Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.UNIONS BUILDING DIGNITY AT WORK – TUC CONGRESS 2021 COVID NEWS OTHER NEWS INTERNATIONAL NEWS PUBLICATION TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS
As we recover from the pandemic, how do we build a world of work that gives everyone the dignity and fairness we deserve?
Between Sunday 12 September and Tuesday 14 September, union members across the UK are meeting online to discuss the way forward for our economy, a more inclusive society, and how we win a pay rise for our key workers.
We’ll hear from Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition, and TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, as well as union leaders and key workers. Every trade unionist is invited to join us online for three days of discovery and debate.
Sign up to attend now at https://www.tuc.org.uk/CongressSignUp
. And please share with friends and colleagues on Facebook and Twitter using #TUC21
A month after England dropped most of its coronavirus restrictions (Risks 1005
), experts have confirmed fears about a high human cost. The UK government went ahead with the changes despite thousands of scientists warning it was a “dangerous and unethical experiment.” In an open letter published in the Lancet medical journal of 7 July, they argued that a rising number of Covid-19 cases, the new Delta variant and the fact that a large part of the UK population was not yet fully vaccinated made the move too risky (Risks 1005
). Since then it has becoming clear that while vaccination has had a big impact, the pandemic is continuing to claim lives. “The UK is averaging around 90 deaths a day from Covid. Our reopening has been far from an unqualified success,” said Kit Yates, co-director of the Centre for Mathematical Biology at the University of Bath. “If there was one lesson I wish other countries would take from watching the UK's attempt to reopen is that vaccines are not the whole solution to the problem,” Yates told CNN. “Yes, they make a huge difference, but if you want to keep on top of this disease then you need to back vaccines up with other tried and tested public health measures: Mask mandates in indoor public spaces, ventilation in schools and work places, a functioning, locally-driven test, trace and isolate system in combination with support for isolation.” With children unvaccinated and about to return to school, “we should expect to see further rises in transmission when this happens, which will inevitably lead to more cases, more hospitalisations and tragically more deaths,” Yates said. CNN News
. Deepti Gurdasani, John Drury, Trisha Greenhalgh and others. Correspondence. Mass infection is not an option: we must do more to protect our young
, The Lancet, Online First 7 July 2021. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)01589-0
. Letter signatories.
Deaths from Covid-19 are now averaging 100 a day across the UK, according to official data, and scientists have warned that case rates will jump again when millions of pupils return to schools next week. Confirmed infection numbers have also started to rise once more following a dramatic fall in mid-July, and are now running at over 30,000 cases a day, with the seven-day average figure up 13 per cent in a week. Hospitalisations have risen from 672 on 31 July to 948 on 17 August. Adding to the concern is the expectation of increased infection rates when students return to schools and colleges across England, Northern Ireland and Wales, which mainly happens next week. Prof Ravi Gupta of the University of Cambridge, a coopted member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said it was likely there would be a long, protracted period of high hospital admissions and continuing disruption as schools return. He added the possible reimposition of rules on mask wearing was “a no-brainer… because it presents the caution associated with limiting transmission without necessarily having a big impact on your freedoms.” Prof Rowland Kao of the University of Edinburgh, a member of the government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, or Spi-M, said “observed rises in cases in Scotland in the last week have been substantially more dramatic than in England and test positivity has also increased. It is reasonable to think that this may be associated with the return to schools and the other activities that increase with it. Should this be the case, and a similar phenomenon occur when schools return in England, cases, and therefore ultimately hospitalisations, will also likely increase.” The Guardian
. The Independent
A study has confirmed wide-ranging mitigation measures are necessary to prevent Covid-19 transmission in schools. The research, led by scientists from Swiss government agencies and CERN, was published online on 20 August. It found: “The most effective single intervention was natural ventilation through the full opening of six windows all day during the winter (14-fold decrease in cumulative dose), followed by the universal use of surgical face masks (8-fold decrease). In the spring/summer, natural ventilation was only effective (≥ 2-fold decrease) when windows were fully open all day.” A combination of multiple mitigating measures led to a greatly increased reduction in risk. “Combined interventions (ie. natural ventilation, masks, and HEPA filtration) were the most effective (≥ 30-fold decrease). Combined interventions remained highly effective in the presence of a super-spreader,” the paper found. The authors concluded: “Natural ventilation, face masks, and HEPA filtration are effective interventions to reduce SARS-CoV-2 aerosol transmission. These measures should be combined and complemented by additional interventions (eg. physical distancing, hygiene, testing, contact tracing, and vaccination) to maximise benefit.”
