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Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.



End jab compulsion to prevent care home catastrophe

The government must immediately repeal ‘no jab, no job’ laws for care home staff in England to avert a staffing crisis that threatens to overwhelm the sector, UNISON has said. The union warned that mandatory vaccination rule is pushing thousands to the brink of quitting care work and ministers are “sleepwalking into a disaster” by failing to act. Care home staff have until 16 September to get their first vaccination or face the sack. Despite this fast-approaching deadline, “there is no sign the government has a realistic plan to deal with the fall-out from its draconian policy,” said UNISON. The union said “an exodus has already begun of workers who are hesitant about the jab, or feel they are being bullied into it.” It added the union is receiving concerning reports of care homes struggling to meet levels of staffing that comply with safety requirements set by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). The government’s own calculations estimate that mandatory vaccination could result in up to 70,000 care workers leaving their roles in a sector which already had huge vacancy levels of more than 110,000. UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Vaccination remains the way out of the pandemic. But coercing and bullying people can never be the right approach.” She added: “Care is already a broken and underfunded sector that cannot afford to lose any more staff. The government must scrap the ‘no jab, no job’ rule now. Widespread care home closures could be the consequence if they ignore the warnings. This would be disastrous for elderly people and those who cannot live without care support.” The regulations make double vaccination compulsory for those working in and attending care homes from 11 November 2021.
UNISON news release. Full impact assessment, Department for Health and Social Care, July 2021 and data on the state of the adult social care sector and workforce in England.

Don’t take risks with Covid at work

Businesses must “not let their guard down” to stop Covid-19 spreading rapidly through workplaces, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has said. The safety professionals’ organisation said vigilance was especially important as schools reopen after the summer break and more workers return to offices. It said employers must ensure they have robust measures in place to prevent transmission, adding that now is a good time to review their effectiveness. Ruth Wilkinson, IOSH’s head of health and safety, said: “This virus hasn’t gone away - many thousands are being infected daily in the UK alone, and many of these cases are leading to people becoming seriously ill.” She added “now is not a time to be complacent so we are urging businesses to not let their guard down, as Covid-19 remains a hazard within the workplace. As part of risk assessment processes, they need to ensure Covid-19 risks are identified, control measures are in place, and they are actively monitored and reviewed to ensure they remain effective.” Wilkinson said: “Risk assessments are the starting point for it all, as they can help to identify the risks of transmission, persons at higher risk, and importantly the proportionate controls to protect workers, clients, consumers and communities.”
IOSH news release and coronavirus resources. Morning Star.

Unions call for return of school safety measures

The UK government should re-introduce safety measures in schools, including bubbles, social distancing and face coverings, in light of warnings of a possible “exponential growth” of coronavirus amongst children when the new academic year begins. The call from the education unions GMB, UNISON and Unite came after the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) committee cautioned that it’s “highly likely” there will be a high prevalence of the virus for pupils and staff after the school restart, causing more disruption in learning (Risks 1012). The unions said that after 18 months of unsettled education, it’s vital every effort is made to minimise transmission among pupils – most of whom will not have been vaccinated – in an effort to keep as many as possible in class. The unions have also been calling for improved ventilation to limit infection spread. Avril Chambers, GMB national officer, said: “The government must act now to prevent an explosion of both acute Covid cases and long-Covid in returning pupils. Schools are still workplaces, and these risks must be reduced to the lowest level possible without delay.” Jon Richards, UNISON assistant general secretary, said: “Given the dire warning by scientific experts, the government must act swiftly to reintroduce safety measures, including face coverings, as a simple way to reduce transmission. It’s unacceptable to knowingly jeopardise a new term by failing to heed the experts.” Jim Kennedy, Unite’s national officer for local government, accused education secretary Gavin Williamson of “napping on the job”, adding: “The government needs to take every measure possible, such as mask wearing and proper ventilation in schools, to prevent another wave of Covid-19 causing further disruption this autumn to the education of this generation of school students and pupils.”
GMB news release. UNISON news release.

