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



Don’t sleep-walk into ‘a winter of chaos’

The UK government “risks sleep-walking into a winter of chaos” unless it takes decisive action to curb the rise in Covid cases, the TUC and union leaders have warned. In a joint statement – signed by unions representing millions of public and customer-facing workers – the union leaders call on ministers to intervene urgently. “With hundreds of Covid outbreaks at workplaces being reported to health authorities each week, events feel ominously reminiscent of last winter,” the unions say. “The government must act now to reduce the spread of Covid. Failure to do so will risk public health, frontline services, and the economy. We cannot afford a laissez-faire approach to managing the pandemic – we need clear and consistent leadership.” Calling for action to keep workers safe in frontline jobs in retail, transport, public services and across the economy, they say the government should “make the wearing of face coverings in shops and on public transport mandatory” and “remind employers of their legal obligation to manage the risks of Covid-19. That means carrying out and publishing thorough risk assessments and consulting with unions on necessary preventative action.” Unions also want “tough and decisive enforcement action. And regulators, including the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities, must be given the additional resources and funding they need to keep people safe at work.” There should be an urgent ‘uplift’ in Statutory Sick Pay to the real living wage, and it should be available to all workers, the statement says, adding: “Last, employers must support the roll-out of booster jabs by giving staff paid time off to get vaccinated.” Warning against further delays, the union leaders say: “We all want to beat Covid once for all and to avoid further lockdowns. But without decisive action now we risk sleepwalking into another winter of chaos. Frontline services are already under immense strain. Dithering and delaying will only make the situation worse.”
TUC news release and full joint statement. The Guardian. The Independent and related story. Daily Mail.

Home working likely to be ‘best way to curb virus’

Advising people to work from home is likely to have the most impact on stopping Covid spreading this winter, scientists advising the government have said. Stricter virus restrictions should now be prepared for “rapid deployment,” the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said. It added “presenteeism” - or turning in for work when unfit - could become an increasing cause of infections in workplaces. In April 2020, at the height of the first pandemic lockdown, less than half of people in employment (46.6 per cent) did some work at home, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). In minutes of a Sage meeting on 14 October, published on 22 October, the advisers warn that acting earlier rather than later could reduce the need for stricter measures  including lockdowns over a longer timeframe “to avoid an unacceptable level of hospitalisations.” The advisers, led by Sir Patrick Vallance, say making face coverings compulsory in some places is likely to help reduce the spread of Covid as well as other winter viruses, such as flu. Sage also notes: “Cases and admissions are currently at much higher levels than in European comparators, which have retained additional measures and have greater vaccine coverage, especially in children.” They add: “Reducing prevalence from a high level requires greater intervention than reducing from a lower level.” They say people who show symptoms of an infection should stay at home to stop it spreading to others, adding this message needs to come from government, employers, universities and schools to be most effective.
Minutes of Sage meeting 96, 14 October 2021, published 22 October 2021. BBC News Online.

Covid safety measures must return in shops

Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw is calling on the UK government to make in-store safety measures mandatory to help reduce the spread of Covid-19. Responding to evidence of rising Covid-19 infections, hospitalisations and deaths, the union’s general secretary, Paddy Lillis, said: “Since the government ended mandatory safety measures within shops, the wearing of face coverings, social distancing and hand sanitising have been in decline. Protection for retail workers through customers following Covid safety rules should be backed up by the law and not left to individual choice, if we are going to avoid further lockdown measures.” He added: “Without clear direction from the government, we continue to ask employers to think about their duty of care to staff and promote safety measures to the shopping public. We also ask customers to show their support and respect for shopworkers by wearing face coverings, observe hand hygiene and maintain social distancing. Wearing a face covering is an important measure to help protect workers who have no option but to interact with the public. Retail workers are at a greater risk of catching the virus and bringing it home to their families. They have worked throughout the pandemic to keep the country fed and deserve to be valued, respected and protected.” Between 18 July and 17 October, the percentage of people in England, Scotland and Wales who said they had worn a face covering outside their home in the past seven days dropped 13 percentage points, according to a survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The drop was more marked in England than in Scotland or Wales. Social distancing had also dropped dramatically.
Usdaw news release. ONS update, 22 October 2021. BBC News Online.

