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



Covid inquiry must get to truth on worker deaths

The TUC and Covid Bereaved Families for Justice are calling for the public inquiry into coronavirus to focus on what could have been done to prevent worker deaths. The joint call came ahead of Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April. They add that voices of key workers and the families of those who contracted the virus at work will be central to understanding what went wrong and learning lessons for the future. Frances O’Grady said: “Far too many were exposed to the virus at work - and lost their lives as a consequence. Now the government owes it to them, and to their families, to make sure the public inquiry investigates what should have been done to keep everyone safe at work.”
TUC news release and check out what happened worldwide on 28 April.

Tory care home policy inevitably tragic

GMB has slammed the government’s ‘callous disregard’ for care home residents and workers, following a damning 27 April High Court ruling in a case brought by bereaved families against the government and health bosses. The court said the policy not to isolate people discharged from hospitals to care homes in the first weeks of the pandemic in spring 2020 without testing was ‘unlawful’ and ‘irrational’. Rachel Harrison, GMB national officer for care, said the judgment “is a terrible reminder of callous disregard this government has shown for care home residents and workers. Transferring untested hospital outpatients into enclosed facilities where carers were denied access to proper PPE and even sick pay was always going to have tragic consequences.”
GMB news release The Guardian.

Covid ‘spread like wildfire’ in care homes

UNISON has slammed government decisions that saw untested but Covid positive patients discharged from hospitals. Commenting on the High Court judgment, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Covid spread like wildfire as untested but positive patients were discharged from hospitals. Thousands of elderly people died well before their time, and many care staff lost their lives too.” She added: “Ministers should be hanging their heads in shame and allowing the public inquiry to start hearing evidence immediately so bereaved families can have the answers they deserve.”
UNISON news release. The Mirror.

Health care workers must have better PPE

Every health and social care worker must be given enhanced personal protective equipment (PPE) in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, campaigners have demanded.  Doctors in Unite called for all staff in the sector to be issued with respiratory protective equipment (RPE) — a higher quality version of standard PPE — during a commemorative 28 April event at the National Covid Memorial Wall in central London. Conservative health secretary Sajid Javid has resisted the move, despite the deaths of more than 2,000 infected health and social care workers to date, according to the Office for National Statistics. Doctors in Unite chairperson Dr Jackie Applebee said: “It is self-evident that airborne infections need special protective equipment.”
Doctors in Unite. Morning Star.

Bring back Covid funding for care sector

The UK government must bring back Covid funding for the care sector to safeguard ‘lives and livelihoods’, UNISON and the Care Provider Alliance have said. In a joint letter to Sajid Javid, they warn the health and social care secretary that the government’s decision to end the adult social care Covid infection control fund (ICF) – at a time when virus rates are still high – is an ‘incredibly dangerous move’ that will ‘cost lives’. The funding was stopped at the end of March in a move the two organisations wrote is ‘beyond belief’, adding a ‘vital financial lifeline’ has been cut for low-paid staff trying to protect vulnerable people, ‘particularly during the worst cost of living crisis in over 60 years’.
UNISON news release.

NHS staff with Long Covid will ‘feel forced out’

Anxiety, fear and ‘shockingly bad’ treatment from bosses is forcing staff who are still suffering from Long Covid to return to the workplace early, a UNISON health worker survey has found. It shows that 68 per cent of affected healthcare assistants, nurses, porters and clinical support staff are back at work despite experiencing breathlessness, fatigue, brain fog and aching joints. UNISON’s head of health Sara Gorton called for Long Covid to be treated as a disability, to protect workers. She added: “Health leaders need to understand the impact that poor management of long Covid is having on retention and take immediate action.”
UNISON news release. Morning Star.

Long Covid means absence policies must change

Company absence management policies must be amended to support employees with Long Covid, so they are not pressured to return to work before they are fully recovered, the retail union Usdaw has said. The union’s deputy general secretary Dave McCrossen said: “Those who have been left with long Covid deserve better. They have every right to expect support from their employer. So it is not unreasonable to expect that absence policies should be reviewed in line with this.”
Usdaw news release.

Sainsbury’s Covid absence policy warning

A change to Sainsbury’s Covid absence policy that came into effect on 1 May puts both workers and shoppers at risk, Unite has warned. Previously, Sainsbury’s staff with Covid were entitled to sick leave that did not not count towards the total amount of time they could be absent before a disciplinary procedure can be triggered. The change now counts time off due to Covid in the maximum absence of three per cent of annual contracted hours – about a week and a half - that can lead to sanction or dismissal if exceeded. Unite national officer Bev Clarkson said: “Sainsbury’s new Covid policy puts both workers and shoppers at risk.” She added: “Unite urges Sainsbury’s to put its staff and customers first and scrap this policy.”
Unite news release.


