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



Mandatory vaccination plan was always wrong

A UK government demand for mandatory vaccination for NHS staff was a policy ‘that should never have seen the light of day,’ the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has said. The midwives’ union was commenting after ministers announced that the legal requirement for health and social care staff to be vaccinated against Covid would be revoked on 15 March. The RCM said it had always encouraged its midwife and maternity support worker members to have the Covid vaccine and will continue to do so, but said it opposed mandatory vaccination for NHS staff. Jon Skewes, executive director of external relations at the RCM, said: “This U-turn shows it was wrongheaded thinking from the off and should never have been introduced in the first place. It will have further eroded the already damaged trust between NHS staff and the government and could have led the NHS to lose staff it can ill afford to, worsening the already chronic midwife shortages buckling our maternity services.” He added: “Now we need to look to the future. This means solving the midwifery and maternity staff shortages facing the NHS and giving maternity services the money and resources needed to deliver the safest and best possible care.” The government decision came on 1 March, in the outcome of a health department consultation, and also removes the requirement for care home staff to be vaccinated.
RCM news release. DHSC consultation outcome, 1 March 2022. The Mirror.

Rapid testing at work works well

Comprehensive workplace rapid testing programmes to identify Covid-19 infections work well, give accurate results and are welcomed by participating employers, a study has found. A research team from the University of Toronto, Canada, noted “one of the reasons employees in workplaces are at risk is that we lack information on those who are asymptomatic and infectious and could transmit to others within workplaces or their homes.” It added: “The transmission of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) in workplaces has been a persistent issue throughout the pandemic.” The team examined a not-for-profit initiative created to mitigate Covid-19 workplace transmission in Canada, involving a workplace frequent rapid antigen test (RAT) programme and over 320,000 tests. The screening programme identified 473 asymptomatic individuals who tested positive on the RAT and confirmed positive by a PCR diagnostic test. One in 4,300 RATs was presumptive positive but later tested PCR negative so false positives did not meaningfully disrupt workplace operations, the study found. Most employers rated the programme highly and felt strongly that it contributed to workplace and community safety. The authors conclude: “The findings describe a sustained and scalable implementation plan for establishing a frequent workplace testing programme. High-frequency testing programmes offer the potential to break chains of transmission and act as an extra layer of protection in a comprehensive public health response.”
Rosella LC and others. Large-scale implementation of rapid antigen testing system for COVID-19 in workplaces, Science Advances, volume 8, number 8, 25 February 2022. Doi:  10.1126/sciadv.abm3608 


‘Structural racism’ reflected in insecure work

Insecure work is “tightening the grip” of structural racism on the labour market and deepening gender inequalities, the TUC has warned. A new analysis from the union body reveals Black, minority and ethnic (BME) women are twice as likely to be on zero hours contracts as white men (4.7 per cent compared to 2.4 per cent). Overall, BME workers are significantly overrepresented on zero hours contracts compared to white workers (4.3 per cent compared to 3 per cent.) The TUC calls this “structural racism in action.” BME women are the most disproportionately affected group, followed by BME men (4.7 per cent compared to 4 per cent). White women are also significantly more likely than white men to be on zero hours contracts (3.6 per cent compared to 2.4 per cent). The latest figures published by the ONS show that over one million workers are now on zero hours contracts – which equates to a rise of 40,000 compared to the previous year. The TUC argues that insecure employment makes it harder for workers to challenge unacceptable behaviour by bosses because of concerns about whether they will be penalised by not being allocated hours in future.  TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said “the time for excuses is over,” adding: “The government must publish its long overdue employment bill and ban exploitative practices like zero hours contracts. And it must place a duty on employers to measure and report on their ethnicity pay gap.” Studies have shown insecure work is typically considerably less safe and markedly less healthy (Risks 808).
TUC news release. Morning Star. More on the hazards of insecure work.

UK ratifies violence at work treaty

The TUC has welcomed the UK government signing on to a international treaty on prevention of violence at work. Commenting on the 7 March ratification of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Violence and Harassment Convention – Convention 190 - TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Ratifying the convention is a welcome statement of intent. Unions have campaigned hard for several years to get global protection against workplace violence and harassment, and today's ratification will help to get other nations signed up too. It now comes down to the action and enforcement that follows. No matter who you are, or the job you do, you should be safe from violence and harassment at work. But each year thousands of UK workers are assaulted, abused and harassed while trying to do their job. And we have even seen a rise in violence and abuse towards key workers in the pandemic.” The TUC leader added: “Unions, government and industry must now work together on the laws and workplace policies needed to prevent abuse and punish those responsible. This should include recognising that not every worker faces the same risks. Insecure workers, frontline staff, women, Black workers and those with other protected characteristics face greater risks that must be addressed.”
TUC news release. ITUC Convention 190 campaign toolkit.
ILO Convention 190, Violence and harassment convention 2019.

