Toggle high contrast
Issue date

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



Self-isolation cut won’t fix UK’s sick pay problem

Reducing the self-isolation period won’t fix the UK’s fundamental sick pay problem, the TUC has warned, as a new government policy move reduced self-isolation from seven days to five days. The union body said workers on low or no sick pay still face the impossible choice of self-isolating and facing hardship or putting food on the table but potentially spreading the virus. A new TUC analysis estimates around a quarter of a million private sector workers (267,800) were self-isolating without decent sick pay or any sick pay at all in the period from 13 to 26 December. Around 209,900 workers had to rely on statutory sick pay of under £100 per week, which is too low to meet basic living costs, and 57,900 got no sick pay at all. The TUC has branded the huge numbers “a serious public health failure.” Its analysis is based on new ONS data which estimates that 2.7 per cent of the private sector workforce – around 723,900 workers – were off work with Covid-19 from 13 to 26 December as the Omicron variant swept across the country. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady commented: “It beggars belief that two years into the pandemic, statutory sick pay is still too little to live on and two million workers can’t get any sick pay at all. Ministers can’t continue to turn a blind eye to this vital public health tool. We need decent sick pay – paid at the real Living Wage – available to everyone.” Commenting on employers including Next, Ikea, Ocado and Morrisons cutting the sick pay of unvaccinated staff, O’Grady added: “Unions have been encouraging everyone to get vaccinated and boosted. But cutting sick pay is no way to encourage workers to get the jab. And it would be an own goal for public health too, risking further transmission of the virus.”
TUC news release. ONS private sector self-isolation figures, 13 January 2022. The Guardian. BBC News Online.

Omicron quick fix won’t work for NHS 

Surging Omicron cases are leaving hospitals struggling to cope and health workers guilt-stricken at the potential harm to patients, according to reports received by UNISON from staff at 40 NHS trusts across England. Data obtained from the union’s acute, ambulance and community health branches in the week to 12 January detail the impact of the longstanding workforce crisis – exacerbated by Omicron – on the NHS, the union said. First-hand accounts from the union’s health branches suggest trust managers ‘are resorting to desperate measures,’ the union said. These include chasing staff off sick to return early, directing those on wards to send patients home more quickly and asking exhausted employees to cancel annual leave, as well as taking on extra shifts. Staff report more challenging working conditions, including an increase in angry and abusive patients, working intensively without breaks, working with unfamiliar, temporary staff and in areas where they don’t feel confident. Commenting on the snapshot reports, UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “Employers are using desperate measures to cope with desperate times. But stretching dwindling numbers every thinner cannot solve this staffing crisis.” She added: “The NHS has been running on empty for years. Never again must the pleas from staff, employers and unions for urgent action on staffing numbers be ignored. The pandemic has shown what happens when too few staff try to do the jobs of many thousands. Ministers must act now, pay the wages NHS staff deserve and do their utmost to solve this damaging staffing crisis.”
UNISON news release.

Croydon hospital workers to demand Covid sick pay

Workers at Croydon Hospital are to stage a protest to press their demand for Covid sick pay. Their union GMB says porters and cleaners at the south London hospital are angry after their employer - private NHS contractor G4S - stopped paying Covid positive hospital workers occupational sick pay. The union warns this means staff are forced to come into the hospital with symptoms of Covid because they cannot afford to take time off to self-isolate. A protest is scheduled for noon on 31 January at Croydon University Hospital. GMB organiser Helen O’Connor said: “Our hard-working members are sick and tired of being abused and exploited by G4S. They are on poverty pay and to add insult to injury they are being denied wages if they come down with Covid.” She added: “These members have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic at great risk to themselves and their families and they are demanding fair sick pay so that they do not put patients at risk from cross infection.” The union officer warned: “If G4S is not willing to ensure that their staff and patients are as safe as possible during a pandemic they cannot continue to hold the contract. We are now calling on Croydon NHS trust to take this contract back in-house and pay these workers the sick pay they need and deserve.”
GMB news release.