Rail cuts will compromise safety

Rail funding cuts will compromise passenger safety and could mean the loss of much needed train services, a new TUC report has warned. The report details the likely consequences of spending cuts planned by Network Rail and of government cuts to funding for train services. Network Rail plans to cut annual expenditure by £100 million, mainly through the loss of 2,500 rail maintenance jobs. A previously unpublished RMT analysis of Network Rail data finds that this will lead to 670,000 fewer hours of maintenance work annually. Frances O’Grady said “if the Network Rail cuts go ahead it will mean the loss of safety-critical jobs and a greater risk of serious accidents like Stonehaven, Potters Bar and Hatfield. Ministers must not risk passenger safety through funding cuts to Network Rail.”
TUC news release and report, The future of rail funding in the UK, May 2022. TSSA news release. The Guardian.

Study uncovers ‘huge gaps’ in safety reporting

Injuries and fatalities amongst the workforces of Britain’s biggest listed companies, and the regulatory penalties that result, are routinely unreported to investors, according to a new study. A review by the responsible investment thinktank PIRC of the annual reports of FTSE350 companies, and analysis of enforcement activity by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), uncovered ‘worrying gaps’, including unreported safety violations, cherrypicking of reporting metrics and exclusion of contingent workers from company tallies. PIRC found 228 HSE enforcement notices had been served at 116 public limited companies for occupational safety breaches in UK operations between 2016-2021. Of the 57 companies that received HSE enforcement notices since 2019, only 30 (53 per cent) listed occupational safety as a “principal risk” in recent reporting.
Euronews. Reuters.

Shopworkers call for safety lessons to be learned

Shopworkers have called for employers to do more on security in stores, the retention of EU safety standards and for the lessons of Covid-19 to be learned. Paddy Lillis, general secretary of Usdaw, told the retail union’s conference: “Usdaw remains committed to ensuring that employers take health and safety seriously.”  He added: “Many of the important protections which the Conservatives so frequently write off as simply 'red-tape', such as the Working Time Directive or access to PPE were previously guaranteed by the EU. However, now that we have left, we need to find alternative ways of protecting the measures which are so important to our members.”
Usdaw news release.

P&O ship fails MCA inspection again

P&O’s Pride of Kent ferry has failed a full safety inspection by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) for third time. On 3 May the vessel again fell short of minimum safety levels, following failed MCA inspections on 28 March and 13 April. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch commented: “Passengers and hauliers need to know that P&O’s fleet is operated by over worked and under skilled agency crews, some expected to work for up to 17 weeks on the intensive Dover-Calais route.” He warned: “P&O Ferries clearly pose a growing threat to maritime safety. The only way to restore safety and economic stability in the ferry industry is for the government to take over the running of P&O Ferries and to restore skilled seafarers to their jobs on union rates of pay.”
RMT news release. Sky News.

Site employers must insure workers or go

Unite has written to all the major construction clients and principal contractors demanding they provide guarantees that all workers throughout the entire supply chain on their projects are protected by a death and injury insurance scheme. Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “All employers in the construction sector should abide by industry agreements. When someone dies at work, they leave behind a family to feed. The failure of the boss to provide the most basic safety standards has a devastating impact and haunts families for years to come.” According to Unite, accident and death benefit cover is available for only £3 per week per worker but many employers are refusing to pay it. 
Unite news release.

Ambulance staff uniforms are an unsafe, bad fit

Ambulance staff are having to deal with emergencies in uniforms that don’t fit properly and aren’t always visible to other drivers, a UNISON survey has found. Two-thirds (66 per cent) of ambulance staff who responded to the survey agreed or strongly agreed that their uniform was too hot in summer, 40 per cent that it was too cold in winter, and nearly two in five (39 per cent) that their uniform didn’t fit well. Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) do not feel visible to other drivers when on the roadside wearing their uniform. Respondents also said uniforms were designed to fit men and not women. UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “Ambulance workers need properly fitting kit that keeps them safe, comfortable and doesn’t make their roles even more dangerous. All trusts should be carrying out reviews as a matter of urgency.”
UNISON news release. Morning Star.

