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



Employers should pay for required Covid tests

Anyone required by their employer to test for Covid-19 infection as part of their job should by law have the lateral flow or other tests provided free of charge, a top occupational health expert has said. Free Covid-19 tests come to an end in England from 1 April, and will only be available to the most vulnerable despite cases continuing to rise across most of the UK. Under the scaled back system, only the over-75s and over-12s with weakened immune systems will get free tests, with everyone else wanting a test having to pay over £5 for each rapid test. However, Raymond Agius, an emeritus professor of occupational and environmental medicine at Manchester University, said on twitter: “It's illegal to charge employees for covid tests to ensure safety.” His 23 March tweet quoted the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, section 9 verbatim, noting: “No employer shall levy or permit to be levied on any employee any charge in respect of anything done/provided in pursuance of any specific requirement of the relevant statutory provisions.” The NHS Confederation said that workers may be forced to fork out around £50 a month for tests if they have to pay themselves. Currently, health workers are still required to test twice weekly for the virus. Chief executive Matthew Taylor said: “In the face of a cost-of-living crisis, many staff will simply not be able to afford to regularly buy their tests. Given the huge expectations placed on the NHS to recover its services while contending with significant vacancies, staff need to be supported to understand their Covid status, stay well and keep transmission within healthcare settings to a minimum.” 
Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, section 9. Raymond Agius tweet. NHS Confederation news release. Sky News. The Guardian.


P&O vessel detained for safety breaches

Seafarers’ unions RMT and Nautilus have welcomed the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) detention of the P&O vessel European Causeway in Larne for multiple safety and operational breaches. The union has demanded that the government seize the entire fleet and take action to get them back in service with the sacked crew reinstated. The MCA detained the P&O ferry European Causeway on 25 March because of “failures on crew familiarisation, vessel documentation and crew training.” The problems arose after P&O Ferries sacked 800 experienced staff without notice on 17 March and admitted to breaching employment law by failing to consult with trades unions (Risks 1037). RMT general secretary Mick Lynch, commenting on the ferry’s detention, said: “The seizing of the European Causeway by the MCA tonight shows that the gangster capitalist outfit P&O are not fit and proper to run a safe service after the jobs massacre. This mob should be barred, their ships impounded and the sacked crews reinstated to get these crucial ferry routes back running safely.” Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said: “In a safety critical industry such as shipping, the importance of a competent, well trained, experienced crew cannot be overstated.” He added: “The consequences can be fatal when commercial pressure takes precedence over safety concerns in the ferry sector.” One of the companies recruiting for P&O Ferries, CSM Baltics – part of Columbia Shipmanagement, one of the world’s largest ship managers – is actively seeking workers with no previous experience at sea. In an advertisement posted on Facebook it notes: “We are looking for a large number of stewards to work 12 hours day on board our ships and to have rest of 12 hours in hotels in France. No seafarers’ documents are needed, just previous experience in hospitality institutions.” On 26 March, P&O dockers in Rotterdam refused to load freight onto a ferry set for Hull, in solidarity with the seafarers sacked illegally by P&O. The TUC last week said government ministers must step in to run services if a ‘fit and proper’ operator cannot be found quickly to replace P&O.
RMT news release. Nautilus news releases on the European Causeway detention and P&O campaign. TUC news release and blog. ITF news release. PCS news release. Prospect news release.
The Guardian. Yorkshire Post. BBC News Online. Morning Star.
Sign the petition calling on P&O to reinstate the sacked workers immediately.

Second P&O ferry detained over safety concerns

A second P&O ferry has failed a safety inspection and been detained, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has said. The Pride of Kent is one of eight ships required to pass an inspection before re-entering service, after 800 staff were sacked. On 28 March, the P&O ferry become the second in three days to be held after being declared “unfit to sail.” The MCA was inspecting the Pride of Kent to make sure it was safe to go to sea without passengers or cargo. RMT welcomed the MCA detention of the Pride of Kent in Dover “for what the union believes are multiple safety and operational breaches, including the wearing of breathing apparatus.” RMT general secretary Mick Lynch, commenting as the ferry was detained, said: “It's rare enough for the MCA to impound a ferry but P&O have now had two in a week after the jobs carve up which speaks volumes about the dire state of their operation.” He added: “It's now high time for these important vessels to be taken over under public control with the sacked crews reinstated as the only way to get these crucial ferry routes back running safely.”
RMT news release. BBC News Online.

