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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.

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PPE profiteers undermined Covid safety

Unite has said ‘PPE profiteers’ must be held to account following a damning report from the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee (PAC). PAC identified ‘significant failings’ in the management of 176 PPE contracts worth £2.7 billion that led to a stockpile of almost 4 billion items that were not needed. Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The guilty profiteers must be held to account and so must the government ministers who abused their position to fast track firms they had links with.”
Unite news release. PAC news release and report.

Firefighters fight heatwave and ‘wrecked’ fire service

Firefighters have been on the frontline of the heatwave, but have ‘been stretched to the limit’ in a fire service ‘wrecked’ by government policy, their union FBU has said. It said 15 fire and rescue services declared major incidents as fires raged during record temperatures last week. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Firefighters are at the forefront of the climate emergency. The demands of the job are increasing but our resources have been under attack by government cuts for over a decade. 11,500 firefighter jobs have been slashed since 2010.” He added: “We will not accept a paltry pay offer of 2 per cent when the demands of the job are increasing, and the cost of food, fuel, energy and almost everything else is soaring.”
FBU news release.

Safety warning as dispute hits offshore vessel

Unite has warned safety could be jeopardised by any attempt to move an offshore vessel while safety critical crew are on strike over redundancy terms. Members have voted overwhelmingly in favour of continuous strike action from 5 August. The Foinaven vessel, approximately 120 miles west of the Shetland Isles, is owned by Teekay but operated by Altera staff and contracted to work for BP.  Vic Fraser, Unite industrial officer, warned there have “been ongoing safety concerns raised by workers that both Altera and BP are still forging ahead with plans to move the vessel when virtually the whole crew will be on an all-out indefinite strike.” He added: “The thought of having safety critical work done while in tow with no qualified competent crew working is a real concern.”
Unite news release.

Aviation workers suffering as work hours soar

Aviation workers across the entire sector are working excessive hours to keep air traffic functioning, research by Unite has found. The union says that the majority of cases workers report working 60 hours (including 20 hours of overtime) a week as standard. Unite has discovered some workers being expected to put in between 80 and 90 hours a week. Unite is becoming increasingly concerned about worker and passenger safety due to exhaustion and fatigue. In addition, workers, including cabin crew, report that they have on occasion being required to work beyond legal ‘flight time limitations’ as they haven’t received sufficient rest and are often denied the breaks and rest periods they are entitled to receive.
Unite news release.

Union safety warning over Tube staff cuts

Transport for London (TfL) plans to cut 600 frontline Tube customer service staff will have long term impacts on passenger safety, TSSA has warned. TSSA said members on London Underground “describe this as an accident waiting to happen. Our members want to be there for victims of assault and crime and deal with their reports sensitively, but soon we just won’t have the numbers.”
TSSA news release.

RMT campaign to save railway ticket offices

The rail union RMT has said it will attempt to stop the closure of all ticket offices on the railway network with a mass campaign across the country. The industry is carrying out a consultation in August and is scheduled to start the process of closing almost 1,000 offices from October, with the loss of thousands of jobs. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “We will fight this every step of the way with our national rail strike, and the public can help greatly by putting pressure on their local MP, telling the politicians they must oppose the closures.”
RMT news release. Sign the petition to save rail ticket offices.

ASLEF drives better train cab design

A ‘Better cab design’ campaign by train drivers’ union ASLEF has seen better, safer cabs introduced on London Underground’s new Elizabeth Line. The union says poorly designed cabs can be uncomfortable, too hot in summer and too cold in winter, and hard to adjust for people of different body shapes and sizes. An ASLEF survey confirmed a good quality cab needs to be “clean, adjustable and able to be temperature controlled.”
ASLEF news release, report and Better Driving Cabs campaign.

Worrying spike in shoplifting shows need for action

Usdaw has said it is ‘deeply concerned’ by a sharp increase in shoplifting and is calling for action to protect retail staff. Latest police recorded crime statistics show that between March 2021 and March 2022 there was a 21 per cent increase in shoplifting over the previous year. It says this represents a worrying reversal of the recent downward trend. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis commented: “Having to deal with repeated and persistent shoplifters can cause issues beyond the theft itself like anxiety, fear and in some cases physical harm to retail workers.”
Usdaw news release.


Tory leadership hopeful Truss wants a ‘bonfire of rights’

Hundreds of laws covering employment and environmental protections could disappear overnight if Liz Truss becomes prime minister, after she promised to scrap all remaining EU regulations by the end of 2023. Despite warnings about the scale and complexity of the task, Truss launched her leadership runoff campaign by promising a “sunset” for all EU-derived laws within 15 months – and these include many important safety rules.  Experts and union leaders said Truss’s proposals would be hugely difficult to achieve in the context of plans to get rid of one in five civil service jobs over the next three years, with warnings it could become a “bonfire of rights”. Another complication is the fact that diverging from EU standards in areas such as employment or environmental protections could bring retaliation from Brussels, given the terms of the post-Brexit trade deal, not least in terms of extra checks.
RMT news release. The Guardian.