Action call as Covid cases soar in Scottish schools

Teaching union NASUWT is calling for the Scottish government to step up Covid control measures in schools to help break chains of virus transmission, amid a backdrop of soaring cases in schools only a few weeks after pupils returned. Ministers committed to review the current mitigations based on the evidence which emerged in the first six weeks of term. NASUWT said it is now clear Covid cases are rising rapidly in schools and measures should be strengthened now. It wants “proactive measures” to improve ventilation and an extension to the programme of onsite testing. Dr Patrick Roach, the NASUWT general secretary, said extended testing and the reintroduction of self-isolation rules could have a significant impact in breaking the chain of virus transmission amongst young people. He added the government also “needs to accelerate the promised rollout of CO2 monitors into schools to assist with ensuring good ventilation. There is no excuse for the government to allow further disruption to pupils’ education, when effective measures can be taken immediately in response to the clear and growing evidence of Covid transmission in schools and the wider community.” The union also called for similar protective action in schools in England and Wales.
NASUWT news release, Wales news release and England news release.

Union anger after office hit by anti-vax assault

Prospect has condemned anti-vax protestors who attempted to storm a government agency in London on 3 September. Commenting after the incident at the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which is responsible for delivering Covid vaccines to the UK public, Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “Staff at the MHRA, including Prospect members, are heroes of the pandemic and have contributed to a Herculean effort to save thousands of lives. To see these workers targeted in this way in their workplace is utterly disgraceful, and only further discredits the perpetrators and their false narrative.” He added: “Prospect sends our solidarity to MHRA and other staff in the building and stands ready to support members through this incident. These awful scenes will only serve to strengthen our resolve to campaign on behalf of those who have worked tirelessly to keep the public safe through these extraordinary times.” The Metropolitan Police said five of its officers were injured in the clashes with demonstrators, calling the behaviour of the protesters ‘unacceptable’.
Prospect news release. i News. Metro.

Workers may shun ‘cavalier’ maskless MPs

Two unions representing staff in parliament have told the House of Commons Commission that any staff who opt to remove themselves from situations where MPs are refusing to wear a mask and they feel unsafe should be backed by the authorities and will be supported by their union. Mask wearing is mandatory for staff where social distancing cannot be guaranteed, but is deemed as optional for MPs. Prospect has described these double standards when it comes to looking after the health and safety of staff members and colleagues as “bizarre”. The move from Prospect and the FDA comes after many MPs refused to wear masks in the Chamber when the House was recalled over Afghanistan (Risks 1010). The unions say mask-wearing and social distancing were also noticeable by their absence at the recent sitting of the Foreign Affairs Committee. They want the House of Commons to do more to protect staff including, assuring staff that if they feel unsafe they may remove themselves from the situation and will be supported. FDA and Prospect add whips, the Commission and the Speaker should make clear to MPs that they should wear masks. And it wants staff to be provided with higher quality protective face masks if MPs continue to flout the guidance. Mike Clancy, Prospect general secretary, said: “The bottom line is that if we don’t protect Commons staff then not only is their health at risk but so is the continued normal functioning of parliament. The Commons Commission must make clear to staff that if they find themselves in close proximity to an MP without a mask then they are at full liberty to remove themselves.” FDA general secretary Dave Penman said “we will fully support any members of staff who remove themselves from situations where their health and safety is put at risk.”
Prospect news release.


Rising health issues behind driver shortages

Ill-health and illness is a major factor in the increasing shortage of lorry drivers, Unite has revealed. The union identified the ‘rising’ problem after making a freedom of information (FOI) request to the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Association (DVLA). This confirmed that the number of lorry and bus drivers who are having their licence refused or revoked for medical issues has risen sharply. In 2005 a total of 4,583 drivers had their licence refused or revoked. By 2018 this number had increased to 12,242. The figure for 2020 was 7,209, however medicals were suspended for most of that year because of Covid-19 pandemic. Long hours, irregular shifts, sedentary work and an aging workforce were contributory factors, the union said. Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “These figures are alarming but unsurprising,” adding: “This is a problem of the employers making – forcing their workforces to work long hours in unhealthy environments is going to have major health implications.” The Unite official said: “It is essential that not only is pay improved but that conditions for drivers are made more palatable, so that they can access more nutritious food and that the long hours culture, which also leads to a chronic lack of sleep, is tackled. What is certain is that the relaxation in the driving hours that is resulting in already exhausted workers operating for longer is making a bad situation worse and will have long-term health implications.”
Unite news release.

