Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.
The UK government must pay care workers properly for the job they do, or risk thousands walking away from the sector or refusing vaccine jabs, GMB has said. The union says the imposition of mandatory vaccinations for care home workers in England is not the right approach, with its own estimates suggesting as many as 70,000 staff could lose their job in November at the end of the 16-week grace period by which time they have to have had the vaccine. GMB said it had earlier warned the Department for Health and Social Care up to a third of workers in social care would consider quitting as a result of the legislation. The union believes introducing mandatory vaccinations will drive up vaccine resistance and cause more recruitment issues in a sector which is already struggling. Kelly Andrews, GMB’s national care lead, said: “Social care workers have gone above and beyond throughout the Covid pandemic, making incredible sacrifices. For the government to turn round and tell staff that after all they’ve done, they need to get jabbed or else they’ll be chucked out of work just before Christmas, will just be the last straw for many.” The union believes the best way to ensure safe staffing in care homes and high workforce uptake of the vaccine is by paying social care workers at least £15 per hour and giving them proper terms and conditions. GMB news release
and related news release
. More on the hazards of low pay
Companies have been warned they could face legal action if they introduce “no jab no job” policies in the workplace. Trade unions have criticised the government for encouraging the idea of mandatory vaccination for office staff – after transport secretary Grant Shapps said it was a “good idea” for companies to insist staff are double-jabbed. The approach has also been criticised by employment lawyers. “We’re definitely going to see a lot of employment tribunals on this,” Elissa Thursfield, head of employment law at Gamlins Law, told the Independent. She warned it could lead to a wave of vaccine-related discrimination claims in the months ahead. “If the government pushes any further on this, in terms of encouraging employers, they are going to start getting into hot water,” she said. Both lawyers and unions have warned a blanket approach to making jabs mandatory could breach the Equality Act by discriminating against certain groups. UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said the government should not be encouraging any form of “coercion” when it comes to employees getting the vaccine before returning to work. “Only with widespread take-up can the virus be defeated,” she said. “Achieving this requires persuasion and encouragement – not compulsion and coercion. Forcing people can only lead to needless confrontation at work and legal cases that could drag on for years.” Unite national health and safety adviser Rob Miguel said Covid vaccine compulsion would be a “bad” way for companies to encourage a return to work, and is “embroiled with issues such as equalities, human rights, privacy and ethical breaches.” The Independent
. BBC News Online
Vaccination alone won't stop the rise of new variants and could push the evolution of strains that evade their protection, researchers have warned. The researchers, from Austria, Spain and Switzerland, said people need to wear masks and take other steps to prevent spread until almost everyone in a population has been vaccinated. In findings published in Nature Scientific Reports, they wrote: "We found that a fast rate of vaccination decreases the probability of emergence of a resistant strain. Counterintuitively, when a relaxation of non-pharmaceutical interventions happened at a time when most individuals of the population have already been vaccinated, the probability of emergence of a resistant strain was greatly increased. Our results suggest that policymakers and individuals should consider maintaining non-pharmaceutical interventions and transmission-reducing behaviours throughout the entire vaccination period.” Study co-author Simon Rella of the Institute of Science and Technology Austria, said: “When most people are vaccinated, the vaccine-resistant strain has an advantage over the original strain. This means the vaccine resistant strain spreads through the population faster at a time when most people are vaccinated.” But if the non-pharmaceutical interventions are maintained - such as mask use and social distancing - the virus is less likely to spread and change. The findings indicate policymakers should resist the temptation to lift restrictions, the authors say.