Call for protection for transport and hospitality staff

Mandatory face mask wearing on public transport must return after a surge in Covid-19 infections, Unite has said. The union said it believes a return to compulsory mask wearing on all public transport, which the government ended in July, would be a simple and commonsense method to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission when travelling. Unite national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton said: “The government can no longer pretend that Covid-19 is not a risk and needs to take immediate action to protect key workers and passengers. By reintroducing mask wearing the danger of infection to both bus workers and passengers is significantly reduced. This is a sensible measure the government could and should take that does not damage the economy in anyway.” He added: “The reintroduction of mask wearing must go hand-in-hand with the proper enforcement of such rules.” The union has reiterated its call for mitigation measures be properly enforced. Unite said it is also becoming increasingly alarmed about ‘the lack of dignity and respect’ that its hospitality workers are experiencing in the workplace due to the way members of the public react to social distancing measures set by venues. Unite national officer for the sector Dave Turnbull said: “Our members are reporting that customers are becoming increasingly abusive when they attempt to enforce social distancing measures set by the venue. This is entirely unacceptable. Unite is working to ensure that hospitality sector employers protect their workers.”
Unite news release.

Stricter Covid measures needed to protect the NHS

Tighter Covid-19 controls are needed now to protect NHS services and workers, Unite has said. The union’s general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The government must not repeat the complacency of last autumn. The NHS is already at breaking point and its staff are exhausted. The government needs to do everything in its power to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed this autumn and winter and to keep working people safe.” The Unite leader added: “Dozens of Unite members who worked on the frontline have already lost their lives to this disease and we will not stand for a single worker being put at risk again. This union will not hesitate to act to protect our members. Unite has already called for mask wearing to be mandatory on public transport and has highlighted the abuse its hospitality members have received trying to enforce voluntary mask wearing.” She concluded: “We expect the government to act responsibly and to do it today, not tomorrow, next week or next month.”
Unite news release.

Government must restore school safety measures

Teaching union NASUWT is calling on the UK government to learn from Scotland where mitigation measures are continuing in order to limit the spread of Covid in schools (Risks 1018). Dr Patrick Roach, the NASUWT general secretary, said: “Ministers seem to be burying their heads in the sand and hoping for the best as we see infections increasing daily. It is vital that whatever needs to be done is done to ensure that pupils’ education is not further disrupted.” He explained: “There is a need for mitigations to be restored, particularly as we move into the winter when the virus is more likely to spread further and faster as more indoor mixing takes place in the community. Case rates in England are almost as high as at any point during the pandemic.” The NASUWT leader added: “Ministers must also ensure clearer communications to parents and pupils and avoid mixed messages. If pupils are being encouraged to wear face masks on school transport, many will be confused as to why such measures are not required when they are in school.”
NASUWT news release.

Government inaction behind Covid bad news

It’s not right for the UK government ‘to put responsibility on the people but to refuse simple actions themselves’ to address the concerning rise in Covid infections, teaching union NEU has said. Commenting on the Westminster government’s strategy to tackle Covid-19, laid out by health secretary Sajid Javid at the 20 October Downing Street briefing – where he warned Covid cases could rise to 100,000 a day this winter - NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “It is something of an understatement to say things are going in the 'wrong direction'. Despite the evidence that schools and colleges are one of the main drivers of virus transmission, no additional support or guidance to schools and colleges has been given to ensure students, staff and their families remain as safe as possible. Sajid Javid advises the population to wear masks, but he and the Department for Education are ignoring our request that they should be following the control measures in place in Scotland’s schools, such as face coverings in secondary schools and asking pupils who are a very close contact of someone with coronavirus to take a PCR test before they return to school.” The NEU leader warned: “It’s not right to put responsibility on the people but to refuse simple actions themselves. Yet again, government is failing to take control of a situation which the health secretary himself predicts could get a good deal worse with case rates rising to 100,000 a day. It is irresponsible not to address the growing concerns.” Independent Sage, responding to the health secretary’s plan, said “the failure to implement sensible and proportionate protections in the short term makes it more likely that we will need greater restrictions in the long term.”
NEU news release. I-Sage response to Sajid Javid statement. Slides accompanying 20 October press conference.