Jennifer Villers and others. SARS-CoV-2 aerosol transmission in schools: the effectiveness of different interventions
, medRxiv 2021.08.17.21262169; published online ahead of peer review 20 August 2021. doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.08.17.21262169
Teaching union NEU has welcomed plans to provide air quality monitoring in schools as a “first step” towards recognition that funding is needed for ensure good ventilation. The union was commenting after Gavin Williamson said around 300,000 carbon dioxide (CO2
) monitors would be made available during the autumn term. The announcement came on 19 August, two days after unions called for the monitors in tandem with better classroom ventilation (Risks 1010
). The education secretary said: “Providing all schools with CO2
monitors will help them make sure they have the right balance of measures in place, minimising any potential disruption to education and allowing them to focus on world class lessons and catch up for the children who need it.” He added: “By keeping up simple measures such as ventilation and testing, young people can now enjoy more freedom at school and college.” Kevin Courtney, the NEU joint general secretary, commented: “This is a really welcome first step in accepting our argument that funding is needed for good ventilation. It follows examples set by administrations in New York City, Scotland and Ireland.” But he added: “Ventilation is essential, but it cannot be the only measure in place, especially if children are not vaccinated. Government should support leaders in secondary schools and colleges in weighing up the case for continuing to require staff and students to wear face coverings around the premises - including potentially in classrooms - and on dedicated school transport, particularly in areas with high case rates. We will keep a close watch on government's delivery of their promise.” DfES news release
. NEU news release
Teaching union EIS has called for continued caution around Covid-19 as pupils and staff returned last week to classrooms in Scotland. The union said “effective mitigations” must continue to protect workers and children and expressed concern about the risk of the virus being passed through school communities. Government rules require Covid rules stay in place for at least the first six weeks of term, including continued social distancing and the wearing of face coverings in classrooms, although self-isolation regulations have been loosened slightly since last term. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan welcomed the continued protections and urged schools to continue to apply rigorous safety mitigations to reduce the risk of outbreaks. He added: “While we all want to see life in society at large and in our schools return to normality, we must continue to exercise appropriate caution to reduce the risk of further Covid spread through school communities.” EIS news release
. Morning Star
An announcement that Scotland is to hold its own public inquiry into the handling of the Covid pandemic by the end of the year has been welcomed by the union UNISON. The Scottish government said the independent inquiry will scrutinise decisions that were taken over the course of the crisis, with the aim of learning lessons for any future pandemics. It is inviting people to give their views on the aims and principles of the public inquiry by 30 September. The inquiry will investigate “events causing public concern,” for example the high number of deaths in care homes, and will examine the explanations of the decisions that were taken and the causes of “anything which may not have gone as expected.” UNISON Scottish secretary Mike Kirby welcomed the public inquiry, but added: “We acknowledge that families, many health and social care workers and other staff in public services still struggle with the consequences, and this will impact upon their capacity to contribute to the inquiry.” He said: “The inquiry must also review the extent to which the resilience of public services was affected by austerity measures, the effectiveness of health and safety measures at work and the role and capacity of the Health and Safety Executive, the impact of current sick pay provision, the way in which configuration/fragmentation of social care provision had an impact on response to the crisis and outcomes, and the disproportionate impact on black and low income communities.” Scottish government news release
. UNISON Scotland news release
. BBC News Online
A rail union has said it will consider industrial action over the threat posed by the “potentially lethal” legionella bacteria found on Thameslink trains. RMT declared a dispute with the company after trace amounts of legionella were found in seven toilets on four trains. Thameslink said the toilets had been drained and bleached but the union said this response was “half-hearted and inadequate.” The union said the affected toilets had “actionable traces” of the bacteria, which can cause Legionnaires’ disease, a reportable occupational disease. Left untreated, the condition - a lung infection caused by legionella bacteria - can be fatal. The union has called for an urgent meeting of Thameslink's Joint Safety Committee. It is distributing a report on the matter by RMT safety specialists to the union’s health and safety reps. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “RMT has been raising concerns over Legionella on the Siemens Thameslink fleet for weeks now and the latest cavalier approach from the company is pitifully inadequate and is an outright gamble with passenger and staff health.” He added: “We have now declared a dispute and be in no doubt if we don't get serious action we will ballot our members and do whatever is required to end this reckless approach to a potentially lethal situation on these increasingly busy trains.” RMT news release
