Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.COVID NEWS OTHER NEWS EVENTS INTERNATIONAL NEWS
Ministers have launched schemes from their desks in Westminster that profoundly impact health, safety and lives without ever asking the views of workers and their unions, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has said. In a 27 July opinion piece in the Guardian, she said the UK government’s response to the ‘pingdemic’ – the massive increase in people asked by the test-and-trace scheme to self-isolate - was another unfortunate example. “The latest proposals have been to create exemptions for self-isolation for essential workers – so they could come in to work and keep services running,” she noted. “This could have gained the support of unions and employers alike – if there had been a chance to help design the scheme. After all, workers want to protect their safety and livelihoods. They understand how their industries and supply chains work better than Whitehall.” But she added: “If unions have not rushed to rubber-stamp the government’s exemption scheme, ministers only have themselves to blame.” She wrote: “The exemption scheme has often seemed like it is being made up on the hoof for broadcast interviews” and was changing by the day. The TUC leader continued: “It’s not too late for ministers to come to the table with unions and employers to work out how to improve the scheme and keep the services we all rely on running. Working people have earned that respect and a fair hearing.” She warned that “ministers have still failed to task the Health and Safety Executive with proactive enforcement – meaning that not one employer has been prosecuted for a breach of Covid workplace safety rules. The upshot is that many workplaces risk becoming less safe, and sites where the virus is transmitted.” The Guardian
The UK government’s “knee-jerk” policy on worker exemptions from Covid-19 self-isolation must be recalibrated with safety to the fore, unions have demanded. As ministers announced the expansion of workplace testing, promising hundreds of new testing sites for emergency and other “critical” workers as an alternative to self-isolation, unions demanded a rethink and called for ministers talk to them. GMB general secretary Gary Smith said: “The problem isn’t workers getting pinged, the problem is workers getting coronavirus. Whether it’s in energy, waste or in our supermarkets, the story is the same: workers who have to make sacrifices as a result of the failure of those at the top have to take the most risk.” RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “It is ludicrous that this announcement has been made without any discussion with the unions or detailed briefing on who this scheme is supposed to cover and how it will be implemented. This cavalier approach seems to be aimed at hitting headlines rather than mapping a serious way out of the current crisis.” FBU general secretary Matt Wrack described government policy as “a mess… based on knee-jerk reaction rather than foresight and sensible planning.” He told the Morning Star: “This is the latest example of the blundering we have seen from the start, over safety advice, over testing, PPE, other vital equipment and resources and, of course, dodgy contracts.” Unite called on the government to “urgently rethink” its ‘pingdemic’ exemption approach, which has nothing to say on some hard-hit sectors like manufacturing. GMB news release
. RMT news release
. Unite news release
. Morning Star
. BBC News Online
and related story
Food firms have been joined by the union Usdaw in criticising the UK government’s announcement of an exemption for some food workers from the Covid self-isolation rules while not saying exactly what the plans entail. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis wrote to the prime minister on 26 July, seeking urgent clarification on the government’s scheme. The union said it is ‘deeply disappointed’ that the government announced the plan to the media, but had not published full details of the scheme. The union has now been contacted by employers stating that they have been advised they will be eligible for the scheme, but without any detail of what the scheme involves. Lillis said: “Usdaw is extremely concerned that removing the requirement or guidance for these workers to self-isolate is likely to further spread the virus. The government’s primary focus should be on driving down infection rates.” He added: “We are looking for the government to immediately revert back to mandatory face coverings and social distancing, in all public indoor spaces, develop effective local public health based tracing systems and ensure that people who need to isolate get the practical and financial support they need to enable them to do so. So far, the scheme has already been criticised for causing chaos across multiple industries. Usdaw is deeply concerned that government mishandling of the virus and the exemption scheme is putting health and the economy at significant risk.” On 26 July, the government said organisations were being contacted by NHS Test and Trace so they could mobilise sites this week to test up to 10,000 food service staff. Iceland boss Richard Walker said the initiative was “pointless” as supermarket workers, a significant part of the food supply chain, were excluded. Defra/DHSC news release