Johnson should resign over ‘disastrous’ Covid role

Boris Johnson should resign as prime minister in the light of his ‘disastrous’ handling of the pandemic, NHS and college workers have said. Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, commenting on the call for the prime minister to go from the union’s national health committee, said: “Health workers have toiled long and sacrificed much during the last two years of the pandemic. They have taken huge personal risks caring for the public and day-after-day observed all the standing rules on Covid. The prime minster has set these rules and yet he has flagrantly broken them. His position in office is now untenable.” The call for the prime minister’s resignation was echoed by Unite lead officer for London buses, “The prime minister's conduct is disgraceful. More than 50 London bus workers have died of Covid, the vast majority in the first wave when Boris Johnson thought it was OK to have a party,” he said. “Bus drivers and their families made huge sacrifices during the pandemic to keep the capital running. The prime minister didn't even follow his own rules and should resign.” Jo Grady, general secretary of university and college union UCU said: “Instead of bring your own booze, it should be bring your own P45 for a prime minister who has demonstrated time and again that what he lacks in integrity, he more than makes up for in unadulterated selfishness. He needs to resign.”
Unite news release. UCU news release.

Campus staff need better protection

College and university union UCU has called on the sector’s employers across the UK to 'raise their game' in the fight against Omicron. The union said vulnerable staff should be allowed to work remotely and higher quality face masks should be freely available for all staff working in-person on campus. The call comes in updated UCU guidance that aims to keep staff and students safe, and minimise disruption to learning. The guidance has been sent to employer bodies the Universities and Colleges Employers Association and the Association of Colleges, and “makes clear that employers need to do all they can to mitigate the impact of high staff absences on already overworked staff,” UCU said. The union also said that all indoor spaces on campus must be monitored to ensure effective ventilation, and that where necessary air filtration units should be used to maintain clean air. All staff should have access to paid sick leave, the guidance says. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “The measures put forward by UCU are designed to reduce the risk of mass Covid outbreaks, protect those who are vulnerable and ensure staff are able to continue delivering a high-quality education for students.” She added: “The levels of disruption experienced by staff and students during the earlier parts of the pandemic can be avoided, but only if employers demonstrate high levels of vigilance and commit to going beyond government guidance.”
UCU news release and updated guidance.

Concern over offshore ‘jab or job’ policy

Unite Scotland has demanded the Scottish government intervene after an offshore contractor introducing mandatory vaccinations for all staff. The union said the policy introduced by Canadian Natural Resources (CNR) International, which came into full effect on 14 January, is believed to be the first of any offshore contractor or operator to demand that its workforce receive Covid-19 related vaccinations or not to return to work. Other offshore contractors and operators have chosen not to pursue mandatory vaccinations but instead to focus on education and communication to boost vaccination take-up. Unite said similar drives by other firms are believed to have led to over 80 per cent of the offshore workforce being vaccinated. Industry group Oil and Gas UK has also encouraged vaccine take-up but not through mandatory enforcement. John Boland, Unite industrial officer, said: “Unite has now taken the step to demand intervention and support by the Scottish government over CNR’s draconian measures. Our position is that we support workers getting the Covid-19 vaccination but we are strenuously opposed to any mandatory vaccination policy. Saying the union would challenge any related disciplinary action, adding “education and communication should be used to encourage people to get the vaccine instead of workers in essence being told it’s a jab or your job. This position is supported by Oil and Gas UK, and to our knowledge no other operator or contractor has enforced such a policy.”
Unite news release.

Two vaccine doses not enough for Omicron

Three doses of the Pfizer vaccine offer protection equivalent to two doses against other variants, new research has found. The study from Germany published in the journal Science used sera from 51 participants, which was challenged with Wuhan, Beta, Delta, or Omicron variants to check for antibody levels. The participants had received either two or three doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Though neutralising antibodies are just one measure of vaccine effectiveness, the authors said they can be strongly predictive of the degree of immune protection against symptomatic Covid-19 infection. After 21 days, the effectiveness of a double dose had waned significantly against Omicron, with 20 out of 32 immune sera displayed no detectable neutralizing activity against Omicron. But within 4 weeks of a third dose, the protective effect against Omicron had increased 23-fold compared with two doses. “Our data show that a third BNT162b2 [Pfizer] dose effectively neutralizes Omicron at a similar order of magnitude as was observed after two doses of BNT162b2 against wild-type SARS-CoV-2,” the authors concluded.
Alexander Muik and others. Neutralization of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron by BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine–elicited human sera, Science, first release 18 Jan 2022. DOI: 10.1126/science.abn7591 Cidrap news update.

