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



Vaccine alone is not enough, warn experts

International experts have concluded Covid-19 vaccination alone is not sufficient to stem the pandemic. Their evidence review, published on 18 November in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), concludes several personal protective and social measures, including mask wearing and physical distancing, are associated with reductions in the incidence Covid-19 and should be continued alongside vaccination. The researchers, from universities in Scotland, Australia and China, trawled databases for studies that assessed the effectiveness of public health measures in reducing the incidence of Covid-19, SARS-CoV-2 transmission (the virus responsible for the disease), and Covid-19 mortality. In all, 72 studies met their inclusion criteria, of which 35 evaluated individual public health measures and 37 assessed multiple public health measures. Results from 8 of these 35 studies were analysed in detail, which indicated a statistically significant 53 per cent reduction in the incidence of Covid-19 with mask wearing and a 25 per cent reduction with physical distancing. The paper notes: “This systematic review identified a statistically significant reduction in the incidence of Covid-19 through the implementation of mask wearing and physical distancing.” Detailed analysis was not possible for other measures, including quarantine and isolation, universal lockdowns, and closures of borders, schools, and workplaces, due to differences in study design, outcome measures and quality. The paper concludes: “It is likely that further control of the Covid-19 pandemic depends not only on high vaccination coverage and its effectiveness but also on ongoing adherence to effective and sustainable public health measures.”
Stella Talic and others. Effectiveness of public health measures in reducing the incidence of covid-19, SARS-CoV-2 transmission, and covid-19 mortality: systematic review and meta-analysis, BMJ 2021;375:e068302, 18 November 2021.
Paul P Glasziou, Susan Michie and Atle Fretheim. Editorial: Public health measures for covid-19: Lack of good research is a pandemic tragedy, BMJ 2021;375:n2729, 18 November 2021. doi:
The Guardian.

PCS slams mass DWP work return as ‘irresponsible’

Civil service union PCS has said it believes it is irresponsible for the DWP ‘to try to force a mass return to workplaces for staff currently working from home’, as scientists have made it clear that Covid-19 still poses a very serious risk to public health. In an online post, the union said: “Despite the mass vaccination programme infections are once again rising and the virus is still as prevalent in society today as at any time during the past 12 months. With the winter months throwing up additional health risks, now is not the time to be ramping up the return to workplaces.” The union statement added: “Our members have shown during the pandemic that it is entirely possible to deliver vital services from home to the most vulnerable in society. It is irresponsible for the DWP to choose this moment to try and force a mass return to workplaces for members currently working from home.” The union said its supports “the principle of hybrid working and the possibility for members to have the greatest possible choice and flexibility over how and where they do their jobs. But now is not the time for DWP to use hybrid working to force a mass return to the workplace, considerably increasing the risk of our members catching and transmitting Covid.” PCS said members should raise their concerns about a return to work with their line managers. The union added: “If any member feels that they are in serious and imminent danger due to the increased risk DWP is placing you under speak to your representative. The union will support any member that needs to remove themselves from such danger.”
PCS news release.

For DVLA strikers, it really is all about safety

Civil service PCS is calling on the DVLA to conclude a health and safety agreement if the department's ‘only priority’ really is the health and safety of staff. The union was commenting after DVLA chief executive Julie Lennard declared, after union members voting again backed industrial action: “It’s important to say that the ballot was never about winning or losing, as our only priority throughout has been staff safety.” In an online response, PCS noted: “If health and safety really is the priority here, why is the DVLA refusing to come back around the negotiating table and finalise a health and safety agreement that will keep staff safe?” The union added transport minister Grant Shapps took off the table an earlier agreement “crafted collaboratively” by the Department for Transport (DfT), DVLA and the union. “The health and safety agreement would provide a protocol for addressing rising Covid cases on site, like the sharp rise in the 500+ cases we’ve seen since mid-August,” PCS said. “The in-year reward has already been agreed and so the only thing needed to bring our dispute to an end is the health and safety agreement.” The union concluded: “Members may rightly be sceptical to read the CEO’s comment that ‘the ballot was never about winning or losing’ when she wrote to all staff on the first day of the ballot to urge them not to use their vote at all. With cases on site rising rapidly and a ballot result which saw nearly 1,000 staff voting for industrial action the department can’t afford to delay reaching an agreement.”
PCS comment and strike vote news release.