STUC reveals ‘shocking’ data on sexual harassment

Scotland’s national union body STUC has revealed survey data exposing widespread sexual harassment in the country’s workplaces, the systemic under-reporting of sexual harassment by victims and the risks faced by women travelling to and from work. The STUC found 45 per cent of women had experienced sexual harassment at work, with a third of respondents experiencing it at work within the last year. Most (85 per cent) said that their report and experience was not taken seriously and dealt with appropriately. The STUC survey also found 61 per cent of respondents had experienced sexual harassment in public and on their way to work. STUC women’s committee chair Fiona Steele said: “This report should make uncomfortable reading for employers. Our findings show women often don’t report sexual harassment as they know complaints are mishandled, no action will be taken or don’t even think their bosses will believe them. Having a safe workplace isn’t just about accidents and risks, it means protecting women from harassment and making sure they have dignity and respect at work.” STUC general secretary Roz Foyer said: “We need a complete change of approach to the responsibility of employers to prevent sexual harassment, including where the travel to work is precarious. There is much more government can do, here in Scotland and across the UK, to increase the rights of women to protection.”
STUC news release and full report and recommendations.

Shop violence high and often unreported

Abuse, threats and violence against shopworkers remain high, but confidence in reporting incidents is low, a union survey has found. The ‘shocking’ results of the 2021 annual survey of nearly 3,500 retail staff by the shopworkers’ union Usdaw found in the 12-month period 90 per cent of respondents reported they had experienced verbal abuse, and almost two-thirds (64 per cent) had been threatened by a customer. More than one in 10 (12 per cent) had been assaulted and 61 per cent said they were not confident that reporting abuse, threats and violence would make a difference. Commenting on the newly released 2021 findings, Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “It is shocking that 9 in 10 of our members working in retail are suffering abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence. Particularly concerning is the one-third increase in assaults, up from 9 per cent in 2020 to 12 per cent in 2021. So it is extremely worrying that nearly two-thirds are not confident that reporting these issues will make any difference.” The Usdaw leader said “faced with such appallingly high levels of violence and abuse, and with shopworkers almost complete lack of confidence in the ability of the system to give them the protection they need, much more needs to be done. The government must provide the co-ordination needed to ensure that retail employers, police and the courts work together to make stores safe places for our members to work and for customers to shop.” Separate findings from the Association of Convenience Stores’ annual crime report showed 89 per cent of shopworkers had suffered verbal abuse.
Usdaw news release and full Freedom from Fear 2021 survey findings and campaign. ACS news release and The Crime Report 2022, 8 March 2022.

Powerful must be held to account

A report into former Commons Speaker John Bercow that found that he was a “serial bully” has been welcomed by the union Prospect. The Independent Expert Panel said “his behaviour fell very far below that which the public has a right to expect” from an MP and indicated that Bercow’s evidence showed he had been “a serial liar”. The IEP sub-panel chaired by Sir Stephen Irwin found: “In all, 21 separate allegations were proved and have been upheld. The House may feel that his conduct brought the high office of Speaker into disrepute. This was behaviour which had no place in any workplace. Members of staff in the House should not be expected to have to tolerate it as part of everyday life.” Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect, which represents staff in parliament, responded: “The findings of the Independent Expert Panel underline the importance and the need to hold individuals to account, irrespective of their status. These behaviours would not be tolerated in any modern workplace and elected members should be setting an example to the country of good practice not hiding behind pomp and privilege.” Commenting on the 8 March report, he added: “Staff need to have confidence that if subject to inappropriate or bullying behaviour in parliament there is an avenue open to them that will produce a timely and fair resolution. Today’s conclusions by the IEP are a further step towards that reality.”
Prospect news release. UK Parliament news release. Independent Expert Panel (IEP) report.

