for female drivers. The committee said a lack of high-quality facilities for drivers to rest overnight was "a key reason" for people leaving the industry. Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “This report is another flashing warning light on the state of the road freight industry in this country.” She added: “The logistics giants need to stop hoarding the profits and start investing in the workforce.” Unite news release
. Transport select committee news release
and report, Road freight supply chain
, 1 June 2022. BBC News Online
Cheshire firefighters have spoken out against a move to send them to incidents with no firefighting equipment except a single fire extinguisher. The plan requires attendance by just two to three firefighters, and in a pick-up truck rather than a fire engine. Firefighters’ union FBU has issued a ‘Safety Critical Notice’ to Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service in relation to the policy, which means it believes there is a serious breach of health and safety guidelines. Ordinarily, a minimum of four firefighters in a fire engine would be sent to incidents. Andrew Fox-Hewitt, FBU Cheshire brigade secretary, said: “This is a ridiculous plan with little proper assessment or planning and we are appalled that this is even being considered. The union will use all tools at its disposal to protect the health and safety of its members.” FBU news release
Violence and abuse against shopworkers more than tripled during the pandemic as social distancing and face mask restrictions were enforced, according to new figures. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said the number of incidents surged to 1,301 each day in the year to March 2021, from 455 per day a year earlier. Helen Dickinson, chief executive of trade body, commented: “As our colleagues implemented Covid safety measures to keep the public safe, too many were met with hostility, abuse, threats and assault.” BRC said 125 of these daily incidents included violence. Only 4 per cent of incidents resulted in a prosecution, despite incidents of violence and abuse soaring. Shopworkers’ union Usdaw tweeted to remind members to report every incident and to “make sure all incidents are recorded.” Usdaw news release
. BRC news release
. Morning Star
Retail trade union Usdaw has given evidence to MPs on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Future of Retail, highlighting the challenges workers face with the introduction of new technology and focussing on the greater use of self-service tills. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis singled-out self-service checkouts as one problem area. “Many customers feel forced into using self-service checkouts, leading to their frustrations being taken out on staff. Shopworkers suffer significant stress and feel overstretched when covering banks of self-service tills, with having to deal with so many customers at the same time,” he said. “Well paid shopworkers, in secure jobs, who are valued and respected are what is best for business.” Usdaw news release
and policy statement on technology and automation
An Aberdeen tea firm has lost its appeal against a decision to allow hundreds of Kenyan plantation workers who say they have been injured picking tea to sue for compensation. James Finlay (Kenya) Limited’s bid to have the legal challenge thrown out was rejected by Scotland’s most senior judges at the Court of Session in Edinburgh. Around 1,500 past and present employees have claimed they suffered musculoskeletal injuries through excessive demands placed on them by the company. Lawyers for the firm said there was a “vagueness” to the claims and an “absence of supporting material”. It emerged that there is an ongoing legal battle in the Kenyan courts, where Finlay obtained an injunction to prevent health and safety experts from inspecting working conditions. Press and Journal
Dust exposures on the London Underground system have the potential to cause serious illness to station staff, research has revealed. The first study on the impact of particulate matter (PM) from an underground railway found exposure increased the risk of pneumococcal infections such as pneumonia. Professor Jonathan Grigg, who led the Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) research team, called for a new study comparing the health of Tube drivers and platform staff with those working closer to the surface. He said the investigation made the “remarkable finding” that there was increased mortality from pneumococcal infection in mice exposed to the dust and demonstrated the ability of bacteria to enter the body. Laboratory tests were also done using human cells, which confirmed the ability of the dust to harm humans.