Animal charity staff facing ‘mental health disaster’

Staff at a high profile animal charity in London are facing a ‘mental health disaster’ as a result of loss of staff and spiralling demand, Unite has warned. The crisis is behind a ballot for strike action and industrial action short of a strike by staff at the long-established Mayhew animal charity, which includes kennels, a cattery and a clinic. The ballot will close on 10 December. Unite said that the dispute is over staffing levels, the strategy of the organisation and trade union recognition. It comes in the wake of the charity’s ‘rationalisation’ plan for UK operations which the union warns could lead to a 40 per cent reduction in vet nurses, a 50 per cent cut in cleaning hours and a 75 per cent cut in reception staff, as well as a reduction in animal welfare officers. Suzanna Hudson-Cooke, branch chair of British Veterinary Union (BVU) in Unite, has written to the charity’s trustees urging them not to make ‘hasty decisions’ to cut jobs. “Those who work in the veterinary and animal welfare sectors care deeply about the animals they work with every day, and are at a high risk of compassion fatigue,” she noted. “Couple this with severe staff shortages, leading to overwork and burnout, and you have the perfect recipe for mental health disaster. By cutting jobs, the Mayhew would be increasing the workload for the remaining employees, who are already struggling, and reducing their ability to advocate to the best of their ability for the animals in their care.” Unite regional officer Matt Freeman said: “There is still a window of opportunity, while the ballot is being conducted, when we can sit down with the charity for constructive talks about the best way forward for the organisation, the staff and members of public who look to the Mayhew for the care and treatment of their pets.”
Unite news release.

Six demands to beat bullying in film and TV

Film and TV technicians’ union Bectu has launched a six-point plan to help tackle harassment and bullying in the industry. The union says its #UnseenOnScreen campaign has shown that all forms of harassment and bullying remain prevalent. The union’s six demands on production companies, broadcasters and studios seek to prevent and address all forms of harassment and bullying. Specific measures include a demand for all productions to hire an ‘intimacy coordinator’ to oversee consent and facilitate safe practices during scenes where intimacy is performed. The union also wants all productions to have a safeguarding officer on set to log and direct concerns, take reports of bullying and harassment and provide general support in preventing misconduct.  It adds that the film and TV industry must establish clear and enforceable contractual obligations to ensure dignity at work. These should include minimum standards on working conditions that promote safe working spaces and discourage bad behaviour. Bectu also wants diversity and equality training for workers before productions start, a policy for processing complaints of bullying and harassment with clear avenues for resolutions, and the creation of an external reporting body to look at unresolved complaints. “Broadcasters, production companies and studios must put their money where their mouth is in the fight against bullying and harassment and implement real measures that will lead to long-lasting change,” commented head of Bectu Philippa Childs. “Bectu’s six demands provide a blueprint for how the industry can tackle this endemic issue and assure workers in film and TV that their complaints will be taken seriously.”
Bectu news release.

Payout for worker sacked while battling cancer

A man who was made redundant after battling cancer has been compensated after it was found he had been a victim of disability discrimination. Unite member Gary Hall, a father of two from Stevenage, had been working for NextGenAccess Ltd in Hatfield - initially as a contractor and later as an employee - since 2017. The 53-year-old was diagnosed with bowel cancer in the spring of 2018 and was required to take time off work for three different surgeries over a two-year period. When Mr Hall returned to work in January 2020 after the third operation, he was served a redundancy notice within 10 minutes of arriving at the office. Gary commented: “I was told there were changes and I was out – yet they’d taken on three other people to do my job. They said they couldn’t afford me any longer too, yet the salaries of the new employees amounted to much more than I was earning.” His union Unite brought in union law firm Thompsons to act on his behalf, and Gary was subsequently awarded a £56,000 payout. “The compensation makes clear that it was unacceptable for my employer to dismiss me when I was fighting cancer and ensures my family haven’t been left in financial peril,” Gary said. Peter Kavanagh, the Unite London and Eastern regional secretary, commented: “NextGenAccess’s treatment of Mr Hall was appalling. To kick a man when he is down is shameful and they have been caught red-handed. I hope it’s a lesson to other employers that they cannot treat their people in such a cold and callous way.”
Thompsons Solicitors news release.