Too many Tory MPs still not wearing masks

Despite health secretary Sajid Javid making clear on 20 October that MPs should be wearing face masks in the chamber of the House of Commons, ‘too many’ Conservative MPs insist on remaining maskless, the union Prospect has said. The union said virtually no Conservative MPs have “deigned to wear a mask in the House, despite it being the government’s own advice to do so in enclosed spaces.” The union said on 21 October more government MPs were wearing masks but far too many still were not. Garry Graham, Prospect deputy general secretary, said: “It’s good to see some Tory MPs finally setting an example by wearing masks in the chamber, although far too many, including on the frontbench, are still refusing. It shouldn’t have taken a huge surge in infections for this to happen. As the health secretary said, and as unions have been saying for months, MPs have a responsibility not only to each other but to parliamentary staff and to the country as a whole to wear masks. Clear messaging is important and when people see their leaders behaving in the opposite way to their own guidance then that guidance becomes meaningless.” Graham added: “The Speaker and Leader of the House still have the opportunity to step away from their devotion to tradition and impose rules on MPs. The closely observed mandated wearing of masks in the chamber would go a long way to impressing on people the urgency of the issue.”
Prospect news release.

Labour calls for Plan B measures

Labour is calling on the government to bring in its Plan B measures to tackle Covid in England, including advice to work from home and compulsory masks. Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves also told the BBC the vaccine programme was “stalling” and needed to work better. Demands for compulsory mask wearing, vaccine passports and more working from home have been growing, with the NHS Confederation (Risks 1018) and the British Medical Association among the groups who have called for restrictions to be reintroduced in England. Asked whether Plan B should be introduced now, Labour’s Rachel Reeves told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show on 24 October: “Yes, but let's not let the government off the hook with Plan A either.” The chancellor Rishi Sunak was also asked whether it was time to bring in the government's back-up plan. “We're monitoring everything, but at the moment the data does not suggest that we should be immediately moving to Plan B, but of course we will keep an eye on that and the plans are ready,” he said. The chancellor also said reintroducing the furlough scheme was “not on the cards because we don't envisage having to impose significant economic restrictions in the way that we had to over the last year.” Sunak added that the vaccine rollout was the “first line of defence” and the booster campaign was the best way to protect people through the winter. But Prof Adam Finn, a member of the government's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said the vaccination programme by itself was not enough “to bring things under control.” He told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday: “We do need to have people using lateral flow tests, avoiding contact with large numbers of people in enclosed spaces, using masks, all of those things now need to happen if we're going to stop this rise and get things under control soon enough to stop a real meltdown in the middle of the winter.”
Andrew Marr Show, BBC, 24 October 2021. BMA news release. BBC News Online and related story. The Independent.

Disabled workers want to work from home

Nine in 10 disabled workers surveyed (90 per cent) who worked from home during the pandemic want to continue doing so at least some of the time, according to a TUC poll. The poll – run by YouGov for the TUC – found that many disabled workers experienced working from home for the first time during the pandemic. The union body said working from home was a ‘gamechanger’ for many disabled workers. Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) said that it gave them greater control over their working hours. Two in five (40 per cent) said that it reduced their tiredness and fatigue. And more than a quarter (26 per cent) said their mental health had improved. However, one third of disabled workers (34 per cent) who worked from home said that they lacked proper office equipment such as a desk, chair or computer. One in 11 (nine per cent) experienced difficulties taking part in online meetings because of their disability, impairment or heath condition and one in 14 (seven per cent) lacked the software they needed to do their job – such as speech to text programmes. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Disabled people were hit hard by Covid-19. Six in ten of all Covid deaths were of disabled people.” She added: “During the pandemic, many disabled people were able to work flexibly or from home for the first time – often after being previously told that it was not possible in their job. Even amid the grief and isolation of the pandemic, these changed working patterns improved the experience of many disabled people at work. We can’t go back. Employers must offer all disabled people who can work from home the right to continue working from home, as a reasonable adjustment. And they must offer appropriate flexible working options as standard in all jobs – both as a reasonable adjustment for disabled workers, and as a right for every worker.” The TUC leader concluded: “Ministers must change the law so that all jobs are advertised with flexible options clearly stated, and all workers have the legal right to work flexibly from their first day in a job.”
TUC news release and full report, Disabled Workers’ access to flexible working as a reasonable adjustment, 22 October 2021. i-News.