Northumberland teachers strike over workloads

Teachers at a Northumberland school began a 15-day strike on 8 March, citing excessive workloads and a failure to tackle badly behaved pupils. Members of NASUWT walked out of Bedlington Academy in Bedlington, with the union saying more than 20 staff were taking part due to management “negatively impacting welfare.” Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “Excessive and unnecessarily workload-intensive approaches to marking and planning are being foisted on teachers at the school which are seriously hampering their ability to maintain a reasonable work/life balance. This is not only undermining their professionalism as teachers, but is impacting on their mental and physical health.” He said the problem was “exacerbated by the failure of the employer to put in place a system for managing pupil behaviour which supports teachers to maintain good order and ensures pupils are able to focus on their learning without undue disruption. We are calling on the employer to recognise the seriousness of the issues at the school and to commit to working with us to genuinely and tangibly address the concerns of members.” Dan Lister, NASUWT national executive member for Northumberland, said: “The employer must act to address its duty of care to the teachers at Bedlington and to uphold their right to a healthy working environment.”
NASUWT news release. BBC News Online.

Rail jobs axe could be ‘devastating’ for rail safety

Plans by Network Rail to cut 2,660 maintenance and works delivery jobs could have “devastating consequences” on the safe running of the rail system, the rail union TSSA has warned. The union says strike action will be considered if unsafe cuts are made or compulsory redundancies put forward. In addition to the cuts, Network Rail (NR) plans to scrap the frontline ‘operative’ role, abandon certain maintenance work, and reduce the size of teams who maintain Britain’s railways. A consultation on the proposals starts on 10 March. Manuel Cortes, TSSA general secretary, commented: “What Network Rail is proposing is massive job cuts and massive changes to working practices which could have devastating consequences to the safe running of our rail industry. We fundamentally disagree with NR’s claim that some of this work is unnecessary.” The union leader warned: “Staffing cuts and reduction in maintenance work could see a return to the bad old days of Railtrack when rail infrastructure wasn’t properly maintained and saw some of the most deadly and devastating rail accidents. Make no mistake, if we think NR is making unsafe cuts – or if any one of our members faces compulsory redundancy – we will be balloting for industrial action.” The concerns were echoed by Mick Lynch, general secretary of the rail union RMT, who said the cuts would be “a significant threat” to rail safety. “Despite rail fares going up again the government and rail companies are planning to slash rail services and thousands of frontline jobs at stations, on-trains and on safety critical infrastructure,” he said ahead of 9 March national protests by the union. “That means our railways will be less secure, less safe and less accessible with more expensive rail fares; passengers will literally be paying more for less.”
TSSA news release. RMT news release. Morning Star.

UK not ready for climate change emergencies

The firefighters’ union FBU has warned the UK’s emergency response is not capable of dealing with the extreme weather the country could face as a result of climate change. The union was commenting after the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that Europe will face increasingly severe climate impacts, including in terms of heatwaves and flooding, unless action is taken to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. FBU said dealing with the impact of floods, heatwaves and related wildfires fell primarily to the fire service, which does not have the dedicated resources to cope with increasing demands. Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, said despite repeat warnings, The UK government is “not investing in a vital piece of climate change adaptation: the fire and rescue service. Very soon we could be seeing devastating flooding and heatwaves on our shores, and a fire and rescue service that has seen huge cuts including one in every five firefighters since 2010 will find this too much to deal with.” He added: “We don’t even have statutory funding for dealing with flooding in England: that’s an embarrassment and symbolic of a government hiding its head in the sand as an existential crisis approaches.”
FBU news release and climate change campaign. IPCC report.

Government safety adviser ‘must be held to account’

Government ministers “took an axe to Britain’s fire-and-rescue service and fire safety regulation” in the years before the Grenfell Tower disaster, the firefighters’ union FBU has said. The union’s 9 March demand that those responsible are brought to book came on the day key adviser Ken Knight, who advised the government on fire safety in the years before the Grenfell fire, was scheduled to give evidence to the long-running inquiry. The union said Knight’s testimony before the Grenfell Tower Inquiry must mark a sea-change in holding key government advisers to account for the fire. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Ken Knight was a senior adviser to the Westminster government on fire safety in the years running up to Grenfell, and he needs to accept his share of culpability. In the run-up to the fire, government ministers took an axe to the UK’s fire and rescue service and fire safety regulation, and Ken Knight helped provide cover for them to do that. He would also have had countless opportunities to raise concerns around key issues that would later contribute to Grenfell, but he failed to do so.” The FBU leader added: “We need to know from Knight whether, when and how he warned ministers of the risks from cladding and other fire safety failures – and how these ministers responded to any such other warnings before the fire.” Knight is currently chair of the Independent Expert Advisory Panel at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities which was formed in the immediate aftermath of Grenfell to advise on fire safety.
FBU news release. Morning Star and related editorial. Building.