Train drivers need to stop at the loo

Accessing suitable toilet and hygiene facilities across the UK rail network is a ‘real problem’ for train drivers, their union ASLEF has said. Commenting on World Toilet Day, the 19 November United Nations annual event intended to inspire action to tackle the global sanitation crisis, the union said the problem affects drivers on lots of difference services. But it said it's a particular problem for rail freight drivers - who can sometimes find themselves away from depots, sat in sidings, or on worksites for many hours at a time with no access to facilities. ASLEF's annual conference in 2019 passed resolutions to call for action, including improving access to toilets for freight drivers and a four-hour maximum continuous driving time for all drivers. The union said it had “already convinced the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) to form a steering group to look at industry-wide solutions, and our negotiators continue to work with rail operating companies to make it easier for drivers to be able to access safe, clean and suitable facilities at work, and that drivers have a maximum of four hours continuous time in the cab.” In a commentary in the Morning Star, ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan wrote: “The lack of access to safe, clean and appropriate toilet facilities and the lack of opportunities for staff to access them during their working day, is a real problem on the railway. It’s an occupational health and safety issue. But it’s also a public health issue and an issue of basic human rights.”
ASLEF news release. Morning Star article and Mick Whelan commentary.
Health implications of not having access to toilets at work, ASLEF, November 2021 – publication alert and online resource list and full report.
ITF news release and campaign for clean, safe, accessible toilets for transport workers.

Delivery drivers need to go to the toilet

Distribution and retail trade union Usdaw is calling for all drivers to be provided with safe and easy access to toilets and other welfare facilities. The union said drivers have faced a lack of appropriate facilities for many years, both at the roadside and when making deliveries. It added that since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic this issue has been ‘significantly exacerbated’. Usdaw national officer Mark Todd said: “It is a disgrace that many drivers report being denied access to the most basic facilities, such as toilets, whilst carrying out their essential roles. Drivers deserve to be treated with dignity at work, and must be able to access clean toilet facilities at sites where they are making a delivery. Being unable to access welfare facilities is a real health and safety risk, especially during the ongoing pandemic, when the failure to provide acceptable facilities could increase the transmission of coronavirus.” He added: “The government’s temporary relaxation of drivers’ hours rules has also increased the importance of drivers having suitable places to rest and access facilities. Poor facilities for drivers are making the industry less attractive and causing issues with recruitment and retention, at a time when there is a national shortage of drivers.”
Usdaw news release. Morning Star. More on health and safety and toilet breaks.

London bus strikes looming over shifting shifts

Bus passengers in South and West London face disruption and delays this winter as drivers at Abellio ballot for industrial action in a dispute over shifts their unions says will push up stress and make workers ill. The dispute relates to the company’s scheduling agreement, which establishes a driver’s shift patterns for a year. Under the existing agreement with Unite, the union elects scheduling reps who are fully consulted on changes to drivers’ schedules. However, Abellio has now centralised its scheduling system and has failed to consult Unite on many of the changes taking place. This has resulted in the 950 drivers facing what Unite describes as ‘life changing alterations’ to schedules. It cites one who has worked mornings for a decade, now being placed on permanent late duties and nights. Unite said it believes said that the scheduling agreement is no longer fit for purpose and will lead to “greatly increasing levels of stress, fatigue, anxiety and sickness among drivers. Unite believes that it is also contributing to driver retention problems at Abellio.” Unite regional officer Guy Langston said: “The scheduling agreement is not fit for purpose. Workers are having their lives turned upside down and are being given shift patterns which will simply make them ill.” The union points to a 2019 Loughborough University report that examined the fatigue issues facing London bus drivers, and which identified schedules and rotas as a major cause of driver exhaustion and related safety and health problems (Risks 913).
Unite news release.
Loughborough University: Bus Driver Fatigue – Final Report, August 2019.