Unite backs HGV drivers call for ‘decency and dignity'

A grassroots campaign by HGV drivers for safety, decency and dignity to be restored to lorry driving in the UK is being backed by the union Unite. The campaign - #TruckedOff – will encourage drivers to take their statutory rest break at 11am on Monday 1 November. The date for the ‘Take a Break’ action has been chosen as it will fall after another expected extension by the UK government to the daily hours drivers can work. Unite has called the repeated extensions irresponsible and quite possibly illegal. The union argues the rolling extensions are also counter-productive, as they will exhaust the present workforce and deter others from joining (Risks 1017). Unite chair and former HGV driver Tony Woodhouse said: “HGV drivers are sick and tired, sick and tired of poor pay, no pensions and longer working hours. Truck stops in this country are a disgrace and the fantasy salaries being reported are a myth.” He added: “Drivers are urged to park up at 11am on Monday 1 November. By taking their legal break, they will highlight that nothing is being done to address the dreadful employment conditions in a sector that's at the heart of our economy. Skilled drivers have walked away from this industry and nobody will replace them unless and until safety, decency and dignity are restored to driving in this country.”
Unite news release, Bringing order to chaos briefing and campaign video.

Customer-facing workers report rising hostility

People in public-facing jobs are facing rising hostility and verbal abuse since the end of the Covid lockdowns, according to organisations that represent them. Half of all shop, transport, restaurant and hotel workers and others dealing regularly with the public have experienced abuse in the past six months, figures from the Institute for Customer Service (ICS) show. This is a 6 per cent rise over May’s 44 per cent. Of those who had been abused, 27 per cent had been physically attacked, ICS found. The research echoes warnings from unions and industry bodies of growing public hostility towards workers since Covid’s second wave. “Hostility towards customer-facing staff has continued even though we’re out of lockdown,” said ICS chief executive Jo Causon. “Around half of employees don’t report hostility because they don’t think it will make any difference. They don’t think the police will act, and they feel it is part of their job to receive abuse.” The impact on mental health and wellbeing is severe, Causon said, with many leaving their jobs as a result. With 61 per cent of the workforce in public-facing roles, there is also an economic cost in staff turnover and sick days, which the ICS puts at £33bn a year.
The Guardian. ICS Service with Respect campaign.

Overworked mental health care workers want action

Mental health care workers in the north-west of England have voted to strike against bosses’ plans to make them work seven days a week. The Morning Star reports Greater Manchester Mental Health Trust has asked the workers, who help “extremely vulnerable people,” to “volunteer” to increase their working week from five days to seven days. The 25 workers, who are members of the public service union UNISON, are campaigning against the proposals, warning that “seven days is not safe.” UNISON North West regional organiser Lyndsey Marchant told the Star: “This group of dedicated mental health workers are determined to provide high-quality care to those who need it most. This is exactly why they have voiced their opposition to the trust’s flawed proposals, which would stretch an already overloaded service to breaking point.” She added: “We call on the trust to listen to its frontline workers and return to the negotiating table with proposals that provide its hard-working staff with the resources to deliver excellent care.” No dates have been set for strike action and UNISON said that, following the vote, more talks with management are planned.
Morning Star.