Retail workers need protection from AI

Retail workers need greater protection from the growing threat of automation in the workplace, Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis has warned. The retail union’s general secretary said artificial intelligence (AI) is exacerbating a lack of job security and mental health issues for workers, adding “if we are not prepared, if we are not organised and if we fail to represent the interests of our members, then new technology has the potential to make members’ working lives harder.” A motion at the union’s conference instructed the union to demand retailers ensure there are four workers for every self-checkout machine amid fears over job cuts.
Usdaw news release  Morning Star.

Northampton University case exposes ‘toxic’ culture

Northampton University needs to address a ‘toxic work culture’ that led to a staff member being bullied out of her job, lecturers’ union UCU has said. The union was responding to an employment tribunal ruled that Northampton University had unfairly dismissed fashion tutor Chris Hill. The tribunal found her manager Vicki Dean was “needlessly asserting her authority,” creating a hostile environment and bullying her. UCU branch chair Nick Cartwright commented: “UCU has raised issues including the culture of bullying, excessive workloads, and a grievance procedure that isn't fit for purpose many times with management. The university now needs to stop trying to brush these issues under the carpet and address the toxic work culture that led to Ms Hill being bullied out of her job."
UCU news release. Employment Tribunal findings. The Telegraph.

Scale of abuse of public-facing workers confirmed

An Institute of Customer Service survey has found that abuse of public-facing workers remains high and is still hugely under reported. The survey of over 1,100 workers suggested that half do not report incidents of abuse and hostility mainly because workers did not believe it would make a difference, or incidents happen too regularly to be worth reporting.  Almost half of respondents said they have suffered hostility in the past year. Nearly one in four fear customer hostility will get more challenging in the next six months amid the cost-of-living crisis and energy price rises.
ICS Service with Respect campaign. Usdaw news release.

Engineering firm fined £500k after crushing death

A manufacturer of hazardous waste containers and drums has been convicted of a criminal safety offence and fined £500k after a worker was crushed to death by a hydraulic press.  Preston Crown Court heard that on 21 May 2018, Graham Engineering Ltd employee Colin Willoughby, 52, died when a part of 1,000 tonne capacity press he was working under came free and fell on him. Following a jury trial, Nelson-based Graham Engineering Ltd was found guilty of a criminal safety offence. The firm was ordered to pay a £500k fine by 31 August. It was also instructed to pay costs of £145,487. Manufacturing director, Stuart Fraser, had earlier been acquitted of a criminal breach.
HSE news release. BBC News Online.

Bosses urged to ‘Get Me Home Safely’

Unite is calling on councils and employers to back the union’s Get Me Home Safely campaign. It said it wants the hundreds of councils and authorities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to follow East Dunbartonshire council’s lead in finding innovative ways to support the late-night workforce. The Scottish council has made it a licensing requirement that all hospitality businesses in the area provide safe transport home for their workers. Unite is also calling for health and safety legislation to be changed to ensure that employers must conduct assessments of the provision for workers to get home safely from late working. The campaign, which has been endorsed by the Welsh Assembly, is working to make safe transport home the norm for late workers.
Unite news release and Get Me Home Safely campaign video.

Firefighters’ Memorial Day marked by FBU

Firefighters’ Memorial Day on 4 May has been marked around the country. The event honours firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Firefighters’ union FBU said over 2,300 such deaths are recorded by the Firefighters’ Memorial Trust. A minute’s silence at midday on 4 May was observed on the forecourts of fire stations and other fire and rescue service workplaces, and involved thousands of firefighters and rescue staff. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “As a union representing firefighters across the UK, we are proud to commemorate those have who come before us and to recognise their sacrifice and their contribution to the safety of people in our communities.”
FBU news release and Firefighters’ Memorial Day webpage.


Global: Safety at work must be ‘fundamental’

As the number of workplace cases of Covid-19 shows, failures in health and safety at work can have catastrophic effects, the global union confederation ITUC has said.  It added that the impact is not only on workers themselves and their families, but also on individual businesses and even whole economies.  The union body said that was why trade unions – globally, sectorally, nationally and in factories, care homes and offices everywhere – marked International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April, by demanding that the ILO’s International Labour Conference this June take the ‘long overdue’ step to make occupational health and safety a top priority ILO ‘fundamental’ right at work. ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said: “Let’s make this year’s International Workers’ Memorial Day the last year that workers are denied this fundamental right.”
ITUC news release. ETUC news release. BWI news release. IndustriALL news release. ITF news release. IUF news release. ILO news release.
Check out what happened worldwide on 28 April.
Deadline - International Workers’ Memorial Day – dying to work must end now!, ITUC/Hazards, 2022.


TUC Hazards at Work 6th Edition

Stock Code: HS111
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