Usdaw backs #ShopKind campaign

Retail trade union Usdaw has welcomed the Christmas launch of the national #ShopKind campaign, which encourages shoppers to treat staff with respect when they visit high streets. New polling by the Home Office-funded campaign reveals that over one third of shoppers (38 per cent) have witnessed violence and abuse against shopworkers. The #ShopKind campaign urges the public to be mindful of shopworkers’ essential role serving the public and emphasises that workers should be treated with respect, kindness and gratitude. Over 86 per cent of shoppers recognise that shopworkers face a much higher workload during the Christmas period, the campaign’s polling found. #ShopKind is supported by retailers, the Home Office, Crimestoppers and Usdaw. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis commented: “We very much welcome the #ShopKind initiative that seeks to promote respect, kindness and gratitude. The Christmas campaign is particularly important in the run-up to the festive period, when shops are busier, customers can be stressed and things can boil over. We are saying loud and clear that abuse is not a part of the job. So we join in asking customers to keep their cool and respect shopworkers.”
Usdaw news release.

Peers add to pressure for shopworker protection

Retail trade union Usdaw has welcomed cross-party support from peers for two protection of shopworkers amendments to the government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The amendments, debated of 17 November in the House of Lords, were moved by Lord Coaker (Labour) and Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Conservative), with supportive speeches made by Lord Lea (Independent), Baroness Bennett (Green) and Baroness Jolly (Lib Dem). Peers did not push the amendments to a vote and could bring them back at report stage of the Bill. The government responded to the debate by restating that they continue to actively consider supporting a protection of shopworkers law, on the lines of what Usdaw described as ‘groundbreaking’ legislation that came into force in Scotland in August this year. Moving one of the amendments, Lord Vernon Coaker said: “Now is the time for us to say we recognise what shopworkers did during the pandemic, the service they provided and perhaps for the first time the importance of what they give to the community as a whole. Now is the time for us as legislators to respect that and act by creating an offence to prevent some of the unbelievable abuse that they receive.” Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis welcomed the cross-party support from peers, adding: “We need a new offence to encourage prosecutions and provide the deterrent effect that retail staff are desperately looking for. Retail employers, leading retail bodies, the Home Affairs Select Committee and the shopworkers’ trade union are jointly calling for legislation; it is time for the government to act.”
Usdaw news release. Morning Star.

'Bittersweet justice' as firms fined after worker froze

The family of a security guard who froze to death at a construction site when he was snowed in have said they now have justice after two companies were fined almost £900,000 for criminal health and safety failings. Ronnie Alexander was on duty at Afton wind farm, near New Cumnock in East Ayrshire, in January 2018 during bad weather. The 74-year-old was found lying in the snow and later died in hospital from hypothermia. Northstone NI Ltd and Corporate Service Management were fined a total of £868,800 at Ayr Sheriff Court, the Crown Office said, after previously pleading guilty to criminal failings under health and safety laws. In a statement, Mr Alexander’s family welcomed the fine but added “ultimately is it all bittersweet because at the end of the day we are still without Ronnie and no punishment can change that.” The Crown Office said Northstone, which was handed a £768,000 fine, ran the remote site and there were two generators which were set up to provide heating and electricity – both of which had broken a number of times and had not been replaced. There was no back-up generator. With no landline service and limited mobile phone coverage, an internet phone system was used which required a password and power from the generator, the Crown Office said. Corporate Service Management, which was fined £100,800, provided guards for the site but had not given them the passwords and the guards had no access to the internet phone. The Crown Office said that despite knowing about the lack of signal, the company expected guards to use their personal mobiles in an emergency.
HSE news release. The National. Construction Enquirer. BBC News Online.