RMT calls on the MCA to target ‘whole fleet’

Following the seizure of P&O vessels by inspectors, seafarers’ union RMT is calling for urgent talks with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), demanding they take a “whole fleet” approach. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch, accusing P&O of ‘secrecy on safety’, said: “It's rare for the MCA to seize a ferry but we now have two P&O vessels detained in less than a week due to clear safety breaches and that should set alarm bells ringing with both the government and the Agency.” Commenting after the Pride of Kent was detained on 28 March, he added: “At the select committee last week a demand was made on MCA by both Tory and Opposition MPs that they take a ‘whole fleet’ position with P&O. The MCA must go further than the current vessel-by-vessel and issue-by-issue approach. The MPs were shocked by the complacency of the MCA and P&O after last night's latest seizure in Dover that has to change. It is also shocking that despite a wholesale replacement of experienced crew who are familiar with the ships with inexperienced crew there has been no risk assessment published to show the public what the impact of this will be on passenger safety nor have the trade unions been given the opportunity to examine this. This secrecy on safety clear shows P&O are hiding the true facts.” The RMT leader concluded: “It's clear P&O are winging it on staff and passenger safety and the solution is a blanket ban on their operations until the sacked staff with the correct safety competencies and experience are reinstated.”
RMT news release.

MCA warned to block P&O ferries until checked

Prospect, the trade union that represents surveyors working at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), had urged the MCA to ward off potential disaster by performing rigorous inspections before any P&O Ferries vessels were permitted to sail. Commenting before two ferries were detained by the agency, the union said that in a safety critical industry such as shipping, the importance of a competent, well trained, experienced crew cannot be overstated. Prospect added this is even more the case in a company such as P&O Ferries where – in addition to the risks that are present in all shipping operations – there exists the additional pressures inherent in operating vessels that carry up to 2,000 passengers to extremely tight schedules, with rapid turnarounds, in the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “MCA surveyors, many of them members of our union, have a responsibility to ensure that P&O Ferries lives up to its responsibilities under the STCW Convention [on standards of training for seafarers] and International Management Code for the Safe Management of Ships (ISM Code). They must establish that any new personnel are qualified, familiarised with their duties, and are prepared to act during emergencies.” He added: “We ask our members and all MCA surveyors to go over these ships from top to bottom and ensure that every safety procedure is observed. If the agency crew hired by P&O Ferries – from a company set up just a few weeks ago – are not ready to operate the vessels safely, then they must not allow them to operate. The safety of thousands of passengers depends on it.”
Prospect news release and related news release. MCA guidance on recruitment of agency staff.

P&O Ferries bosses failed to address key demands

A meeting between representatives of seafarers’ union Nautilus International with P&O Ferries executives on 25 March broke up after just 20 minutes when the company continued to insist it acted correctly in sacking 800 staff and failing to consult with unions. In this first meeting since what Nautilus described as ‘disgraceful’ layoffs, union representatives expressed the shock and the sense of betrayal felt by members. The union stated that P&O Ferries should pause in its actions, reflect, and consult with unions, following Peter Hebblethwaite’s disastrous appearance at the Transport Select Committee and the ongoing backlash from politicians and the public against the sackings. “We requested that the company immediately engage with a view to rescuing and recovering from some of its reputational damage and to attempt to find a way forward that would be within the rule of law,” said Nautilus head of industrial Micky Smyth, who attended the meeting. However, company representatives explained that they knowingly chose to ignore the legal requirement to consult as no union could accept their proposals and said that the scope of settlement agreement on offer made up for this breach – an argument that MPs had already described as trying to ‘buy their way around the law’. The company confirmed it has no intention on altering course or taking time to reflect and engage, the union said, adding it also failed to address Nautilus’s key demands on safety, quality and reputational standards.
Nautilus news release.