Lisa Miyashita and others. Underground railway particulate matter and susceptibility to pneumococcal infection
, The Lancet eBioMedicine, volume 80, 104063, 1 June 2022. Evening Standard
Two construction bosses have received suspended sentences after a worker suffered mortal injuries when he fell over five metres through fragile roof panels. Newcastle Crown Court heard that on 16 November 2015, 25-year-old Anthony Spence fell as he was carrying out over-cladding work, involving the installation of new roofing material over the existing fragile asbestos cement roof. Ian Blacklin pleaded guilty to three criminal safety offences and was sentenced to 16 months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months. Dennis Spence also pleaded guilty to three breaches and was sentenced to 14 months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months. HSE inspector Andrea Robbins commented: “In this case there was a significant failure to plan and manage the over-cladding of roofs over fragile roofing material.” HSE news release
Delivery company Hermes Parcelnet Ltd has been fined £850,000 after pleading guilty to criminal health and safety offences that saw a worker crushed to death at a panel depot. David Kennedy, 43, was working at the firm’s parcel sorting office at Eurocentral near Motherwell on 19 March 2019, when the incident took place at 10.15pm. He was undergoing training with a colleague on how to operate a trailer mover. Mr Kennedy was left pinned against a stationary trailer after the tiler head of the trailer mover slipped off and struck him in the chest. He died from his injuries two days later. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation led to the criminal proceedings against Hermes, after it emerged safety procedures had not been followed. Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service news release
. Daily Record
A North Wales company that manufactures sofas and chairs has been fined after failing to ensure the risks to workers from vibrating tools was sufficiently risk assessed and managed. Westbridge Furniture Designs Limited did not have a thorough risk assessment, adequate controls to manage exposure to vibration, or any health surveillance in place. At least two employees had been expected to carry out their normal duties, even though they had been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. One of the employees suffered permanent nerve damage and is no longer able to work. The company pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay costs of £14,033.50. HSE news release
A fire and a huge explosion have killed at least 41 people and injured hundreds more at a storage depot near the city of Chittagong, Bangladesh. Hundreds of people had arrived to tackle the 4 June fire when a number of shipping containers exploded at the site in Sitakunda. Authorities said some highly dangerous chemicals stored in the containers were ‘mislabelled’. As firefighters, police and volunteers tried to extinguish the blaze a huge explosion rocked the site, engulfing many of the rescuers in flames and throwing debris and people into the air. At least five firefighters were among those killed and several more were injured. ILO statement
. BBC News Online
Around 400 women workers at a giant garment factory in a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in India fell ill on 3 June after inhaling an unidentified hazardous gas. Some workers at the Brandix India Apparel factory in Atchutapuram fainted, others complained of headaches, stomach pain, vomiting, nausea, and burning eyes. The factory employs 22,000 people, 18,000 of which are women, and did not have healthcare facilities on site. Union access is restricted in the SEZs, making organising difficult, said the global union for the sector, IndustriALL. It added the low unionisation rate makes it difficult for workers to speak out against plant owners’ negligence. IndustriALL news release
South Korean truck drivers have started an ‘unlimited’ national strike action in defence of the country’s ‘Safe Rates’ system. The KPTU-TruckSol union estimates 15,000 members participated in strike rallies held in 16 locations across the country on 7 June, and several thousand more drivers, both members and non-members, joined the strike in solidarity. The roughly 6.5 per cent of truck drivers - those driving in the container and bulk cement sectors - who are covered by South Korea’s Safe Rates system have been cushioned from the cost of living crisis, allowing them to make a living without driving dangerously long hours, speeding, or overloading their vehicles. However the conservative Yoon Seok-youl government intends to phase out Safe Rates by the end of this year. ITF news release
Most working age Americans who died of Covid-19 during the first year of the pandemic were so-called ‘essential workers’ in labouring, service and retail jobs that required on-site attendance and prolonged contact with others, a study has found. The investigation of Covid deaths in 2020 affirms that those who could not work from home and who toiled in low-paying jobs with few or no benefits, such as paid sick leave and health insurance coverage, bore the brunt of deaths during the pandemic’s first year, said Jason Salemi, an associate professor in the University of South Florida College of Public Health and a co-author of the study. Salemi said the finding that stood out for him was that among all 25- to 64-year-old adults in 2020, people in a low socioeconomic position made up about one-third of the working-age population but accounted for two-thirds of Covid-19 deaths for the same age group.
Pathak EB, Menard JM, Garcia RB, Salemi JL. Joint Effects of Socioeconomic Position, Race/Ethnicity, and Gender on COVID-19 Mortality among Working-Age Adults in the United States.
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2022; 19(9):5479. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19095479
. Miami Herald
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