. Usdaw news release
and exemptions letter to the PM
. BBC News Online
and related story
Scotland could face a spike in Covid-19 cases a result of new key worker exemptions from self-isolation rules, Unite Scotland has warned. The union was commenting after Nicola Sturgeon announced workers in critical roles in Scotland will be able to avoid self-isolation when notified by the NHS Covid app if they are fully vaccinated and are tested daily. Scotland’s first minister said it was “essential that lifeline services and critical national infrastructure are maintained” and that the changes would ensure staff shortages do not put key services at risk. Affected industries will have to apply to the Scottish government for staff to be given exemption from the mandatory quarantine rules. In those cases where work is deemed to be essential, close contacts of infected people will not be required to isolate. The move was criticised by Unite Scotland, with industrial officer James O’Connell, Unite industrial officer, warning “vaccination is not immunisation.” He added: “If you're identified as a close contact it potentially takes 48 hours minimum for the virus to be detected through a test so there is a potential for staff to be asymptomatic without knowing they are positive for a period of time. Using the hierarchy of control, risk should be removed or at least minimised as much as it can be”, warning “in order to remove or minimise the risk of spread you should isolate not gamble using health and social care staff as the test.” Unite Scotland news release
. The Guardian
Flawed guidance and a failure to offer proper protection against airborne coronavirus transmission has left health and care workers at potentially deadly risk, Unite has said. The warning came as Doctors in Unite (DiU) staged a 27 July demonstration outside the London HQ of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). The union said its members were alarmed at the continued refusal of Public Health England (PHE) to review its guidance to properly protect NHS and social care staff against airborne transmission of Covid-19. DiU argues that despite very clear evidence backed by the great majority of doctors and scientists that Covid-19 is predominantly spread through the air, most health care staff are not adequately protected most of the time from risk of airborne transmission. DiU chair Dr Jackie Applebee said. “Enough is really enough. We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand any longer and pretend that airborne transmission is not a risk everywhere, including hospitals wards, outpatient clinics and offices.” She added: “Official guidelines for infection control are not only out of date, they are unfit for purpose. With the Delta wave of Covid hitting our hospitals and surgeries right now, all health care staff should be issued respirator masks like FFP3s without further delay. This issue should be at the top of health and social care secretary Sajid Javid’s in-tray and he needs to act with the utmost urgency to ensure our brave and dedicated NHS and social care colleagues have the best protective equipment available.” Unite news release
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) must address dangerous failings in its advice and ‘mandate’ the provision of high quality respiratory protective equipment for all NHS and social care staff, the Hazards Campaign has said. Commenting ahead of a 27 July socially distanced protest at the HSE’s Bootle HQ, the union-backed grassroots campaign slammed HSE’s failure to recommend the more protective FFP3 respirators rather than general purpose surgical masks. Janet Newsham, the chair of the Hazards Campaign, said: “With the disappearing Covid-19 public protection, workers need to be properly protected and their employers have a legal duty to ensure workers’ health and safety and anyone else affected by their work activity or in their work premises.” She said HSE has “largely failed” its legal duty to require safe working conditions, adding: “By reacting too late, hundreds of thousands of workers have been infected, many left with long-Covid and some have sadly died. As long as employers fail to ensure adequate ventilation and a proper precautionary level of face masks, workers will continue to be exposed to Covid-19 virus.” She said the safety regulator was well aware of the inadequacy of surgical masks to protect workers from airborne viruses, with a 2008 HSE study concluding: “Live viruses could be detected in the air behind all surgical masks tested. By contrast, properly fitted respirators could provide at least a 100-fold reduction.” (Risks 983
). Hazards Campaign news release
. Evaluating the protection afforded by surgical masks against influenza bioaerosols: Gross protection of surgical masks compared to filtering facepiece respirators
, Research Report RR619, 2008.