STUC slams ‘shambolic’ P&O effort at Scottish Parliament

Scotland’s national union body STUC has given a scathing assessment of appearance by P&O’s top boss at a Scottish parliament committee, to respond to concerns about the ‘mass culling’ of jobs. Following the quizzing of P&O Ferries chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite at the parliament’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee on 29 March - where he reiterated his claim that any consultation with unions “would be a sham” - STUC general secretary Roz Foyer said: “Hebblethwaite’s appearance at the Scottish Parliament today was as pathetic as it was shambolic and entirely representative of how P&O have behaved these past weeks. He calls this a ‘controversial’ move - we call it breaking the law. He calls it ‘material change’- we call it a mass culling. Hiding behind his language of operating models and balance sheets are workers. All 800 of whom should be immediately reinstated on the exact terms and conditions from when they were disgracefully sacked.” The STUC leader added: “We cannot permit P&O – or any other company – casting workers and employment law aside with such impunity. This cannot be allowed to stand. Not now and not ever again. P&O are now the test case for whether the UK government, who are responsible for the state of employment law, are backing the multi-million-pound profiteers of DP World and P&O or backing the people impacted by their callous actions.”
P&O Ferries chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite’s appearance before the parliament’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee on 29 March [starts at approx. 10:49].

Business and transport failing late-night workers

Nearly six in ten workers (58 per cent) report that their employers have never provided them with safe transport home after work, a new poll for Unite has found. The union poll also confirmed that people feel it has become less safe when travelling home at night and that public transport is not a decent option because there are too few staff (51 per cent), the wait for a bus or train is too long (48 per cent), streets and stations are badly lit (44 per cent) and the services are unreliable (45 per cent). Unite released the figures from the survey of 2,050 people as it stepped up its Get Me Home Safely (GMHS) campaign, which is working to improve protection for workers as they journey home from late night work. The union is currently pursuing a case against an employer who promised but failed to provide a young woman worker with a taxi home after her bar shift. Left to travel home alone, late at night, she was then sexually assaulted. Unite said a victory will mean that health and safety law is changed to require employers to provide safe homewards transport for late hours workers. Sixty-nine per cent of all those polled believe that hospitality employers should be compelled by the conditions of their licence to provide safe transport home after late hours work. The campaign is also demanding that late night public transport services are improved, so that all workers heading home can feel that this is a safe – and affordable – option. Launching the campaign, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Quite clearly workers – mainly women workers – are being failed. Their safety is being put at risk by a profit-above-all-else culture that governs UK business.” She added: “Employers must accept that their duty of care to late night workers doesn’t stop when the shift ends. The same goes for transport operators and councils – step up with improved, affordable services so that workers are not out of pocket just trying to get home safely from work. Unite is not prepared to tolerate our members’ safety being put at risk a minute longer. Our members fighting for change will have their union’s support every step of the way.” Caitlin Lee, a former hospitality worker who was assaulted on her way home from a shift, said: “What happened to me would not have happened had my employer done as they had promised and provided me with safe transport home. I absolutely do not want this to happen to any other worker.” She added: “In hospitality, where I worked, no transport should mean no licence. As East Dunbartonshire council has shown, this can be done.”
Unite news release and Get me home safely campaign. Agreement reached after negotiations between Unite and East Dunbartonshire council.

Double win for CWU in mental health awards

The communications workers’ union CWU has bagged two major awards for its work on mental health in the workplace. Area safety rep (ASR) Jamie McGovern, from the union’s Greater Mersey branch, received a Behind The Scenes Champion award in the Mental Health First Aid category at the InsideOut 2022 awards. The CWU’s head office safety team also received an award sponsored by Mental Health First Aid England at the same 24 March ceremony, for its nationwide work. “It’s great to see our union being recognised for this and, hopefully, this will inspire others to take a similar approach in their companies,” said Jamie McGovern. Working with CWU regional safety lead Mark Holt, assistant regional secretary Emma Garner and regional secretary Carl Webb, Jamie set up a North West mental health (MH) support network of reps who have had mental health first aid training. “We’ve got over 100 people in it now,” said Jamie, “and we do something called guided conversations with people, using a structured Talking Toolkit, and we’ve been quite successful, in that when trained MH first-aiders can have these calm and structured discussions with people about their issues and help them, then this has clearly positive outcomes and improvements for them.” Under the CWU approach, workplace adjustments can be made for people, with the network already helping “hundreds of people to improve their working experience and to be able to continue in their workplace and to help them to feel better in their everyday lives.” CWU national health, safety and environment officer Dave Joyce received the award for the union’s work nationally, recognising CWU’s initiatives on mental health initiatives on workplace stress and the “union reps’ training programme, the support we give workers, and the CWU’s raising of the profile of the issue of mental health – as well as the various landmark agreements with major employers.”
CWU news release. InsideOut Award winners 2022.