Woman fired after raising Covid concerns

A woman was unfairly dismissed from her job after raising safety concerns and her male employer shouted “she must be on her menopause,” an employment tribunal has found. Leigh Best, 54, was dismissed as a sales assistant for pet food retailer Embark on Raw, based near Billericay, Essex, for raising Covid-19 safety concerns, the hearing found. The panel found Mrs Best was harassed due to her age and sex. The tribunal at East London Hearing Centre heard Mrs Best was employed by the company, which sells raw food for cats and dogs, from 29 January 2020 until 11 May that year. David and Andrea Fletcher, the firm's husband and wife co-directors, said she was dismissed due to her “rude and confrontational communication with co-workers and managers.” But the tribunal panel found the principal reason was her whistleblowing during the early part of the Covid-19 pandemic, and that her dismissal took place with “little or no respect for a fair process or the rules of natural justice.” It heard the company made efforts to be Covid-safe, but Mrs Best claimed these procedures were not actually implemented and enforced and that co-workers were not wearing face coverings and failing to follow social distancing rules. When she raised her concerns, she was told to be “realistic and not paranoid” but there was no documented investigation of her claims. The panel heard Mr Fletcher made inappropriate and derogatory comments to Mrs Best about her age and sex. The tribunal concluded “Mr Fletcher invaded the claimant’s privacy, broached a highly sensitive topic for her and acted tactlessly.” It found Mrs Best was less favourably treated after raising safety concerns and agreed that her employer “clearly had an issue” from that point, and that she also “added to their frustrations” by raising the issue of Mr Fletcher's comments on her age and sex. A remedy hearing will take place on 31 January.
BBC News Online.


‘Too short’ bus driver wins job back

A Unite member who was dismissed after she flagged that she was “too short” to drive safely due to a bus redesign has been reinstated after a high profile union campaign. Tracey Scholes, one of Greater Manchester’s first female bus drivers, who is 5ft (1.52m) tall, said Go North West’s changes meant she could no longer reach the pedals on the new model of bus used on her route without a blind spot appearing when she leaned backwards to use the wing mirrors (Risks 1028). After raising concerns with her employer, she was initially suspended and later dismissed with 12 weeks’ notice. The 57-year-old, who has been a bus driver for 34 years, made a final appeal for her job on 11 January. After the company agreed to the instatement, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Tracey Scholes is back in the driving seat where she belongs,” adding: “Go Ahead have finally come to their senses and agreed to Unite's demand for Tracey's hours and pay to be protected. It is a great victory and a testimony to Tracey’s spirit, and the solidarity of all her union colleagues, to secure this change of mind by her Go Ahead employers." The Unite leader said: “The bus company could have avoided all the damage to its reputation here and all over the globe. Instead, the company allowed its local management to procrastinate and blunder. As the first woman bus driver at the Manchester depot, with 34 years unblemished service, Tracey deserved to be treated with dignity. It's terrific news that she can continue to drive her bus.”
Unite news release. The Guardian.

Union welcomes end of smart motorways rollout

A pause on the rollout of new ‘all-lane running’ smart motorways while their safety is assessed has been welcomed by Prospect. The union, which represents staff in Highways England, had warned a combination of staff under ‘intolerable strain’ and ‘unreliable’ technology would lead to avoidable accidents (Risks 1016). The decision to suspend new smart motorways came in the UK government’s 12 January 2022 response to a November 2021 Commons Transport Select Committee report. Commenting on the UK government’s commitment to improving safety measures and to pause the rollout, Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect, said: “Increased use of software to detect stopped vehicles, and more frequent safe refuge areas are both things we have been calling for and which will make motorway operation safer. What’s missing though is any recognition of the role played by Traffic Officers and staff in Operations Centres in making Smart Motorways safe. These are the people who identify and then co-ordinate the response to incidents, and who are first responders on the scene.” He warned: “There are currently staff shortages in some parts of the country for both Traffic Officers and Operations Centre staff, made worse by the recent pay freeze. Pay rates need to be looked at again to make sure pay is line with other emergency service workers or we will continue to struggle to recruit and retain sufficient staff.”
Prospect news release. Department for Transport news release. BBC News Online. The Guardian.