Bakkavor guilty again after employee crushed

A multinational food manufacturer has been fined after one of its employees sustained two broken ribs as a result of being crushed in an industrial cooker whilst working to clear a blocked water inlet. Lincoln Magistrates’ Court heard how the employee of Bakkavor Fresh Cook Ltd in Holbeach St Marks was crushed in the machine after its safety systems were over-ridden and work on the machine continued while it was live. The machine should have been isolated before the work began. An investigation carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the task was carried out by the employees in this fashion on a regular basis and that the company should have been aware. No risk assessment of the task had been completed and employees had not been provided with a safe system of work. Bakkavor Fresh Cook Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £130,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,607.10. This was the latest in a series of serious safety incidents hitting the food giant, including deaths, injuries, amputations and infections. Bakkavor Fresh Cook Ltd’s parent company, the Icelandic owned Bakkavor Group, was fined £2 million in 2018 after employee Jacek Adamowicz, 29, was struck and killed by a falling bale of plastic waste stacked in the yard of its plant in Ince, Greater Manchester (Risks 798). In 2018, Bakkavor was fined £176,000 after employee Jamie McLean, 22, suffered fatal injuries when he was struck by empty food trays in its Falkirk factory. At least two Bakkavor factories in England have been hit by large Covid-19 outbreaks in the last year (Risks 988), with some workers dying from the virus (Risks 976).
HSE news release. Food Manufacture.

Director of fab firm fined over lost finger

The director of a handrail manufacturing company has been fined after an employee’s hand was drawn into a roller and crushed. Manchester Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 27 March 2019, an employee of Dealercast Ltd in Eccles was being trained by company director Chris Ellor to use a rolling machine to bend pieces of steel tube. While the employee was feeding the tubing between the rollers of the machine, the heavy-duty gloves he was wearing caught between the tubing and one of the rollers. His hand was drawn into the machine injuring his little finger, which later had to be amputated from the second knuckle. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company had not performed a machine specific risk assessment so the risk of entanglement in moving parts had not been highlighted. The employee had no previous experience of working on this type of machine and had not completed training. Director Christopher Ellor pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £1,280 and ordered to pay costs of £3,461. Dealercast Ltd was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3,661. HSE principal inspector Peter Lennon commented: “Employers should ensure they carry out an assessment of the risks and put in place a safe system of work for the operation of all machinery. Companies should be aware of the responsibility upon company directors to recognise the way in which their employees are working. Employers should also be aware of the risk of entanglement when wearing gloves whilst operating machinery. Had the company put in place a clear system of work and prohibited the wearing of gloves when operating this machinery, the incident could have been avoided.”
HSE news release.


Union safety reps in the pandemic, seminar, 11 November

A free University of Greenwich online seminar on 11 November will explore the critical role played by trade union workplace health and safety reps during the pandemic. Over the past year, research by the university’s Centre for Research on Employment and Work (CREW) has evidenced the key role of trade union workplace health and safety reps. Its latest findings will be presented at the seminar, along with contributions from health and safety experts representing trade unions, managers and occupational health and safety organisations and campaigns. CREW is inviting participation with and feedback to its final report and recommendations.
Register for On the Frontline –workplace union health and safety reps in the pandemic, Thursday, 11 November 2021, 10am–1.00pm. Free.