Food union takes aim at 12-hour shifts

Supply chain issues hobbling the food industry won’t be resolved until workers in the sector are given decent working conditions, the GMB has said. The union said unsustainable working practices, long shifts and low wages “are the real cause of supply chain crisis in the meat industry that is strangling the economy.” GMB national officer Eamon O’Hearn said: “GMB has news for the meat supply chain. There is no future for two twelve hours shifts in the abattoirs where workers are on their feet for the duration.” He added: “The employers and the farmers need to recognise the need to radically reorganise work practices and pay to ensure capacity for a steady and secure meat supply chain.” O’Hearn criticised “the low-wage, low-margin business model that allows retailers to strangle our supply chain,” adding: “Years and years of cost pressures on the supply chain from the big retailers and others is now coming home to roost. It’s time the meat industry joined with GMB to take a stand against the retailers to ensure a UK supply chain has fair wages and decent working conditions.”
GMB news release.

Tube tragedy exposes need for safe staffing levels

The death of a passenger on a London Underground (LU) line highlights the need for safe staffing levels on the system, rail union RMT has said. The union was commenting after the publication of what it described as a ‘damning’ report into the May 2020 fatality at Waterloo underground station. A man who fell into the gap between the train and platform while getting off a London Underground service was not seen by two drivers, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) found. The incident, which happened mid-morning during the first coronavirus lockdown, took place when there were no staff or other passengers to help. When the man was unable to free himself the train left with him still in the gap, crushing him as it moved off. The driver of a following train was unaware the man was on the line because their attention was focused on the platform and the train's stopping point, the report said. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “This a damning report that once again illustrates the importance of maintaining staffing levels on the basis of proper safety and risk assessments that must involve front line staff through their trade union.” He added: “RMT safety reps will be raising this report with LU in our safety forums and demanding a clear programme of action to deal with the issues it addresses.”
RAIB report. RMT news release. BBC News Online. ITV News.

New union training to combat firefighter cancers

A new training programme designed by the firefighters’ union FBU will address the “significant” cancer risks that come with the job. The union’s DECON programme intends to help reduce the impact of toxic substances released in fires. The union said firefighters surveyed as part of University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) research were found to be four times more likely to have been diagnosed with cancer than the general population. DECON encourages firefighters to take actions before, during, and after every fire incident to help reduce exposure to the toxic ‘contaminants’ linked to cancer and other work-related diseases. The union said these actions include better cleaning practices around fire kit and firefighters themselves. FBU national officer Riccardo la Torre, who has led the development of the training, programme, said: “Most firefighters will know a colleague who is battling, or has battled, with cancer. It affects us all in the fire service and can be devastating. This training aims to help make this less frequent. We’re looking forward to seeing it in action and hopefully helping save lives.” FBU general secretary Matt Wrack added: “There are indications that the danger that contaminants pose could be very significant indeed, and it is likely that contaminants have already taken so much from the firefighting community. But with this training we can begin to fight back and improve safety for firefighters. All Fire and Rescue Services and every Chief Fire Officer should support this initiative and encourage employees to register.” The union said it is looking to work with all UK fire and rescue services to deliver the training to all serving firefighters.
FBU news release, DECON training and cancer and disease registry.

Work asthma costs health care housekeeper her job

A lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) at work left a health centre worker from Sheffield with an occupational disease and unable to work. Tracey Grayson’s job as a housekeeper at Jordanthorpe Health Centre involved cleaning areas where patients with MRSA had been, using a chemical called Chlor-clean. The product is widely used in UK hospital-based settings to combat fungi, viruses, mycobacteria, bacteria and spores. The 52-year-old UNISON member used Chlor-clean about once or twice a week - without ever being supplied with the correct PPE. She first developed symptoms in July 2015 with frequent chest infections, becoming so ill she had to take six months off work. Her health continued to deteriorate and on referral to hospital after falling ill in 2016 she was seen by a specialist doctor who carried out tests and diagnosed her with occupational asthma. The mother-of-three said: “I struggled to do little things and everyday tasks – I couldn’t understand why no one else in my work was ill. To this day, I still can’t share a bed with my husband, I have to sleep in a different room – it’s changed my life.” After 10 years employed by the Trust she had to quit her job due to ill-health. Alison Gregory of Thompsons Solicitors, who represented Tracey in a UNISON-backed compensation claim, said: “It’s so important to be able to hold negligent employers to account, and yet again we see the importance of supplying workers in the healthcare sector with the right PPE.” The union’s lawyers secured a five-figure compensation settlement.
Thompsons Solicitors news release.