Director jailed for ignoring HSE notices

A director of a former car salvage company in Wales has been jailed for a year after failing to comply with Health and Safety Executive (HSE) enforcement notices. Newport Crown Court heard that between 2018 and 2021, Tahir Karim was in control of activities and those working at Long Life Spares in Llanbradach, Caerphilly. During this time he failed to comply with four enforcement notices, including immediate stop work prohibition notices. The notices had been served in relation to the use of unsafe forklift trucks and structural safety issues affecting the site. An investigation by HSE found in addition to Karim allowing the continued use of unsafe forklifts, a bridge on the site which was assessed months earlier as at risk of collapse was still in use, with vehicles and people walking and driving underneath it daily. And part of a ‘dangerous’ 250m long retaining wall along the length of the property which had previously collapsed on to the site’s access road remained a serious risk. The court heard Karim was aware of the risks and yet still directed workers to act in a way that contravened the prohibitions and risked their own safety. The company director pleaded guilty to four offences under section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. HSE inspector Sian Donne commented: “We do not tolerate disregard for health and safety and consider the non-compliance of HSE enforcement notices as a serious offence.” In the period from 13 November 2017 to 13 December 2018, Karim was served by HSE with six prohibition notices and eight improvement notices for criminal breaches of safety law, the regulator’s enforcement database show.
HSE news release. South Wales Argus.

Workers burned in vehicle service centre

A commercial vehicle servicing and repair company has been fined after two workers suffered serious burns when flammable brake cleaning fluid ignited. Birmingham Magistrates’ Court heard how on 27 March 2020 the two employees used brake cleaning fluid to clean the grease from the walls of a vehicle inspection pit in the workshop. Shortly after they had finished, there was a loud bang and the entire wall of the pit where the brake cleaner had been applied became engulfed in flames. One employee managed to get out of the pit and ran to help his colleague whose clothing had caught fire, pulling him out of the pit and extinguishing the flames. Both employees received burns to their hands and legs. One sustained 60 per cent burns and had to undergo an emergency surgical procedure to relieve the pressure from the swelling which involved cutting either side of his shins on both legs and his left knuckle going down to his wrist. He subsequently underwent five skin graft operations on his left hand and both legs and spent six weeks in hospital. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident, which occurred at STA Vehicle Centres Ltd in Birmingham, found that the company failed to carry out a risk assessment to consider whether it was possible to eliminate or reduce the risk. Jet-washing, a safe alternative, was already in use at the company’s other site. STA Vehicle Centres Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal offence under the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 and was fined £28,000 and ordered to pay costs of £926.17.
HSE news release.

NHS PPE supplier linked to forced labour

The UK government has launched an investigation into one of the NHS’s main suppliers of personal protective equipment over its alleged use of forced labour. Officials at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) are investigating Supermax, which won a £316m contract for 88.5m rubber gloves as the Covid pandemic began to unfold. Last month the US forbade the Malaysian company from selling its products there after an inquiry found “ample evidence” that it had used forced labour in the manufacture of its rubber gloves. US customs officers were told to seize any disposable gloves made by Supermax as part of a government order banning the import into the US of any goods made by forced labour. Canada last week also suspended a PPE contract with Supermax. The UK government instigated its own inquiry after Jeremy Purvis, a Liberal Democrat peer, demanded scrutiny of Supermax and action to ensure that products made using modern slavery are not used in Britain. Last year migrant workers employed by Supermax claimed they had to work 30 days in a row without a break and had paid high fees in their home countries to get the jobs. The company denied the allegations. Purvis said: “I am pleased that after my request in parliament an investigation is now under way. Given this company has signed contracts of over £300m from the British taxpayer, we deserve full facts and reassurance that people have not been systematically abused in order to fulfil them.”
The Guardian.