A new UK government disability strategy amounts to a ‘missed chance’ to help disabled workers, the TUC has said. The £1.6bn National Disability Strategy includes 100 pledges to tackle issues including barriers to education and work. Other measures include a pilot Access to Work Adjustment Passport intended to make it easier for disabled people to change jobs and plans to consult on disability workforce reporting for businesses with more than 250 staff. However the plan was criticised by TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady. “Everyone should have an equal chance to earn a living and pursue a career. But disabled people still face huge barriers at work. And the government has once again missed the chance to act,” she said. “Disabled workers have a legal right to the reasonable adjustments they need – but two-fifths of disabled workers aren’t getting them. Ministers should have taken the opportunity to strengthen the duty on employers to provide reasonable adjustments. And ministers should get on with their long-promised plans to make flexible working the default, by giving all workers a day one right to work flexibly. This could be transformative for disabled workers.” Nor was there anything in the plan to address the disability pay gap, she said. DWP news release
, advice hub
and National Disability Strategy
. TUC news release
. BBC News Online
Cases of suicide clearly linked to work are going uninvestigated, unrecorded and ignored by the UK workplace safety regulator, new research has found. The Leeds University study, funded by Research England, analysed 12 suicide cases over the period 2015 to 2020 from different occupations and sectors. In 11 of the 12 suicides investigated, organisational or managerial workplace factors were identified as a dominant causal factor. The study found that employee suicides are still largely treated as an individual mental health problem that has no direct relevance for work or the workplace. It points to serious regulatory gaps, noting: There are no Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspections of workplaces following a single suicide or multiple suicides by employees linked to factors at their workplace; there is no information collected on suicides that occur in the workplace or that are identified as work-related; and that suicide is excluded from the Joint Protocol on Work-related Deaths. Employers are not obliged to undertake an investigation following a suicide, implement any changes to workplace policies or practices or put suicide prevention measures in place, the researchers add. The employer launched an independent investigation into the suicide(s) to identify and address underlying causes in only 4 of the 12 suicide cases investigated. A coroner’s Preventing Future Deaths report was only issued in three of the cases, despite material evidence of work-related causality in all 12 cases. In nine of the cases, the employer was aware of work-related problems affecting the employee prior to the suicide, as these had been reported to managers or colleagues or documented in staff appraisals. The research authors recommend including suicide in the list of work-related deaths that must be reported to the HSE under the RIDDOR reporting requirements. The report also calls for explicit and enforceable legal requirements that oblige employers to take responsibility for suicide prevention and to undertake a full and transparent investigation in the aftermath of a suicide in the workplace or where there is evidence the suicide could be work-related. University of Leeds news release
and report, Work-related suicide: a qualitative analysis of recent cases with recommendations for reform
, Sarah Waters and Hilda Palmer, University of Leeds, July 2021.
The UK government’s Building Safety Bill is ‘vitally flawed’ and could allow ‘deadly’ private sector involvement in fire safety inspections, the firefighters’ union FBU has warned. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack, commenting after the draft law passed its second reading in parliament on 21 July, said it allowed for private sector firms to be brought in if fire and rescue services were not in a position to assist the new Building Safety Regulator. The regulator, which the bill is set to introduce, will be a new Health and Safety Executive (HSE) offshoot responsible for building safety in higher risk premises. The union has also criticised the bill on the grounds that it does not address the building safety crisis in existing buildings. Matt Wrack said: “This bill will be vitally flawed if it allows the new Building Safety Regulator to turn to private firms for assistance with fire matters. The FBU has vigorously opposed this type of activity over the long term and will continue to do so.” He added: “Building safety cannot be an opportunity for profiteering: this risks public safety, as history shows us. The answer is to invest in the public fire and rescue service, by recruiting and training sufficient firefighters to carry out these duties.” FBU news release