Welcome for mental health support for education staff

Extra money for mental health support for the education workforce in Wales should mean that schools are able to identify and support staff with their wellbeing, NEU Cymru has said. Wales secretary for NEU Cymru David Evans, commenting after the Welsh government announced an extra £900,000 of mental health support for staff in the sector, said: “Pressure on the education workforce has never been higher, with Covid-19 still having an impact in our schools. In an NEU Cymru survey last year, 80 per cent of respondents said that work had an impact on their mental health, with 60 per cent saying work had made their mental health worse since the pandemic.” He added: “Our members tell us there is a significant lack of support measures in place for workers experiencing poor mental health. Workload is the single most important factor in terms of pressure. Alongside tackling workload, this extra money should mean that schools are able to identify and support staff with their wellbeing. We’re asking schools and local authorities to work with union representatives and use this opportunity to audit the wellbeing of the education workforce in every workplace.” The union leader concluded: “This money should help them make sure the findings of such an audit can be acted upon, and make a difference to staff. NEU has our own mental health charter which we are asking every workplace in Wales to adopt and puts the wellbeing of staff at the heart of the school.”
NEU Cymru news release.


Just four weeks to go to 28 April #IWMD22

Every year more people are killed at work than in wars. Most don't die of mystery ailments, or in tragic "accidents". They die because an employer decided their safety just wasn't that important a priority. International Workers’ Memorial Day (IWMD) on 28 April commemorates these workers. The union-initiated action day is the world’s biggest single safety event each year. This year, unions worldwide are making a final push for occupational health and safety to be recognised as a ‘fundamental right’ at work by the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO). This would be a big win – and there’s just one final hurdle, approval at the ILO’s June 2022 conference. Show health and safety at work is important by organising or participating in an event near you… every year, the TUC lists events nationwide. Make sure your activity is on the TUC list. For organising ideas and resources, visit the dedicated TUC webpages.
TUC 28 April resources and events webpages. Get your 28 April event on the map! Find out what is happening worldwide.
Need some background stats? Check out the damning new analysis from Hazards of soaring work-related ill-health and collapsing enforcement in the UK.


Survey: Chemicals and hazardous substances at work

Greater Manchester Hazards Centre (GMHC) is working with trade unions to reduce worker exposure to harmful, toxic chemicals in a project on ‘Toxics Use Reduction’. To help safety reps deal with toxic exposures better, the centre says it needs “to know more about the types of chemicals workers are exposed to, the harms caused, their awareness and knowledge of risks and of successful eliminations or substitution of safer chemicals or changes to processes that have been made in your workplace.” It is asking people to help out with the work by completing a short questionnaire, which should only take about 10 minutes.
Complete the toxics use reduction survey.
See the related GMHC alert and toxics use reduction report.


Argentina: ‘New model’ airport safety agreement

In a first for Latin America, an accord to improve health and safety has been agreed between the global transport union federation ITF and Argentina’s biggest airport operator. ITF says its Healthy Airports memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Aeropuertos Argentina 2000 will result in the creation of “health and safety committees to discuss and put in place new health and safety measures. They will include both worker and management representatives and cover all the different sectors within airports. As a result, improvements in training and practical efforts to reduce risks will swiftly follow.” Gabriel Mocho Rodriguez, civil aviation and tourism services secretary at the ITF, commented: “It is important that we learn lessons in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.” He added: “We have a better understanding of keeping our airports and our skies open safely. With this MOU, we are primarily placed to continue this work with Aeropuertos Argentina 2000 in the face of future health and safety risks.” Aeropuertos Argentina 2000 operates 35 air terminals in the country and is the biggest private operator in the world. It accounts for 90 per cent of Argentina’s air commercial traffic and employs more than 2,100 in passenger services, baggage handling, food halls and duty-free shops. “Safe airports are fundamental to the recovery of the aviation industry,” Mocho Rodriguez said. “By showing how we are all continuing in the same direction, we will renew passenger confidence, encouraging a bounce back from the pandemic.”
ITF news release.