Food firm fined after workers gassed

A food manufacturing company has been fined after several employees were gassed, with two having to give up work as a result. Lincoln Magistrates Court heard that Holbeach firm AH Worth Ltd, formerly known as QV Foods Ltd, purchased a new potato processing line in 2018. The line dipped the cut potatoes in ‘Microsoak’, a chemical added to water to prevent browning. However, during commissioning, the Microsoak gave off toxic sulphur dioxide (SO2) gas, affected workers in the packhouse. The company made modifications to the line to attempt to cure the problem, but it caused the nozzles on the line to block repeatedly and more sulphur dioxide to be given off. A maintenance engineer attempting to unblock the nozzles on 11 June 2018 was badly exposed to gas. Several ambulances, fire engines and police officers were called to the incident. Paramedics gave the affected workers first aid and oxygen, and four people were taken to hospital. The maintenance engineer and another worker were so badly affected that they were not able to return to work due to the effects of the gas on their lungs. An investigation carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found there had not been adequate flows of information between QV Foods Ltd and the contractors involved, and workers were not given the required information and training. Nor was there a safe system of work for unblocking the nozzles or the necessary PPE. AH Worth Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £300,000 plus £9,924.90 costs. HSE inspector Martin Giles commented: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the company to plan properly for the introduction of new plant and equipment. It made alterations to the new plant without adequate thought and planning, failed to implement safe systems of work and failed to react adequately when things started to go wrong.”
HSE news release. US NIOSH guide to sulphur dioxide risks at work.

Worker killed in defective telehandler incident

A fencing manufacturer and the owner of the yard where the business operates have been fined following the death of an employee at the site. North Somerset Magistrates’ Court heard how on 14 August 2017, Roderick McKenzie Hopes was working for PA Fencing Ltd at the yard. A telescopic forklift, or telehandler, used to move timber was lifted too high. It tipped over, knocking over some stacked timber which fell on to the 66-year-old, resulting in his death. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the telehandler’s safety device, designed to stop loads being lifted so high, had not worked for a long time and maintenance had failed to identify this. The machine operator had not received full training in its use and the machine was regularly used to lift overly heavy loads. The yard supervisor did not have the necessary familiarity with safe use of the machine. The yard wasn’t laid out to allow the safe stacking of material. The investigation also found that PA Fencing Ltd shared the machine with David Crossman, who owns the neighbouring farm and who rents the yard to PA Fencing Ltd. Neither PA Fencing Ltd nor Mr Crossman had ensured that the machine was properly maintained nor that it was independently examined, a test which by law must be done at least annually. PA Fencing Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £35,000 plus costs of £7,500. David Crossman pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £3,000 with £7,500 costs.
HSE news release. Somerset Live.


Australia: Unions launch national vaccination campaign

Australia’s national union federation ACTU has launched a national ad campaign to encourage Australians to get vaccinated. The union body says the move supports essential workers and those who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic. The short ‘It’s time to get vaccinated’ advert will run on TV, YouTube and social media. ACTU secretary Sally McManus commented: “The union movement is encouraging all eligible Australians to get vaccinated to support the working people of our country: essential workers who expose themselves every day to keep the country running, hospital workers who face being overwhelmed with unvaccinated people and workers who have lost their jobs because of lockdowns.” She added: “We need our workplaces and communities to be as safe as possible and high rates of vaccination is the only way to achieve this. High vaccination rates are also the only way to avoid the crippling lockdowns which have cost working people big time… Vaccination is how we support each other and build a community with a strong shield that will keep us all safe. How strong our shield is depends on all of us making the choice to get vaccinated. We are calling on everyone to do their part so we can protect each other.”
ACTU news release and It’s time to get vaccinated broadcast/online advert.