Farmer sentenced after nephew dies in farm fall

The mother of a four-year-old boy who fell from a farm vehicle and was run over sustaining fatal injuries has called for a change in attitude in agriculture. Sarah Nutter was commenting after farmer Brian Nutter was given a suspended prison sentence following the death of his nephew, Harry Lee. Wigan Magistrates’ Court heard that on 8 July 2019, Harry was riding on the cab footplate of a telescopic handler driven by his uncle Brian at a farm in Newchurch-in-Pendle, Lancashire. As the vehicle turned into a field, Harry fell from the footplate and was fatally crushed beneath the wheels. The Prevention of Accidents to Children in Agriculture Regulations 1998 prohibit children under the age of 13 from riding on, or operating, vehicles used in agricultural operations. Furthermore no-one, including children, should ride on the footplate of any agricultural machine. Brian Nutter pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was given a 26-week prison sentence suspended for 18 months, a community order including 250 hours of unpaid work and was ordered to pay costs of £5,154. Mum Sarah Nutter said: “I hope the effects of Harry’s accident will change the attitude of people living on farms and make them think twice about the dangers their children are exposed to and how easily accidents can be avoided.”
HSE news release.

Suspended jail terms after scaffolder death

Four men have received suspended prison sentences following the collapse of the former Citadel Church in Splott, Cardiff which killed a scaffolder. Their firms received combined fines of more than £340,000. Jeffrey Joseph Plevey, from Radyr, died when the derelict building fell down as he worked on it in July 2017. Following a recovery operation by South Wales Fire and Rescue Service and the All Wales Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team, the 55-year-old was recovered from the rubble and died at the scene. A joint investigation, led by the Major Crime Team of South Wales Police, alongside the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was carried out resulting in an 11-week trial held at a court in Swansea Civic Centre. On 15 December 2021 Keith Young and Stewart Swain were both convicted of criminal health and safety offences. A jury found Young guilty of failing to take necessary steps to ensure a structure does not collapse when carrying out construction work contrary to Construction (Design and Management) Regulations and the Health and Safety at Work Act. Swain and his company, Swain Scaffolding Ltd, were also found guilty of criminal safety breaches. Young and Swain were cleared of gross negligence manslaughter charges. Two other men, Phil Thomas from South Wales Safety Consultancy Ltd, and Richard Dean from NJP Consultant Engineers Ltd, and a fourth company Strongs Partnership pleaded guilty to health and safety offences prior to the trial. In sentencing at Cardiff Crown Court, Keith Young, 74, was handed a 45-week sentence suspended for 18 months and ordered to pay £66,000 costs. Stewart Swain, 54, received a 39-week sentence suspended for 15 months plus £25,000 costs. Philip Thomas, 57, received a 36-week sentence suspended for 15 months plus £20,000 costs. Richard Dean, 60, was handed a 35-week sentence suspended for 15 months plus £20,000 costs. Swain Scaffolding Ltd was fined £120,000 with costs of £25,000, South Wales Safety Consultancy Ltd £97,500 with £17,500 costs, NJP Consultant Engineers Ltd £93,300 with £6,700 in costs and Strongs Partnership Ltd £33,500 with £17,500 in costs.
South Wales Police news release. Construction Enquirer.

School fined after teaching assistant breaks back  

A primary school in West Yorkshire has been fined £4,000 after a member of staff broke their back after falling through a fragile ceiling. Bradford Magistrates’ Court heard that on 18 September 2019, a teaching assistant at Todmorden Church of England Junior Infants and Nursery School had accessed the loft space in the school and as they entered, they fell around four metres through the fragile ceiling which resulted in a broken back. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that when the teaching assistant was searching for a spare desk in the loft space, she fell due to the area being only partially boarded, meaning that the fragile ceiling gave way. This incident resulted in the victim suffering a broken back that left her in hospital for three weeks. She is still in recovery awaiting further operations. The school pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £4,000 plus £747.80 costs. HSE inspector Charlotte Bligh commented: “The school failed to take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent events like this. This incident could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices”
HSE news release. Telegraph and Argus.