Europe: Backing for new lifesaving asbestos limits

New asbestos protections could save 90,000 lives across the European Union each year, the Europe-wide trade union confederation ETUC has said. Responding to a vote in the European Parliament overwhelmingly supporting recommendations in the Villumsen report on tighter standards to protect workers from asbestos, ETUC deputy general secretary Claes-Mikael Ståhl said: “Nobody should die because of their job. Yet more than 100,000 people still lose their lives every year in Europe from work-related cancer and asbestos is responsible for more than half of those deaths.” He added: “This silent killer has been tolerated for too long so trade unions are relieved the European Parliament has supported protections which could save up to 90,000 lives a year following a campaign led by the EFBWW [the Europe-wide construction union federation] and we call on the Commission and Council to put them into action as soon as possible. The Commission removed the asbestos from its own offices in the mid-1990s so it’s not right the problem should still be tolerated at other people’s workplaces.” The ETUC leader concluded: “This is a vital first step towards ending the scandal of work-related cancer. But there are still no workplace exposure limits for 23 high-risk cancer-causing substances, while limits for another 27 carcinogens are often still far too high to protect workers from cancers which can be fatal or cause reproductive problems. It’s time for the Commission to match its rhetoric on combating cancer with action.”
Villumsen report. ETUC news release, letter from European trade unions to MEPs, and ETUC position on the EU strategic framework on health and safety at work 2021-2027.

Global: Tea giant fails to halt Malawi sex abuse claims

The UK High Court has refused a bid by the British owners of a company which runs tea and macadamia nut plantations in Malawi to effectively end women’s claims of systemic sex abuse by limiting their legal costs. PGI Group Ltd, the UK-based parent company of Malawian tea company Lujeri, applied for the women’s future recoverable costs in their court case to be limited to £150,000. Leigh Day, the law firm acting for the workers, said since the women’s budget for future legal costs is £1.5m, imposing a capping order at £150,000 would have meant they could have taken their claim no further. PGI was served with a claim in April 2020 for a failure to protect 31 women employees from rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, coercion and discrimination by male overseers and managers. The claimants, among the poorest in the world, often have no choice but to submit to the sexual harassment for fear of losing their employment. Many have contracted HIV, others have become pregnant, the claim alleges. PGI applied for the costs capping order to be made at a hearing held in the High Court in September 2021. However, the judge refused the application, the first that had been made since the costs budgeting regime was introduced in 2013. Mr Justice Cavanagh said: “This is a case in which extremely poor claimants are pursuing a relatively low-value claim for a number of legitimate reasons, only one of which is the prospect of damages,” said the judge. He said the application failed to meet the requirement that a capping order must be in the interest of justice. He said there was no substantial risk that without the capping order that disproportionate costs would be incurred. Leigh Day partner Sapna Malik said: “As the judge saw, our clients want to shine a light on the abuses that they and their colleagues have endured, they want to bring about a change of practice at the plantations so that there is zero tolerance of sexual harassment, as well as receive compensation for their suffering. We are glad that this blatant attempt by PGI to halt the legal action has been stopped in its tracks.”
Leigh Day news release.

USA: Tragedy highlights safety crisis in film production

Hours before the fatal shooting with a prop gun of a cinematographer on the New Mexico set of the western Rust, the union camera crew walked off the set in a protest at working conditions. The camera operators and their assistants were frustrated by the safety and other problems surrounding the low-budget film, including complaints about long hours and long commutes, sources involved with the production told the LA Times. Safety protocols standard in the industry, including gun inspections, were not followed strictly on the set near Santa Fe, the sources said. They said at least one of the camera operators complained to a production manager about gun safety on the set in the days before actor Alec Baldwin fired the shot that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, a member of the Cinematographers Guild (IATSE) Local 600, and wounded the director and writer, Joel Souza. The day before the shooting, the first assistant camera operative on the set, Lane Looper, had commented on Facebook: “The show keeps arguing they don’t have to do anything because contract minimums don’t force them to... Most folks on my show are getting five hours of sleep a night.” Three crew members who were present at the Bonanza Creek Ranch set when the tragedy occurred on 23 October said they were particularly concerned about two accidental prop gun discharges. There has been widespread dissatisfaction with conditions facing film crews, with a first every national IATSE strike averted at the 11th hour on 16 October. Four days before she was killed on the set, Halyna Hutchins, 42, posted a photo to her Instagram account with the cast and crew of the movie, including Mr Baldwin, showing her support for IATSE.
IATSE news release. LA Times. Labor Notes. The Independent. The Guardian. Mother Jones.


TUC Hazards at Work 6th Edition

Stock Code: HS111
Price £22 RRP £52
Also now available as an eBook
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.
Order your copy
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