. BBC News Online
GMB and Uber have made a joint commitment to end the exploitation of more than 200,000 drivers who use ride hailing apps. The 26 August statement marked the first meeting between GMB general secretary Gary Smith and Uber’s Jamie Heywood, following a groundbreaking trade union recognition deal. Under the deal – struck in May - Uber will formally recognise GMB, which will now be able to represent up to 70,000 Uber drivers across the UK. This came after the Supreme Court determined Uber drivers are not self-employed, but are workers entitled to workers’ rights including holiday pay, a guaranteed minimum wage and an entitlement to breaks. GMB’s Gary Smith said the deal “showed that when companies and trade unions work together, standards can be raised across these industries.” He added: “GMB and Uber today take the next step in our commitment to ending the exploitation of hundreds of thousands of ride-hailing app drivers.” Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, said: “We hope that working constructively with GMB will show the rest of the industry what can be achieved, ensuring that all drivers, no matter who they work with, receive the rights and protections they are entitled to.” GMB news release
Retail trade union Usdaw has welcomed a new law to protect shopworkers in Scotland from violence, threats and abuse. The groundbreaking law, which came into force on 24 August 2021, came after Usdaw’s long-running campaign led to the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill. The legislation was successfully steered through the Scottish parliament by Labour MSP Daniel Johnson. Usdaw is now urging shopworkers to report incidents to ensure the legislation is used effectively. Paddy Lillis, the Usdaw general secretary, said: “It has been a terrible year for our members, with over 90 per cent of shopworkers suffering abuse, more than two-thirds threatened and one in seven assaulted. We are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be part of the job.” Tracy Gilbert, Usdaw’s Scottish regional secretary, added: “For this new legislation to have a real impact, we need to make sure staff report incidents of violence, threats or abuse to their manager. We are aware that some retail workers may feel it won’t make a difference, but my message to shopworkers is absolutely clear: Report it to sort it. We are working with the Scottish government, police and retailers to promote the new law. We want criminals to understand that assaulting and abusing shopworkers is unacceptable and will land them with a stiffer sentence. Our hope is that this new legislation will result in retail staff getting the respect they deserve.” Usdaw news release
. Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Act 2021
. BBC News Online
Retail leaders are urging the UK government to follow Scotland's example in extending new protections for shopworkers. The Protection of Workers Act makes assaulting or abusing retail staff a standalone offence. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has joined retail union Usdaw in calling for similar rules to be introduced across the UK. BRC boss Helen Dickinson said “enough is enough. It is incomprehensible that despite Holyrood's decisive action, the UK government has so far failed to provide the same protections to shopworkers in the rest of the UK.” The head of the trade group added the BRC would “not stop until our asks are met.” The new Scottish law, which was passed unanimously, will see tougher sentences for perpetrators. Last month, 100 retail bosses wrote to UK prime minister Boris Johnson demanding action (Risks 1004
). Leaders of brands including Tesco, Sainsbury's, Aldi and Ikea signed an open letter saying the situation “cannot be allowed to get any worse.” They added there was “a clear need now for better protection in law for retail workers.” BBC News Online