A vicious attack on Asda workers in Clapham, south London, has prompted a renewed call for action on violence directed at shopworkers. Footage on social media shows a group of assailants - including one dressed as Spiderman – kicking and punching workers inside Clapham Junction Asda. The union GMB said the video footage is ‘absolutely horrifying’. GMB members were among those attacked and the union said it is offering any support required to members. Mark Wilkinson, GMB senior organiser, said: “GMB cannot condemn strongly enough the actions of these people and we thank the police for their swift action in arriving to help protect our members from further harm. The video footage is absolutely horrifying and we are offering whatever support is necessary to any member who was affected during the incident.” He added: “We take the health and safety of our members very seriously and will be working with store management to establish how this was allowed to happen and to ensure that safeguards are in place to prevent recurrence. Sadly, GMB is all too aware that whilst Clapham Junction is an extreme example, attacks on retail workers are on the increase. Parliament needs to act now to toughen the law.” Police said five people had been arrested following the Clapham incident. GMB news release
. Enfield Independent
Rail union RMT has demanded an urgent investigation by the rail health and safety regulator into the risks posed by unstaffed stations. The call last week came after Troon station was hit by a devastating fire. In a letter to the Chief Inspector of Railways Ian Prosser, RMT calls for urgent answers regarding the health and safety risks of unstaffed stations and whether the extensive damage and subsequent disruption caused to rail services could have been avoided had Troon station been properly staffed. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “The devastating fire at Troon station shines a light on just how dangerous the rail industry’s plans to de-staff our stations are. Unstaffed stations not only discriminate against those with accessibility issues but also pose serious health and safety risks for passengers and other rail workers.” Confirming he had written to the chief railways inspector, he added: “Station staff play a vital role in helping deliver a safe, secure and accessible railway and it is long overdue that this cost-cutting, profit maximising measure of de-staffing our stations and trains by privatised train companies and the rail industry was stopped in its tracks due to glaring and serious health and safety risks.” RMT news release
and Staff our Stations campaign
Rail union TSSA has called for better terms and conditions for train driver managers, following a Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) report which identified “high turnover of driver managers, insufficient driver managers in post and their high workload” as a contributing factor to a near miss. The incident occurred on Sunday 21 June 2020, between two passenger trains at London Underground’s Chalfont and Latimer station. A Chiltern Railways train stopped about 23 metres before reaching a London Underground train, which was stationary. There were no reported injuries, but there was minor damage to signalling equipment and a set of points. In its findings, rail safety investigator RAIB identified driver fatigue and shortcomings in driver management processes as contributing factors. The report identified explicitly the terms and conditions of driver managers as a potential cause, saying: "A probable underlying factor was that Chiltern Railways’ driver management processes did not effectively manage safety-related risk associated with the driver involved in the incident. It is possible that this was a consequence of a high turnover of driver managers, insufficient driver managers in post and their high workload." Nadine Rae, TSSA organising director, said: “It’s clear from this safety report that an overhaul of driver manager workloads is needed, more people need to be recruited, and the role needs to be properly rewarded and respected in both pay and terms and conditions, including a focus on long hours and overtime.” She added: “Thankfully no one was hurt in this incident, but unless the RAIB’s warnings are acted on it could be only a matter of time before another similar incident causes harm to those using our railways. Industry bosses must listen up and act now.” TSSA news release
. RAIB report
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Transport for London (TfL) must institute an independent audit of air conditioning systems for all London buses, the union Unite has said. The call this week came after many drivers in the capital raised concerns about the air conditioning in their cabs not working, or being inadequate during the recent hot weather, resulting in sweltering temperatures and fears that drivers could become so fatigued by the heat it could impinge on road safety. The union said malfunctioning air conditioning has become a regular problem. As well as boiling temperatures in the summer it can also lead to freezing conditions during the winter months. Unite regional secretary for London Pete Kavanagh said: “Decisive action needs to be taken to resolve the problem of the air conditioning on buses once and for all.” He added: “It is ridiculous that London bus drivers regularly feel that they are being boiled alive in the summer and frozen to death in the winter. This is not only affecting their health but undermines the safety of all passengers as alertness and reactions are adversely affected. Drivers have lost confidence in the bus companies’ ability or willingness to resolve these problems and therefore it is essential that an independent audit is undertaken and the problems identified are acted upon once and for all.” Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “It is a disgrace that in 2021 bus drivers are still having to contend with these intolerable conditions.” Unite news release