Simon A Rella, Yuliya A Kulikova, Emmanouil T Dermitzakis and Fyodor A Kondrashov. Rates of SARS-CoV-2 transmission and vaccination impact the fate of vaccine-resistant strains
, Scientific Reports, volume 11, Article number: 15729, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-95025-3 CNN News
The union GMB is advising more than 2,000 street cleaners and bin collectors in Scotland to refuse to return to work and to instead self-isolate if they have been exposed to coronavirus. In line with ministers in Westminster, the Scottish government recently announced that organisations employing critical workers can apply for quarantine exemptions if they are “pinged” by the NHS Covid-19 app. But after talks with workplace representatives, GMB has recommended its more than 2,300 members in cleansing and waste services for councils in Glasgow, North and South Lanarkshire, West Lothian and elsewhere to put their health first and refuse self-isolation exemptions. GMB Scotland’s Drew Duffy, quoted in the Morning Star, said the new guidance “has opened the door for employers across the country to heap more pressure on these key workers if they have been exposed to Covid-19. That’s not safe for workers, families or communities. You cannot cut and coerce your way out of a crisis: if you want services to function then you must invest in them.” Morning Star
The Scottish union body STUC has urged continuing caution as Nicola Sturgeon announced the country’s move ‘beyond level zero’. STUC, which said the move placed a higher duty on employers to keep staff safe, was commenting after the first minister said: “The move beyond level 0 will entail the lifting of most of the remaining legally imposed restrictions - most notably, on physical distancing and limits to the size of social gatherings. It also means that from 9 August, no venues will be legally required to close.” The Scottish government said “further guidance will be provided to businesses to help them adopt measures to mitigate risks, including ensuring good ventilation; maintaining good hand hygiene; practising respiratory hygiene; getting vaccinated; and continuing to engage with Test and Protect.” It added businesses should consider hybrid working where possible and “for now, we will continue to advise home working where possible, recognising that some staff will start to return to offices in line with staff wellbeing discussions and business need.” STUC general secretary Roz Foyer said: “We recognise that the first minister has tried to remain cautious despite some significant moves to open up Scotland socially and economically. We are supportive of keeping mitigation measures such as face coverings and social distancing.” But she added: “Many workers particularly in areas such as health and social care remain concerned at the lifting of self-isolation restrictions for the double vaccinated – both workers and the wider public. We know that the asymptomatic can still transmit the virus. As we move away from legal requirements to recommended approaches the duty on employers to keep staff and the general public safe will increase. There is a clear steer from the first minister that there should be no rush back to office working. This is particularly important in larger offices with poor ventilation and high staff numbers.” Scottish government news release
and Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's statement – 3 August 2021
. STUC news release
. BBC News Online
UNISON has written to ambulance service chiefs calling for urgent support for staff as services face unprecedented 999 call volumes and an ‘unsustainable’ demand from the public. The letter to Daren Mochrie, chair of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE), says employers must act now to limit the impact on the wellbeing and morale of staff, especially those working in control rooms. In the letter, UNISON says “missed meal breaks, late finishes, queuing outside hospitals and increasing levels of sickness absence have become widespread.” The letter continues: “This is all having a terrible impact on morale, as well on the health and wellbeing of ambulance staff. Ambulance staff have been at the forefront of the Covid response, working under levels of pressure never seen before.” UNISON says the government must provide more support to address “the long-term capacity issues in the ambulance service.” UNISON deputy head of health Helga Pile said: “Ambulance workers have faced exceptional pressures over the past 17 months. It’s not surprising many have reached burn out. They cannot be left to just carry on doing excessive hours without proper breaks and rest between shifts.” She added: “Employers must act swiftly by doing all they can to limit the unprecedented pressures on staff. Additional welfare support is needed, and the government should make this a top priority.” UNISON news release