Shopworker anguish at policing age-restricted sales

Retail trade union Usdaw says its members are worried by the prospect of criminal prosecution or disciplinary action if shopworkers get a decision about the sale of an age restricted product wrong. Asking customers for proof of age identification or refusing a sale of an age-restricted product can be a key flashpoint for abuse, threats and violence against shopworkers, the union says. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Age restricted sales are a real minefield for our members. If they make a mistake and sell alcohol to a customer under 18 they could receive an £80 on-the-spot-fine or be prosecuted and fined. If they fail to ask for age identification from somebody who looks under-25, they run the risk of being disciplined for not following company policy and it is a legal requirement in Scotland.” He added: “Asking for age identification can lead to abuse from frustrated and angry customers and a refusal of a sale can be a real flashpoint for abuse, threats or even violence. Many of our members feel they are damned if they ask for ID and damned if they don't.” He said among changes sought by the union is government awareness campaigns about age-restricted sales and the introduction of “a single and voluntary national entitlement card for young people that would show proof of age. This would make it much easier for workers to check a person's age when needed.” He added: “The law definitely needs to be rebalanced so that those attempting to break the law are the focus rather than the shopworkers who are currently expected to police the law.”
Usdaw news release.

Fab firm fined after workers get vibration disease

Metals fabrication company MTL Advanced Limited has been sentenced for a criminal breach of health and safety law after several workers were diagnosed with hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) or carpal tunnel syndrome. Sheffield Magistrates’ Court heard that the company was visited by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in March 2018 after an employee raised concerns. HSE issued legally-binding improvement notices to the Rotherham firm after finding ‘systemic failings’ to recognise the risk of hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) or to take appropriate action to control exposure. It said of particular concern were accounts from employees of pain and tingling in their fingers, hands and arms and that there were no limits on their use of vibrating tools such as angle grinders. MTL Advanced Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £90,000 and ordered to pay £14,061 in costs. HSE inspector Laura Hunter commented: “Work activities involving vibrating tools should be properly assessed so that appropriate controls can be implemented to avoid exposing employees to harm. Employees suffering from HAVS can experience difficulty in carrying out tasks in the workplace involving fine or manipulative work and are less able to work in cold conditions. Sadly, these effects can be permanent and life changing.”

HSE news release.


Directors fined for unlicensed asbestos removal

Two printing company directors have been fined for criminal safety offences after organising the removal of asbestos insulation board by untrained personnel. Leeds Magistrates’ Court heard how, between August 2016 and December 2016, Charles Dunn and Jeremy Mills, respectively the managing director and director of D&M Heritage Limited, consented to work taking place at the company’s premises which failed to use adequate measures to prevent the spread of asbestos. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company rented space in a Huddersfield warehouse and had been given notice to leave by the new owners. Prior to leaving, the company agreed to remove some free-standing cupboards. A licensed removal company, who had carried out work previously at the site, had told the directors of D&M Heritage Ltd that the rear of a cupboard was broken and was likely to be asbestos. Despite this, the cupboards were broken up during removal, releasing asbestos fibres. Some pieces were placed in bags, others placed in a nearby skip. Managing director Charles Dunn pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £916 and ordered to pay £5,000 in costs. Fellow director Jeremy Mills also pleaded guilty to two criminal offences and was fined £1,600 and ordered to pay £10,000 in costs. HSE inspector Yolande Burns-Sleightholme commented: “Asbestos is a killer. Companies need to recognise the dangers of removing asbestos by themselves both to their employees and others. Asbestos removal should only be carried out by trained personnel who understand the risks and know how to control them.”
HSE news release and asbestos webpages.