Global: ITF launches sanitation rights toolkit

A new toolkit containing resources for transport workers to win sanitation rights has been launched by the sector’s global union ITF. The toolkit includes key information about health risks related to a lack of access to toilet and welfare facilities, checklists for negotiators and model contact language. ITF says sanitation rights are human rights, yet for far too long, transport workers have been denied basics like access to toilets and washing facilities, adding poor sanitation comes at the high cost of workers’ safety, health and dignity. The toolkit also includes examples of successful sanitation campaigns undertaken by ITF affiliated unions. The global union notes many of the resources in this toolkit have been developed by, or in collaboration with, its affiliated unions around the world and will be continually updated. It includes a Transport Workers’ Sanitation Charter.
ITF news release, Sanitation Toolkit and Sanitation Charter.


Brazil: Meat sector safety campaign reaches Europe

As the Brazilian Ministry of Labour, backed by corporate interests, prepares to amend regulations which govern health and safety in the country’s meat industry, unions have raised concerns with the European Parliament about “a race to the bottom.” EFFAT, the European regional organisation of the global foodworkers’ union federation IUF, convened a meeting with MEP Bernd Lange, the chair of the trade committee at the European Parliament. Unions told Lange they are concerned that repealing or amending the ‘NR36’ law – which introduced crucial safety measures in the sector after a 15-year union campaign (Risks 1033) – could have a devastating impact on worker safety in the notoriously hazardous industry. Kristjan Bragason, EFFAT general secretary, said: “The fight of our Brazilian colleagues is our fight. At EFFAT we think that international trade should never lead to a global race to the bottom in terms of rights and working conditions through unfair competition.” Gerardo Iglesias, IUF Latin America regional secretary, commented: “Some ten to twenty thousand indigenous workers are employed in Brazil’s meatpacking plants. The repeal of the NR36 would be greatly detrimental to the communities who turn to hours-long commuting to meatpacking plants and other large industries for employment because they’re left with little land due to deforestation.”
IUF news release. Send an urgent message to the Brazilian government.

Europe: Stress campaign reaches the European Parliament

A call for a European Union-wide stress law has been ‘well-received’ by the European Parliament’s employment committee, the unions behind the initiative have said. Their draft report on Mental Health in the Digital World of Work, presented to the committee on 28 February, includes the call for a directive on work-related psychosocial risks. The report, part of the Eurocadres and ETUC ‘’ campaign, is the second parliamentary report to call on the European Commission to move forward with legislation. It followed Danish MEP Marianne Vind’s report, A new EU strategic framework on health and safety at work post 2020. Reacting after the latest employment committee discussion, Eurocadres president Nayla Glaise noted: “In the coming weeks we are hopeful that MEPs will adopt two separate reports that call for a directive on work-related psychosocial risks.” She added: “The message to the Commission from MEPs is clear – European workers need strong legislative protection from work organisations that are unfit for the modern age.” Research from the EndStress campaign has shown that four in every five managers are concerned about work-related stress, with 60 per cent of all lost working days in Europe attributed to work-related stress and psychosocial risk.
Eurocadres news release.

Ukraine: Serious concern at Chernobyl workers’ plight

Ukrainian nuclear authorities told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on 8 March that the safety of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant could be compromised by the “dangerous and stressful” situation facing safety critical staff at the installation. The regulator told IAEA director general Rafael Mariano Grossi it was essential measures were taken to rotate some 210 technical personnel and guards who have been working there since Russian forces took control of the site almost two weeks ago. The Ukrainian regulator added that the staff still had access to food and water, and medicine to a limited extent. However, it said the situation for the staff was worsening. IAEA head Rafael Grossi has repeatedly stressed that staff operating nuclear facilities must be able to rest and work in regular shifts, stating this is crucial for overall nuclear safety. The UN nuclear technology watchdog said the capacity to make decisions free of undue pressure is among ‘the seven indispensable pillars of nuclear safety and security’. “I’m deeply concerned about the difficult and stressful situation facing staff at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the potential risks this entails for nuclear safety. I call on the forces in effective control of the site to urgently facilitate the safe rotation of personnel there,” Grossi said.
IAEA update 8 March 2022. Daily Mail.


TUC Hazards at Work 6th Edition

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