Canada: Unions want a work deaths prosecutor

There must be immediate action to protect workers after the collapse of a high-profile criminal trial related to a young worker's death, unions in the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) have said. The BC Federation of Labour president, Laird Cronk, described the decision last week to stay criminal negligence charges against Peter Kiewit Sons and two former managers as a “profound failure” of the justice system. “Justice delayed is justice denied, and the unconscionable delays, insufficient resources and organisational breakdowns in investigating Sam Fitzpatrick's death have compounded tragedy upon tragedy,” Cronk said, as the case was stayed just as it was scheduled to commence. “A system that can't effectively investigate and prosecute negligent employers endangers workers across the province.” The BCFED leader said he wanted to see the provincial government immediately dedicate a prosecutor to deal with workplace injuries and deaths, train police on the law and make police investigations mandatory when a worker is killed or seriously injured. Sam Fitzpatrick was killed in 2009 aged 24 by a falling boulder on a Kiewit worksite. His younger brother was working next to him and saw it happen. Safety regulator WorkSafeBC found that Kiewit had been running the site with a “reckless disregard” for safety. The police opened a criminal investigation in 2014 in response to campaigning by Fitzpatrick's father and the United Steelworkers (USW) union, and charges of criminal negligence causing death were approved five years later. In 2011, WorkSafeBC levied a $250,000 (£144,000) fine against Kiewit for violations of occupational health and safety regulations related to Fitzpatrick's death. The fine was later reduced on appeal to $100,000 (£58,000).
BCFED news release. USW news release. CBC News.

Global: WHO hits back at asbestos lobby ‘misinformation’

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has hit out at the “misinformation” used to lobby governments about the supposed safety of chrysotile asbestos, which WHO has reiterated is a potent cause of cancer. The WHO clarification came in the wake of pro-asbestos comments by a Russian government minister. The REGNUM news agency reported that foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told a briefing in Yekaterinburg: “Together with the Ministry of Industry and Trade in bilateral negotiations we convince our partners from India, Vietnam and other Asian countries in the safety of this type of asbestos.” The article also claimed: “The controlled use of chrysotile is approved by the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation…” WHO has now confirmed its unchanged position, namely “the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to the stop the use of all types of asbestos.” A 6 September 2021 statement from Carolyn Vickers, head of WHO’s chemical unit, noted: “The World Health Organisation is concerned that countries are lobbied with misinformation about the health risks of chrysotile. Chrysotile asbestos causes cancer in humans, specifically, it causes mesothelioma and cancer of the lung, larynx and ovary. The scientific evidence that it causes cancer is conclusive and overwhelming.” She added: “The World Health Organisation reiterates its policy, which remains unchanged, that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to the stop the use of all types of asbestos.  WHO continues to offer its support to countries to address the problem of chrysotile asbestos and the serious threat it poses to public health.”
WHO policy statement and disputed article. International Ban Asbestos Secretariat feature on Russian asbestos lobbying.

Global: Brands and retailers back new safety accord

A new legally-binding international safety agreement is attracting support from top global brands and retailers. The International Accord for Health and Safety in the Garment and Textile Industry (Risks 1011) took effect on 1 September. By 2 September, 91 firms had already signed up, and by 6 September the number had topped 100. The new signatories include the world’s biggest fashion retailers H&M, Inditex (Zara) and Uniqlo, as well as Next, C&A, Marks & Spencer and US brands Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and American Eagle. Global unions welcomed the swift action by companies. “It is encouraging to see the large number of brands that have already signed on to the International Accord, taking responsibility for a safe and sustainable garment and textile industry,” said IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches. “But we call on all textile and garment brands to take responsibility for their supply chain and to the expanded International Accord.” UNI general secretary Christy Hoffman said: “In signing the International Accord, brands and retailers shore up their commitment to factory safety in Bangladesh and also agree to establishing badly-needed enforceable and transparent health and safety programmes in at least one other garment producing country. We are delighted that so many global retailers and brands have signed up to the International Accord and in doing so, are taking responsibility for garment worker safety in their supply chains.” The agreement is originally limited to production in Bangladesh, but includes a commitment to add at least one more country within two years.
IndustriALL news release. UNI news release. International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry. Full list of signatories.



TUC Hazards at Work 6th Edition

Stock Code: HS111
Price £22 RRP £52
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This is the Sixth edition of the TUC's best-selling guide to health and safety at work.
Used by reps, officers, employers, professionals in the field and even enforcement officers. This incredibly popular book is now even more informative at over 400 pages, an invaluable resource, which incorporates common hazards and cause of ill health at work, and how to assess and prevent them.
The book also contains HSE and other guidance, extensive checklists, case studies and web resources.
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