Australia: Workplace protection needed as Covid cases rise

Despite rising numbers of Covid cases linked to the highly contagious BA.2 omicron subvariant, workers are being put at additional risk because many of the protective public health orders have been withdrawn, Australia’s top union body has warned. The national union federation ACTU said preventive measures must remain in place at work. ACTU secretary Sally McManus: “Employers have a legal obligation to ensure workplaces are safe, regardless of what measures are mandated by public health orders. They must consult their employees about what’s appropriate now that cases are on the rise. Masks, rapid tests, density limits, working from home, and other measures should all be considered by employers and put in place where appropriate.” She added: “Too many times during this pandemic we have squandered the hard work of everyone and slipped backwards thanks to lack of action or complacency. By putting in place Covid safety measures, we can limit the spread of the virus, as well as helping to keep the pressure off our hospital system. Covid safety measures also limit the negative impact of the virus on employers – it lessens the chance of huge numbers of workers being off sick at any one time.”
ACTU news release.

Global: Teleperformance blighted by poor work standards

A report from the global union UNI has exposed widespread workers’ rights problems throughout Teleperformance’s global, 400,000 employee, call centre business. ‘Not a Great Place to Work: The Case for Building a Better Workplace at Teleperformance’ documents unpaid work, health and safety complaints, excessive worker surveillance and aggressive trade union avoidance in eleven countries. The findings were presented last week in a private meeting with some of the company’s largest shareholders. In addition to uncompensated login time, UNI has identified several other types of unpaid work at the company: workers not being paid when calls continue past the end of a shift; employees working through breaks to meet demanding quotas; work-from-home employees being docked pay during internet or electricity network outages; workers not receiving promised or earned bonuses; and unpaid toilet breaks. UNI said in addition to Teleperformance’s ‘well documented safety issues’ during the pandemic’s first wave, the report identifies new hazards affecting workers’ health, associated with non-ergonomic work-from-home stations. UNI has gathered examples of workers using kitchen tables, plastic garden furniture and even a suitcase as office furniture. It says long shifts over time without adequate ergonomics could cause carpal tunnel syndrome, musculoskeletal problems and long-term pain for workers. Teleperformance workers also reported increased stress from extreme home surveillance as well as a non-stop work culture that can take a physical toll. “This report shows why workers all over the world are organising for better jobs at Teleperformance,” said Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI. “There are fundamental problems with Teleperformance’s labour practices. Given the company’s massive size, global reach and growing influence on the future of work, it is urgent that all stakeholders — including unions and shareholders — come together to push for change.” Recommendations in the report include the creation of elected worker health and safety committees.
UNI news release and report, Teleperformance - Not a Great Place to Work, UNI, March 2022.

Norway: Benzene risks to offshore workers under-estimated

The number of workers exposed to the cancer-causing benzene contaminating the muds used in offshore drilling is greatly under-estimated, a union has warned. Halvor Erikstein, an organisational secretary and occupational hygienist with the Norwegian energy union SAFE, investigated benzene exposures during offshore oil well drilling and found a University of Bergen matrix used to designate exposed jobs “has completely omitted exposure from benzene blending into drilling mud” and during the ‘deaeration’ of systems. This means a wide range of rig jobs are excluded from the at-risk count, including scaffolders, drillers and drill floor crew, mud loggers, derrick workers, turbine operators and hydraulic technicians. The SAFE report shows that as well as mistaken assumptions about where exposures occur, factors such as humidity have a substantial impact on the effectiveness of respiratory protective equipment, with filters ineffective at high humidity. Exposures to benzene are linked to cancers, blood and neurological disorders and other health effects. Erikstein notes: “This type of exposure has been met with silence by the Norwegian oil industry.”
Drilling Mud and Benzene The Elephant in the Room Chemical Environment, SAFE, 2022. Summary.


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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