Australia: More workers getting harmed by their jobs

The number of workers’ compensation claims for serious injury or illness increased again last year in Australia, as they have every year since the coalition federal government came to power in 2014, according to data released by the national regulator SafeWork Australia. The national union federation ACTU said the workers’ compensation statistics for 2019-20 illustrate that the previous downward trend of serious workplace injury or illness claims prior to 2014 has stagnated under the coalition and has risen fast since Scott Morrison became prime minister. The union body said workers’ compensation statistics provide a helpful indicator but do not capture the entire picture of injuries and illnesses sustained at work, especially for insecure workers who are less likely to report and time take to recover for fear of compromising their job (Risks 1020). ACTU assistant secretary Liam O’Brien said: “Health and safety is getting worse under Scott Morrison and the Liberals. After decades of progress at reducing injury and illness we are now seeing more workers seriously injured and killed since the Liberals came to power eight years ago.” He added: “Diseases caused by work have risen dramatically since 2014 with mental health and respiratory diseases topping the charts. The Morrison government has failed to implement the recommended regulatory changes that would require employers to protect workers health and safety. Every worker has the right to healthy and safe work but these figures show that more people are being injured or made ill from work each year. We need a federal government that takes work health and safety seriously.”
ACTU news release.

Global: Covid-19 has hit migrant workers harder

The Covid-19 crisis has had a devastating impact on migrant workers all over the world, in particular those employed in precarious low-wage sectors, who were often the first to experience the economic shock of the pandemic, according a new report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). ‘Locked down and in limbo: The global impact of Covid-19 on migrant worker rights and recruitment’ reports that many migrant workers had their employment summarily suspended or terminated as the virus spread, or suffered a dramatic fall in income. Some were stranded due to lockdowns and border closures, while others were suddenly repatriated, without operational systems and protocols in place. In some instances, public health law was used to justify their expulsion. The ILO is calling for migrant workers to be included in all Covid-related health and recovery packages and services. Specific recommendations in the report include the implementation of occupational Safety and Health (OSH) measures on the basis of equality of treatment with nationals, and ensuring protection from gender-based violence and harassment at work. The UN body also says policies should ensure migrant workers do not pay recruitment fees or related costs - including those related to personal protective equipment (PPE), testing, vaccination, vaccination certification and quarantine. ILO also calls for an increase in inspection and government oversight of recruitment practices and measures to ensure that recruitment associations disseminate information about health and safety protocols.
ILO news release and report, Locked down and in limbo: The global impact of COVID-19 on migrant worker rights and recruitment, November 2021.

Qatar: New transparency hopes for work safety

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the government of Qatar have published a new report on health and safety provisions for workers, pointing to a new level of openness and transparency in support of workers’ rights. “The transparency shown in the review of the data collection and analysis processes has allowed us to put forward a set of concrete recommendations that can serve as a road map for action,” said Max Tuñón, head of the ILO project office in Qatar. “We must move with urgency, as behind each statistic there is a worker and their family.” The report was welcomed by the global union body ITUC as “a new marker of progress since the introduction of a modern system of industrial relations in Qatar.” ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said: “Social dialogue between workers, government and employers is the model that Qatar has followed to establish its labour law reforms. This gives workers the foundation to resolve complaints and sets the standard for industrial relations across the Gulf region. Qatar’s labour laws have passed the scrutiny test by international unions.” Burrow added: “No worker expects to go to work and not come home. There is now recognition that the denial of occupational health and safety rights for workers is a global scandal. In Qatar, progress is being made – from the transparency of data that identifies risks for workers and practical recommendations from training of workers on risks, to enforcement of penalties for non-compliance by employers. The culture being established in Qatar to openly report accidents underpins strong safety measures in the workplace.” ITUC said while workers are now given legal rights and protections, implementation and scrutiny ahead of the World Cup will continue to test the laws as cases of abuses of workers’ rights are exposed. “The laws are in place. Let’s use them to uphold workers’ rights and resolve grievances,” said Burrow.
ITUC news release. ILO news release and report, One is too many: The collection and analysis of data on occupational injuries in Qatar, November 2021.


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
There are discounts on bulk orders, over 5 copies, please contact us for details.
Those on TUC approved courses can receive discount, please call for details 0207 467 1294. Or email at;


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