Shift workers ‘can’t all adjust to a night shift’

A new study has challenged the widespread belief that shift workers adjust to the night shift. Using data drawn from wearable tech, scientists compared night-shift workers, working three or more nights of 10 hours each per week, and day-shifters alternating morning and afternoon shifts at a single university hospital. They found even workers who had been on night shifts for many years still showed negative effects on circadian and sleep health. The more years they had been on night work, the more severe the circadian disruption, contradicting assumptions about adaptation to night work. The authors say the findings could explain why previous research has linked disrupted circadian rhythms with long term health risks, including cancer and cardiovascular, metabolic and infectious diseases.
University of Warwick news release.  Digital circadian and sleep health in individual hospital shift workers: A cross sectional telemonitoring study

Rail regulator concerned at post-crash inaction

Concerns about Network Rail’s safety response to an Aberdeenshire train crash which claimed three lives have been raised by the industry regulator. The train hit a landslide near Stonehaven in 2020 after heavy rain, killing a passenger and two train staff. The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said Network Rail Scotland had failed to provide tangible supporting evidence to demonstrate steps taken so far to implement safety recommendations. ORR’s report said: “During our engagement, representatives from the region described the steps they have taken in response to their action plans but have subsequently failed to provide any tangible supporting evidence to demonstrate these. Network Rail Scotland also did not clearly articulate how each action plan will implement the relevant task force recommendations.”
BBC News Online.

B&M fined £1m after electrician's horrific injuries

Discount retailer B&M has been ordered to pay £1m after an electrician suffered horrific injuries in an explosion at the company's Speke headquarters and warehouse. Shahenur Rahman was put in an induced coma for a fortnight and needed skin grafts and surgery to save one of his hands after a "Catherine wheel of fire spiralled through the air”, while his body “blew up to four times its normal size.” B&M Retail Limited admitted two criminal safety breaches, while electrical contractor Daker Limited pleaded guilty to one. B&M was fined £1m and told to pay £4,978.30 in court costs. Daker would have faced a £12,000 fine, but this was reduced to a “nominal” amount of £100 due to its “dire financial straits.”
HSE news release. Liverpool Echo.

Director escapes jail for asbestos management crimes

A company director has evaded jail after failing to manage the risks of asbestos. A large quantity of asbestos-containing materials, including asbestos insulating board, were identified during an HSE inspection at factory premises in Kidderminster owned by Kespar Engineering Limited in February 2019, and was not effectively managed. Employees of both companies worked in the premises. The sole director for both companies was Peter Gerard Parkes. Kespar Engineering Ltd was fined £51,000 plus £30,000 costs. SDF Automotive Limited (in administration) was conditionally discharged for two years. Peter Gerard Parkes pleaded guilty to several criminal counts as a director of both companies and Smethwick Drop Forge Ltd and was given a 12 month suspended prison sentence, fined £9,000 and plus £14,000 costs.
HSE news release.


Australia: Unions call for employer action as Covid soars

Health and social care workers in Australia are facing unsustainable pressure from the current Covid wave, prompting unions to urge employers to do more to protect them.   Michele O’Neil, president of the national union federation ACTU, said: “No worker should have to decide between putting food on the table or isolating with Covid. Employers must support workers by providing free RATs [rapid antigen tests] and providing leave at full pay when workers have to isolate.”
ACTU news release.

Europe: Climate crisis requires temperature controls

Another summer of deadly heatwaves shows why Europe badly needs a law on maximum working temperatures to protect workers from the effects of climate change, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has said. It was speaking after two workers collapsed and died from heat stroke in Spain within days. An survey of ETUC affiliates found only a few EU countries have legislation to keep workers safe during heatwaves.  ETUC deputy general secretary Claes-Mikael Ståhl said: “Politicians can’t continue to ignore the danger to our most vulnerable workers from the comfort of their airconditioned offices.”
ETUC news release. ETUI report on Heatwaves as an Occupational Hazard.

Global: Work contributes to poorer health of migrants

A new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) has found work hazards are a contributor to far poorer health outcomes for many vulnerable refugees and migrants. The report points out “migrant workers were less likely to use health services and more likely to have an occupational injury.” WHO added: “Evidence also showed that a significant number of the 169 million migrant workers globally are engaged in dirty, dangerous, and demanding jobs and are at greater risk of occupational accidents, injuries, and work-related health problems than their non-migrant counterparts, conditions exacerbated by their often limited or restricted access to and use of health services.”
WHO news release and report, World report on the health of refugees and migrants

USA: Amazon warehouses under fed investigation

Federal prosecutors in New York and the government’s safety regulator OSHA are inspecting Amazon warehouses around the US as part of a civil investigation into unsafe workplace conditions. A statement said “the United States Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration entered Amazon warehouses outside New York City, Chicago and Orlando to conduct workplace safety inspections in response to referrals.” It added that well as safety violations, SDNY was investigating “possible fraudulent conduct designed to hide injuries from OSHA and others.”
ABC News. Bloomberg Law.

USA: Union ‘Stop Work Authority’ will protect workers

The United Steelworkers (USW) union is telling its workplace union reps how to go about ‘Bargaining for Stop Work Authority to Prevent Injuries and Save Lives.’ The purpose is to negotiate programmes that allow reps to stop unsafe or unhealthy operations and processes until hazards are resolved. “The United Steelworkers is proud to issue this path-breaking guide,” said USW international president Tom Conway. “OSHA does not require stop work authority, so it’s up to us. This booklet will be an essential part of protecting workers’ lives on the job.”  Stop work authority is a mandatory subject of bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act.
USW news release and guide, Bargaining for Stop Work Authority to Prevent Injuries and Save Lives.

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