A lighting manufacturer in Blackburn has been fined after an employee was fatally injured when the forklift truck he was driving struck an overhead steel beam. Preston Magistrates’ Court heard that on 14 June 2019, Maciej Koldys was operating a forklift truck to move pallets, when the mast of the forklift truck hit a low overhead structural beam, which caused the truck to overturn. The 36-year-old was trapped underneath the roll cage and received fatal crush injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the traffic routes on site required forklift trucks to travel under a number of overhead structural beams which only had a small clearance gap between the mast of the trucks at their lowest setting and the beams. There were no hazard markings to highlight these overhead obstructions. MK Illumination (UK) Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £53,360 and ordered to pay costs of £7,880. HSE inspector Anthony Banks commented: “The company’s system of work was not safe. With the forklift trucks operating within such tight margins, the company simply relied on the assumption it’s employees would always remember to lower the forks to their lowest position whilst travelling underneath the overhead beams.” He added: “MK Illumination (UK) Ltd not only failed to physically mark the overhead beams in a conspicuous way to provide the forklift truck operators with a prominent warning of the limited headroom, but the company also failed to undertake a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of the traffic routes. When this was done after the incident, the revised traffic routes avoided the low overhead beams altogether.” HSE news release
The National Hazards Conference takes place online this weekend, from Saturday 31 July to Sunday 1 August. Top international speakers at the opening plenary are Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the global trade union confederation ITUC, and Richard Wagstaff, general secretary of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU). Andy McDonald, Labour’s shadow employment secretary, is the keynote speaker at the Sunday session. After the opening sessions each day, there is a wide range of workshops on issues from asbestos, to gender and health and safety to ‘challenging micro-management and other draconian work practices’. National Hazards Conference 2021
, 31 July-1 August, online. Attendance is free. Register separately for each day.
Saturday 31 July 2021: 10am-3.30pm – register
Sunday 1 August 2021: 10am-1.00pm – register
Further information: email email@example.com
Lifting Covid restrictions, TUC briefings, August 2021
The TUC is continuing its series of zoom briefings on ‘Lifting Covid restrictions and the impact on workers’, with sessions coming up for reps in the London, South East and East of England (LESE) region, the Midlands and Wales.
* TUC Midlands region
, from 2–3pm, Monday 2 August.
* TUC LESE region
, 6-7.30pm -19.30, Tuesday 3 August.
* Wales TUC
, 10.30-11.30am, Wednesday 11 August.
Briff Cynrychiolwyr Iechyd a Diogelwch TUC Cymru
ar Covid, 10.30am, 11 Awst.
A former senior adviser on the Canadian SARS outbreak has accused the World Health Organisation (WHO) of concealing evidence on the airborne transmission of Covid-19 since the earliest days of the global pandemic. Mario Possamai – who from 2003 to 2007 served as a senior adviser to Canada’s SARS Commission, established to investigate the 2003 outbreak on this coronavirus in Ontario, Canada – described his shock and frustration at the WHO’s failure to address the airborne nature of Covid-19 and how this, in turn, set up governments around the world to fail in their pandemic response strategies. During the first three weeks of January 2020, China followed the traditional droplet-based regime for personal protective equipment (PPE). But, after seeing a sharp spike in healthcare worker infections, China ditched the WHO guidance and shifted to rigorous airborne protections. As a result of the change, “healthcare worker infections quickly dropped to zero,” Possamai told Byline Times. A study by Chinese scientists in the QJM Journal of International Medicine noted: “We have adopted a higher standard of protection in China, compared with the World Health Organisation guidelines against Covid-19,” including “respirators rather than medical surgical masks.” But while admitting that transmission among Chinese healthcare workers had been effectively contained “early in the outbreak”, the WHO China Mission’s final report, according to Possamai, “failed to disclose how China had done this – by going to airborne precautions”. He said: “Tragically, the decision by the WHO to conceal this fact contributed to dooming the world to a preventable level of death and disease.” It took the WHO more than a year to finally concede quietly that there was a role for airborne transmission, he said, but this was too little, too late. Byline Times