. Morning Star
An overwhelming majority of Scottish government workers want to see a four-day working week trialled, research has found. A scoping project of over 2,000 employees by the independent think tank Autonomy and supported by PCS in Scotland indicated that moving to a four-day week would boost productivity and deliver clear benefits for the employer. Potential gains identified include retention and recruitment of staff and a healthier workforce. The project found 87 per cent of Scottish government workers backed the introduction of a four-day working week – with 62 per cent strongly supporting this – while just 4 per cent were opposed. PCS said national-level pilots are planned in Scotland, Spain and Ireland and successful trials have already taken place in Iceland. It added ‘an increasing number’ of businesses in the private sector have already moved to a four-day week. Cat Boyd, PCS national officer, said: “Through this project, Scottish government staff are making it clear that the future can be different, that it can be better for workers, employers, the economy and the environment. The Scottish government should now lead the way on the four-day week by working with PCS to make these possibilities into realities.” This week, Scottish packaging specialist UPAC confirmed it is moving to a four-day week for all staff with no reduction in pay or holiday entitlement. The firm said the aim is to create the “best possible working environment.” UPAC said a trial had “shown no evidence of any drop in productivity but a marked decrease in stress levels.” PCS news release
and full report
. Autonomy webpage
. UPAC Group blog
. Morning Star
. Packaging Scotland
. STV News
UCU has welcomed a decision by an employment tribunal ordering the University of Huddersfield to reinstate a senior lecturer, who it had ruled was unfairly dismissed. Earlier this year Jonathan Duxbury, 57, was successful at Leeds Employment Tribunal, after a multi-year legal battle following the university bringing in new rules which had an unfair impact on him (Risks 995
). The related stress exacerbated the UCU member’s mental health problems. Now a remedy judgment has ruled he should be reinstated by the university as a senior lecturer in the department of accounting, finance and economics. The remedy hearing ordered he should be allowed to return to his job rather than receive a fixed compensation pay out, which Mr Duxbury feared would have left him significantly out of pocket. UCU regional support official Max Beckmann said: “This is an excellent result and the University of Huddersfield now needs to comply with the tribunal's remedy judgment and allow Mr Duxbury to resume his role. But we should never have had to spend the past seven years dragging the University of Huddersfield through internal procedures and the legal system.” He added: “Had the university meaningfully engaged with our concerns back in 2014, we could have avoided this gruelling process, kept an outstanding senior lecturer in his job, and avoided unnecessary disruption to students. Huddersfield must not further sully its reputation by ignoring the tribunal’s reinstatement order.' UCU news release
. Thompsons Solicitors news release
A Yorkshire grandmother, who developed a severe skin condition as a result of her work, has secured £50,000 in damages. Susan Robinson, 59, from Wakefield, worked at Speedibake – a factory in West Yorkshire that supplies muffins, cupcakes and other baked goods to big supermarket chains. The BFAWU member worked on a line that produced hundreds of thousands of frozen mince pies for Christmas. Within six months of starting the job, she noticed that her hands were becoming red and itchy. The symptoms developed got worse over time and ended up with her skin blistering and bleeding. A test by Pontefract Hospital confirmed that she had contracted dermatitis as a result of having to wash her hands 17 times a day at work. Susan was made redundant after a fire at her workplace saw it close and most of the other staff transferred to Speedibake’s Bradford factory. BFAWU president Sarah Woolley commented: “Speedibake should be ashamed of itself for failing to deal with a terrible situation for Susan that had been repeatedly confirmed was caused by her work. We were proud to support the claim and ensured she got the maximum compensation owed to her and held Speedibake to account for its significant failings.” Clare Timmins, from Thompsons, the personal injury law firm brought in by BFAWU to act in the case, said Susan should have been taken off the line as soon as she began to report symptoms. “However, because she was a good worker, they kept her working even though they knew it could be harming her,” the lawyer said. “Mrs Robinson never wanted to go through the pain and suffering and the fact that she was made redundant, specifically because she was pursuing the claim from an injury they caused, is shocking.” Thompsons Solicitors news release