Retail trade union Usdaw has launched a Freedom from Fear summer campaign highlighting shocking statistics from their annual survey. Preliminary results from nearly 2,000 retail staff show that in the last twelve months, 92 per cent of retail staff experienced verbal abuse, 70 per cent were threatened by a customer and 14 per cent were assaulted. The union survey found one in five victims have never reported an incident to their employer, including 5 per cent who had been assaulted. The UK-wide campaign coincides with a new protection of workers law coming into force in Scotland on 24 August. Usdaw is urging the UK government to pass a similar law to protect shopworkers across the UK. Paddy Lillis, the Usdaw general secretary, said: “The number of staff who do not report incidents is very worrying. I totally understand why they may feel it won’t make a difference, but my message to shopworkers is incredibly clear, abuse is not a part of the job. It is really important that staff do tell their manager when they experience violence, threats or abuse. If they do report it we can help to sort it.” He added: “Government action to protect shopworkers is needed. So we welcome the new law in Scotland, but are deeply disappointed that the UK government has continued to resist a similar measure in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Retail staff across the UK have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.” Usdaw Respect for Retail Workers summer campaign
and Northern Ireland
news releases. BBC News Online
Construction company Peter Duffy Ltd has been sentenced for criminal safety breaches after its workers were diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration (HAVS). Leeds Magistrates’ Court heard that the company reported seven cases of HAVS, a potentially disabling condition, between November 2016 and August 2018. All of the workers involved had been carrying out ground works involving vibrating tools. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found it was only in 2016, when the company contracted a new occupational health provider, that the cases were diagnosed. Prior to the new company taking over the contract, there was not the legally required health surveillance in place to identify HAVS. Peter Duffy Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of safety law and was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £3,919 in costs. HSE inspector Chris Tilley said: “The company should have undertaken a suitable and sufficient risk assessment to identify the level of vibration employees were exposed to throughout their working day and then put in place appropriate control measures. Furthermore, the company should have put in place suitable health surveillance to identify HAVS in their workforce.” HSE news release
A Merseyside shipbuilding and repair company has been fined after a young employee was fatally injured when struck by a 31-foot steel post. Liverpool Magistrates’ Court heard how on 30 March 2017, 23-year-old Tristan Nuttall and four other workers from Carmet Marine Limited had been adapting or ‘regulating’ a bogie, used to land and launch vessels at the company’s slipway by the River Mersey. One of the bogie’s steel side-posts weighing approximately 1,800kg fell and fatally struck Tristan on the back of the head. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the steel side-post had only been secured to the crossbeam on the bogie by two slackened bolts and was not supported by a crane or other means at the time of the incident. Carmet Marine Limited failed to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and implement a safe system of work, the regulator found. The company did not provide the information, instruction, training and supervision necessary to ensure the health and safety at work of its employees during the task of regulating the slipway. Carmet Marine Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £25,000 and ordered to pay costs of £15,000. HSE inspector Lorna Sherlock said: “This incident was entirely preventable if the risk had been identified and suitable control measures put in place. Adequate training and supervision should also have been in place to ensure the regulating of the slipway was carried out safely by employees.” HSE news release
One in 10 suicides in adults in France is related to work, a new government study has found, with the proportion much higher in those in work. The report from the French ministry of health, Santé publique France, also provides a definition of ‘work-related suicide’ for the purposes of identifying cases for further investigation by workplace health and safety inspectors (Risks 929
). Any of five criteria is used to identify a potential work-related suicide that is automatically subject to investigation: A suicide in the workplace; a suicide note blaming work; a victim in work uniform; testimonies of bereaved pointing to work-related factors; and known difficulties at work prior to the suicide. Information on 1,135 suicides was collected by eight participating coroner’s offices (Instituts médico-légaux) between 1 January and 31 December 2018. The newly published findings reveal 10 per cent of all suicides examined were potential work-related according to the five defining criteria. Of those whose employment status was known, 28.3 per cent were employed at the time of death. Of these, work appeared to have played a role in 42 per cent of suicides. In the UK, an international panel of experts has warned that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is failing “lamentably” on work suicide investigation and prevention. And research published last month concluded cases of suicide clearly linked to work are going uninvestigated, unrecorded and ignored by HSE, the UK workplace health and safety regulator (Risks 1007).