US employers are five times more likely to fight Covid-19 related citations compared to other workplace safety offences, an investigation has found. By April 2021, inspectors with California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal-OSHA, had ordered roughly $4.6 million in fines for wrongdoing related to the Covid-19 in some 200 workplaces. But behind the scenes at the state’s workplace safety agency, California employers and their lawyers have filed an onslaught of appeals, delayed paying their fines and sought deals to pay next to nothing, a Sacramento Bee review of Cal-OSHA fines and payment data found. Official figures show nearly half of all employers cited by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for Covid-19-related violations appealed the charges, a rate that is five times higher than the average for all federal workplace safety citations. To that date, employers had filed 172 appeals of virus citations with the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, the panel that hears challenges to OSHA citations, according to commission data. That represents about 42 per cent of the 408 Covid-19 cases where OSHA said it cited workplaces from 1 July 2020 through to 12 April 2021. A Bloomberg Law report from 19 April noted only about 8 per cent of employers cited by OSHA have challenged the allegations by appealing to the review commission, a trend that has held into the pandemic. One health employer, Kaiser Permanente, has cited its adherence to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance in its challenge to a Covid-19 fine. Cal-OSHA Covid-19 related citations
. Sacramento Bee
. North Bay Business Journal
. Bloomberg Law
Four companies have been fined a total of almost $1 million for a liquid nitrogen leak at a poultry plant in Gainesville, Georgia, that killed six employees on 28 January this year (Risks 985
), federal officials have announced. An investigation by the US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found Foundation Food Group and Messer “failed to implement any of the safety procedures necessary to prevent the nitrogen leak, or to equip workers responding to it with the knowledge and equipment that could have saved their lives,” the agency said in a statement. Foundation Food Group is a poultry processing company based in Gainesville. Messer is an industrial gas company based in Bridgewater, New Jersey, that installed the freezer system at the plant that was the source of the leak. Three plant maintenance workers entered the freezer and died immediately. OSHA said they had never been trained on the dangers of liquid nitrogen. Two other workers also died immediately, and a sixth died while en route to the hospital. At least a dozen other workers at the facility were injured and transported to hospitals. “Six people's deaths, and injuries suffered by at least a dozen others, were entirely avoidable,” US labor secretary Marty Walsh said in the statement. “The Department of Labor is dedicated to upholding the law and using everything in our power to get justice for the workers' families.” The OSHA statement said repeatedly that the deaths were avoidable had the proper precautions been taken. The companies were cited for 59 violations, totalling $998,673 in fines. The other two companies cited were Packers Sanitation Services of Kieler, Wisconsin, which provided cleaning and sanitation services to the plant, and FSGroup of Albertville, Alabama, which manufactures equipment and provides mechanical servicing. OSHA news release
. New York Times
. Business Insider
. The Hill
At least 18 migrant workers died after a truck crashed into their bus in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Their 1,300km-long (800 miles) journey from Haryana to their home state of Bihar was cut short when the bus broke down in Barabanki district. Some of the workers were still in the bus while others were sleeping next to it when the accident happened in the early hours of 28 July. Police told the BBC that the bus was "overloaded beyond its capacity". Yamuna Prasad, superintendent of police in Barabanki, said: “The bus probably broke down because it had about 140 passengers when its capacity was just 65.” At least 30 people, some of whom were critically injured, were admitted to hospitals in Barabanki. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, tweeted his condolences and announced 200,000 rupees (£1,936; $2,686) as compensation for the families of the victims, and 50,000 rupees for those who were injured. People from Bihar often go to more prosperous states like Haryana and Delhi to find work. Migrant workers often use trains and buses, a cheap mode of transport in India, to go home when they get a break from work. BBC News Online
. Daily Mail
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