Australia: Unions will ‘ban’ unsafe work

Unions in Australia are demanding new Covid safe plans from all employers and free lateral flow tests for workers, and have pledged to take action to ‘ban’ unsafe work. The 17 January joint statement from the leaders of national unions followed a meeting to discuss the ongoing health and economic crisis caused by the rapid spread of Omicron. The statement noted: “Australia is now experiencing our worst days since the start of the pandemic and the highest level of sickness ever seen in the workforce. Essential workers are being expected to put themselves in harm’s way to keep the country going and in many cases without the protections they need. The union movement will do everything we can to keep people safe and act to slow the spread of this latest wave of the Covid pandemic. In response to the failure of both the national and state governments, the statement said unions now “resolved to write to all employers reminding them of their obligation to do all that is reasonable and practical to keep workers safe. This will require each workplace to undertake a new risk assessment for Omicron in consultation with unions, workers and their health and safety representatives. In addition, where appropriate, sector-specific plans should be developed in consultation with unions.” The statement added: “For workplaces where working from home is not an option, the provision of free RATs [rapid antigen tests] by employers to all workers will be necessary once supply is resolved, alongside upgraded masks and improved ventilation.” The statement concluded: “Union members will take whatever steps are necessary in their workplaces to ensure they are as safe as possible. Where employers do not fulfil their obligations, the union movement determines to do everything within its power to ensure the safety of workers and the community. This may include ceasing work or banning unsafe practices.”
ACTU statement and related news release. Business Insider. The Age. ABC News. 7 News.

Australia: Union win as Covid abattoir backs down

A major South Australian abattoir has bowed to union demands and agreed the company will no longer compel its workforce to continue working while infected with Covid. Infected staff at the Teys Australia plant in Naracoorte had been told to wear yellow hairnets to show they have Covid-19. The firm is a joint venture with food multinational Cargill (Risks 1028). National union centre ACTU said Teys’ ‘dangerous and disgraceful behaviour’ had been going on for almost two weeks. However, after a high profile union campaign led by ACTU and the meatworkers’ union AMIEU, including pressure on major Teys customer Woolworths, Teys announced on 17 January that any worker who tests positive for Covid will be able to isolate at home. After the 7-day isolation period, workers will only be required be return to work if they have remained asymptomatic for the preceding 48 hours. It said nobody will be forced to go to work while Covid positive. ACTU president Michele O’Neil welcomed the ‘important victory’. She said: “Teys is a major supplier of meat to Woolworths, and the campaign of workers and supporters resulted in Woolworths suspending all of their orders to the site. Teys is part of Cargill, the world's largest food business, and Woolworths is one of Australia's biggest companies. This was an important stand against big business putting workers health and safety at extreme risk.” The ACTU leader added: “This victory for workers safety by the Teys Naracoorte workers should serve as a warning to employers everywhere; unions will do whatever is necessary to ensure workers are safe at work. We will never accept the pandemic being misused as cover for exploitation or unsafe work practices.”
ACTU news release and earlier news release. ABC News. The Guardian. Farm Online.

France: Schools close in Covid strike

Schools were shut across France last week as teachers staged a mass one-day strike in protest against the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis. French ministers have made keeping schools open a priority, despite a recent surge in Covid-19 cases fuelled by the Omicron variant. The government said almost 40 per cent of primary teachers and 24 per cent of secondary teachers had walked out on Thursday 13 January. But those figures were well below estimates by unions, which said they expected about 75 per cent of primary teachers to go on strike. The nationwide strike was organised by 11 unions representing teachers, parents and other school staff. “We had reached such a level of exasperation, tiredness, and anger that we didn't have any other option but to organise a strike to send a strong message to the government,” said Elisabeth Allain-Moreno, national secretary of the SE-UNSA teachers union. French prime minister Jean Castex announced a relaxation of pupil testing rules announced on 10 January, the latest in a series of recent policy changes. The raised concerns for the safety of teachers as France reported a record 368,149 new Covid-19 cases the following day. The unions condemned the government's lack of communication, frequent changes to testing rules, and said insufficient protection against Covid has left them unable to teach properly. Further industrial action is planned.
BBC News Online.


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;


Courses for 2022

Find the latest courses at
This newsletter is sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.
View our privacy policy
Enable Two-Factor Authentication

To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).

Setup now