Surveillance des suicides en lien potentiel avec le travail, Santé publique France
, August 2021. Suicide note: Global experts tell HSE to address work-related suicide risks
, Hazards, Number 149, December 2019.
RESOURCES: Work and suicide: A TUC guide to prevention for trade union activists
. ‘Don’t despair’ pin-up-at-work suicide prevention poster
. More on work-related suicides
ACTION! Use the Hazards e-postcard
to tell the HSE to recognise, record and take action to prevent work-related suicides. www.hazards.org/hsesuicide
A new workplace safety agreement has been negotiated by global unions and textile and garment manufacturers. The deal signed by IndustriALL, UNI and leading apparel brands updates the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and now includes provision to extend the programme to other countries, with a commitment to add at least one more country within two years. IndustriALL said the renewed agreement, which takes effect on 1 September 2021, “preserves and advances” the fundamental elements that made the Accord successful, including: Respect for freedom of association; shared governance between labour and brands; a high level of transparency; safety committee training and worker awareness programmes; and a credible, independent complaints mechanism. It also extends the scope to general health and safety, from only fire and building safety. IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches said: “This International Accord is an important victory towards making the textile and garment industry safe and sustainable. The agreement maintains the legally binding provision for companies and most importantly the scope has been expanded to other countries and other provisions, encompassing general health and safety.” He added: “Now, the textile and garment companies must show their commitment and sign the renewed International Accord.” IndustriALL news release
. Bangladesh Accord news release
and full text of the new International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry
. CCC news release
. Workers Rights Consortium news release. Reuters
Health and safety is being ignored in factories since Myanmar’s military coup, unions have warned. The Industrial Workers’ Federation of Myanmar (IWFM) said two of its members have died from Covid-19 and more than 100 factory-level union leaders have been infected. The union said since the coup, many garment manufacturers have ignored the health protocols implemented by the previous democratically-elected government. It added Covid-19 cases skyrocketed in July this year, with the lack of implementation of the health protocols causing an increase in workplace infections. Khaing Zar, the president of IWFM, said: “There is no concrete action to remedy the worsening situation, and we have raised this with employers and brands several times. Some employers have even collaborated with the military to identify and persecute local union leaders.” He added: “There are no workers’ rights, no justice and no remedy. That’s why we are calling all investors to isolate the regime, cut off their resources and drive them out.” According to the unions, Myanmar’s labour office has been largely dysfunctional since the coup in February. They add many garment employers have dismissed workers who have been absent from work over safety concerns. Valter Sanches, general secretary with the global union federation IndustriALL, commented: “We offer our sincerest condolences to the families of the two IWFM members who died from Covid-19 and condemn the junta and employers for mismanaging workers’ health and safety. We support IWFM’s call for comprehensive economic sanctions against the military junta.” IndustriALL news release
Dockers’ unions have welcomed a new safety app “developed by dockers, for dockers” that helps teach workers how to identify and reduce hazards in ports. Global transport union ITF said port workers who download the OSH Ports app and complete a short course can then take an assessment and receive an official completion certificate. The new occupational safety and health training app is funded by the ITF Seafarers’ Trust and is free to download. The content and curriculum of the app was developed with strong input from dockworkers themselves through ITF-affiliated unions, with contributions from the International Labour Organisation’s International Training Centre (ILO-ITC). “This is an app developed by dockers, for dockers backed up by expert technical advice. Because it’s been driven by workers, everything in there has been built from the ground up with a docker in mind,” said Paddy Crumlin, chair of the ITF dockers’ section. Crumlin, who is also an ITF Seafarers’ Trust trustee, said the charity was approached to help reduce the concerning number of preventable accidents and fatalities in ports. Jessica Isbister, vice chair of the ITF dockers’ section occupational safety and health working group (DOSH), said: “Every docker should use this app, complete the course and encourage your workmates to use it too.” She added ITF plans to “identify leaders to undertake secondary training with industry experts to give them the knowledge and confidence to go back and make significant changes to improve the health and safety of their ports.” ITF news release
and OHS ports app
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