Wood products manufacturer Egger (UK) Limited has been fined after a self-employed lorry driver was killed making a routine delivery of recycled wood. Kilmarnock Sheriff Court heard that on 3 October 2017, Kenneth Aitchison, 60, was standing on open ground at the rear of the trailer of his articulated vehicle, when he was struck by a wheeled shovel loader operating in the yard at Egger’s Auchinleck premises in Scotland. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed that the company’s risk assessments failed to identify that pedestrians, including delivery drivers, were at risk of being struck by moving vehicles in the yard, despite the high level of vehicle movements and previous near misses. Egger (UK) Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £910,000. HSE inspector Kathryn Wilson commented: “This incident could so easily have been avoided had the company identified the risks and put straightforward control measures and safe working practices in place. Had they done so the delivery driver would still be alive.” HSE news release
A freight firm has been fined £6.5 million after being convicted of criminal negligence over the death by electrocution of an 11-year-old boy in 2017. WH Malcolm Limited, operator of the Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal, was sentenced at Northampton Crown Court following a prosecution brought by the rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). Harrison Ballantyne died in June 2017 when he gained access to the depot with his friends to retrieve a football and was able to climb on top of a stationary freight wagon, where he received a fatal electric shock from the overhead line. WH Malcolm was convicted on two criminal breaches of workplace health and safety law. During a trial which lasted three weeks, the court heard how ORR’s investigation found WH Malcolm had not only failed to assess the risk of unauthorised access to the terminal, but also failed to implement appropriate measures to prevent unauthorised access to a part of the site where there were frequent freight movements and overhead line equipment energised at 25,000 volts. In sentencing the company Judge HHJ Lucking QC condemned WH Malcolm and said: “In contesting this trial the defendant failed to take responsibility for a serious and obvious failing to allow public access to what is and was a dangerous environment.” Ian Prosser, chief inspector of railways, said: “Our thoughts remain with Harrison’s family and friends. It is only right that WH Malcolm are held to account for failing to prevent unauthorised access and for failing to manage the risks in what should have been an entirely avoidable tragedy.” In addition to the fine, the firm was ordered to pay full prosecution costs of £241,463.60. ORR news release
A butchery boss with a long history of ignoring machine guarding rules has escaped jail after a worker had his finger partially amputated by an inadequately guarded band saw. Younis & Sons Limited and its sole director Nadeem Hussain both pleaded guilty to one criminal safety offence at Birmingham Magistrates Court. The company was fined £46,800 and ordered to pay to court costs of £3,775. Hussain, 46, received a 12-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, and was ordered to pay £3,775 in costs. Birmingham City Council brought the prosecution after a worker on the business’s stall at Birmingham Indoor Market partially amputated his left middle finger while using a band saw on 21 August 2019. The saw’s adjustable guard was defective. The employee was taken by ambulance to hospital for treatment. Shortly after the incident a health and safety inspector from the Council’s Environmental Health team visited the stall and saw an employee using another band saw without the adjustable guard in place and the push guard tied up – this unsafe practice was stopped immediately by the officer and a prohibition notice issued. The court heard that Younis & Sons Limited had previously been served with machinery guarding prohibition notices in 2017. The company was also warned in 2018 about machinery safety after band saws had been used without the guards. Birmingham Council news release
Wales TUC is to run an 11 August ‘Lifting Covid restrictions and the impact on workers’ zoom briefing for union reps. The hour-long session starting at 10.30am will be chaired by Wales TUC national officer Sian Cartwright. There will be presentations from: Shelly Asquith, the TUC national health and safety policy officer; Doug Russell, Usdaw national health and safety officer; and Shavanah Taj, Wales TUC general secretary.
* Register for Lifting Covid restrictions, Wales TUC briefing
, 10.30-11.30am, Wednesday 11 August. Briff Cynrychiolwyr Iechyd a Diogelwch TUC Cymru
ar Covid, 10.30am, 11 Awst.
A damaging policy shift by Australia’s federal government is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of truck drivers, the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) has charged. The union was commenting after a truck driver was found dead last week following a truck fire, bringing the truck driver death toll to 200 in just over five years. The union says the overall number of people killed in truck crashes has reached nearly 1,000 in the same time period. In April 2016, the federal government abolished the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, despite its own report concluding that truck crashes would be reduced by 28 per cent. The tribunal was responsible for policing ‘safe rates’ of pay for truck drivers in an effort to end dangerous corner-cutting in the sector. TWU national secretary Michael Kaine commented: “Last year we heard the prime minister call truck drivers ‘heroes’, but when it comes to the alarming death rates, poor vaccination access, workplace outbreaks and truckies forced to queue for hours in the rain for Covid tests, he is completely silent.” He added that a truck driver killed every 10 days was a “legacy” of the government’s “reckless move to rip down a road safety watchdog to line the pockets of their mates at the top of trucking supply chains. For more than five years since, the federal government’s inaction has enabled wealthy retailers, manufacturers and oil companies to put a deadly squeeze on transport contracts, forcing operators and drivers to cut corners in safety to stay in business.” TWU news release
and Safe Rates Campaign
. ITF safe rates webpages
Call centre giant Teleperformance has been told to correct shortcomings in its approach to worker health and safety (Risks 991
) and collective bargaining across the company’s global operations. The French National Contact Point (NCP) to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) issued the recommendations, noting the company should “strengthen its due diligence and engagement with stakeholders representing workers in order to ensure the respect for the right of freedom of association and collective bargaining of workers as provided for in the OECD Guidelines.” The OECD action came after an April 2020 submission by global union UNI and French unions. UNI has accused the company of operating “shocking, unsanitary conditions in Teleperformance’s call centres during the pandemic along with retaliation and union busting against workers who organised for better conditions.” Responding to the OECD recommendations, UNI general secretary Christy Hoffman said: “Emphasising the importance of social dialogue, trade unions, and independent, worker-led safety committees, these recommendations provide a clear roadmap for Teleperformance to strengthen compliance with internationally recognised human rights standards and ensure workplace health and safety.” She added: “We thank the NCP a thorough examination of the facts, and we call on the company to follow this guidance by meaningfully engaging with worker representatives locally and globally.” She concluded: “The NCP’s recommendations make clear that the company has not done all it can to uphold employees’ rights to safe jobs and union representation. We hope in a year’s time Teleperformance management will begin treating workers - and their unions - like partners rather than enemies.” UNI news release
. OEDC communique
Sixty per cent of US Covid-19 cases could have gone unreported due to biases in test data and delayed reporting, a study by researchers at the University of Washington has found. The modelling study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) used multiple data sources to estimate the true number of coronavirus infections for one year starting in March 2020. The model included likelihood components that combine data on Covid-19 deaths, confirmed cases, and the number of tests administered each day. The authors concluded continued ‘mitigations’ were required alongside vaccination programmes. Senior author Adrian Raftery said: “What we wanted to do is to develop a framework that corrects the flaws in multiple data sources and draws on their strengths to give us an idea of Covid-19's prevalence in a region, a state or the country as a whole.” About 65 million US residents (19.7 per cent) ‘likely’ had Covid-19 by 7 March 2021, the model shows. Until that point, only about 1 of every 2.3 infections had been confirmed, suggesting that about 60 per cent of all infections had been unreported. “Our results indicate that a large majority of Covid infections go unreported,” the authors note. “Even so, we find that the United States was still far from reaching herd immunity to the virus in early March 2021 from infections alone. This suggests that continued mitigation and an aggressive vaccination effort are necessary to surpass the herd-immunity threshold without incurring many more deaths due to the disease.”
Nicholas J Irons and Adrian E Raftery. Estimating SARS-CoV-2 infections from deaths, confirmed cases, tests, and random surveys
, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, volume 118 (31), e2103272118, August 2021. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2103272118 University of Washington news release
. CIDRAP news release
The US government has updated its guidance for fully vaccinated people, recommending that everyone wear a mask in indoor public settings in areas of substantial and high transmission, regardless of vaccination status. The decision by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) came after official data indicated that Delta infection resulted in similarly high viral loads in vaccinated and unvaccinated people. High viral loads suggest an increased risk of transmission and raised concern that, unlike with other variants, vaccinated people infected with Delta can transmit the virus. CDC director Rochelle Walensky said: “The masking recommendation was updated to ensure the vaccinated public would not unknowingly transmit virus to others, including their unvaccinated or immunocompromised loved ones.” The National Nurses United (NNU) welcomed the move. “This pandemic is far from over and we are, in fact, at a new critical crossroads with cases surging again,” the union’s national president Deborah Burger said. “We nurses know that to protect the lives of our patients, our colleagues, and all essential workers, we must use multiple layers of protection to drastically reduce Covid cases. Science shows the multiple-measures approach is the most effective and something we can implement now. Masking is a cheap, effective, and simple way to limit the spread of this virus.” Stock Code: HS111 Price £22 RRP £52
CDC news release. NNU news release and scientific brief. The Atlantic.
Kasen K Riemersma and others. Vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals have similar viral loads in communities with a high prevalence of the SARS-CoV-2 delta variant, medRxiv 2021.07.31.21261387; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.07.31.21261387
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