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



Roving union safety reps in Scotland’s reopening plan

Official return-to-work guidance in Scotland is recommending the deployment of union roving health and safety reps to ensure reopening of workplaces is safe. The roving reps are to be on call for workers and employers in non-unionised workplaces. The plan is included in a joint statement by the Scottish government, police and safety enforcement bodies released on 26 May. Scotland’s national union body STUC said it “strongly welcomes the support from Scottish government, Police Scotland, Health and Safety Executive and local authorities for the role of roving health and safety reps for workers in non-unionised workplaces.” As the ‘Test and Protect’ contact tracing was set to start in the country, STUC reminded “government and employers that no workplace should be re-opening until effective tracing is actually in place,” adding it “has concerns over elements of the transport guidance which must be right before any further relaxation of lockdown. The STUC will take the cabinet secretary up on his pledge to further work with unions to fix these issues.” STUC general secretary designate Roz Foyer said good guidance for manufacturing and retail developed in full consultation with unions “makes clear the steps that are required of employers in creating special risk assessments with unions and fully taking into account our key red lines including contact tracing and travel to work issues.” Welcoming the joint statement, she said: “It makes crystal clear that no employer, unionised or not, is at liberty to ignore their workers or fail to engage with unions when that is their employees wish. Later this week we will announce how unions intend to organise, support and resource an army of organisers and roving reps who will be tasked with ensuring workers are fully empowered and supported over coming months.”
STUC news release. Scottish government news release and Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer workplaces statement. BBC News Online.

Quarantine cash needed for testing and tracing to work

Test, track and trace systems to control Covid-19 infection risks will only work if those quarantined have financial support, the TUC has said. Commenting on the launch on 28 May of the NHS Test and Trace programme, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We need a testing and tracing programme up and running as soon as possible. But it will not be effective if workers are pushed into hardship when they are required to self-isolate. Statutory sick pay is just £95 per week – and two million workers aren’t even eligible for that. If workers can’t afford to self-isolate, then they will be forced to keep working. That will put them, their workmates and their local community at risk, and undermine the entire test and trace programme.” The TUC leader added: “The government must extend statutory sick pay to everyone - no matter what they’re paid - and raise it to the level of the real Living Wage, £260 per week. And the self-employed income support scheme must remain in place as a source of financial support for those forced to self-isolate. That’s how to show that we really are all in this together. If a worker tests positive, then their entire workplace could be closed down overnight. This could lead to schools and childcare settings closing unexpectedly, perhaps repeatedly. The government must set out clearly how they expect employers to treat their staff in this situation, and what support is available.”
TUC news release and report, Testing and tracing for Covid-19; How to ensure fair access and manage monitoring in the workplace, TUC, May 2020. Return to safe workplaces, TUC Education, May 2020. BBC News Online.

Covid-19 workplaces must face safety inspections

The government must ‘rescind’ measures preventing the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities undertaking proactive, spot check safety inspections in many of the sectors most at risk of Covid-19 transmission, Unite has said. The union said sectors where local authorities and the HSE are prevented from making unannounced inspections include social care, health, transport, agriculture, shops, offices, pubs, clubs, postal services and light manufacturing, employing millions of UK workers. Unite has written to both Alok Sharma, the business secretary, and Thérèse Coffey, the secretary of state for work and pensions, asking for immediate measures to be introduced to ensure that proactive safety inspections can be undertaken in these sectors. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “It is absolutely critical that proactive inspections are re-introduced in all sectors immediately but with emphasis where workers are most in danger of being exposed to Covid-19. It is chilling that both social care and healthcare are excluded from proactive inspections because they were deemed to be low risk, yet nearly 200 workers have died from Covid-19 in those sectors since the pandemic began. The pandemic has exposed how in so many ways the current regulation and enforcement culture in the UK is lacking. There needs to be root and branch reform to better protect workers in the future.” Cartmail added: “In the short term, the HSE and local authorities need to be given the powers and the finances to properly inspect workplaces if we are serious about reducing the likelihood of transmission, ensuring that social distancing takes place and avoiding a second spike. Unite has repeatedly made the offer to government to assist with implementing workplace social distancing and ensuring other safety measures are in place. The union has thousands of skilled and dedicated health and safety reps in its ranks who could and should be asked to play a role in protecting the entire workforce.”
Unite news release. Thompsons Solicitors briefing on return to work.

Call for enforcement forum to keep Wales workers safe

The Wales TUC is calling for the creation of a national enforcement forum to coordinate workplace health and safety compliance and enforcement activity once lockdown is eased.  The trade union body says it believes that workplace social distancing and other health and safety measures in Wales are best achieved and sustained in partnership between employees and employers. But the Welsh union body says these partnership arrangement do not exist in many workplaces and other measures are therefore needed to keep all workers safe. Shavanah Taj, general secretary of Wales TUC, said: “We know that unionised workplaces are safer. Partnership working between employers and unions means that health and safety is informed by actual practices, and both workers and the employer have a shared interest in making it a success. But lots of Welsh workplaces aren’t unionised, and we’re very concerned that some of these won’t reopen safely. They need clear, simple advice about how they can keep staff and customers safe, including how to do a Covid specific risk assessment and what measures they need to introduce to protect their staff, including those that need additional personal risk assessments, such as pregnant workers, disabled and BAME workers.” She said Wales TUC was asking the Welsh government “to work with us, employers, business and enforcement agencies to establish a national forum to coordinate enforcement activity related to the 2-metre social distancing law and other workplace measures designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The forum should produce Wales’s enforcement strategy, as well as online advice and training on how to reopen and operate safely.”
Wales TUC news release.

Models show big infection risks in ‘low risk’ office work

New studies from the UK and the US, modelling virus risks in offices and other indoor environments, have concluded there is a potentially substantial risk of Covid-19 infection. Matthew J Evans of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who modelled Covid-19 aerosol transmission and used the findings to propose “guidelines for ventilation and occupancy in the workplace,” concluded: “Avoiding infection requires good ventilation and/or short exposure times. Generally, office spaces should not be occupied by more than one person.” Evans noted “a substantial body of literature has developed over the last few decades showing that the short-range aerosol route is an important, though often neglected transmission path.” Much of the current workplace guidance on social distancing and provision of personal protective equipment is based on close range ‘droplet transmission’ alone. Professor Clive Beggs of Leeds Beckett University, who also considered this issue, noted that unlike droplets, aerosols can “be widely distributed throughout room spaces.” He said the findings of his computer modelling study, which simulated transmission in an office building, “suggest that individuals who share enclosed spaces with an infector may be at risk of contracting Covid-19 by the aerosol route, even when practising social distancing.”
Matthew J Evans. Avoiding Covid-19: Aerosol guidelines, medRxiv preprint, 25 May 2020.
Clive B Beggs. Is there an airborne component to the transmission of COVID-19?: a quantitative analysis study, medRxiv preprint, 25 May 2020.

Four in five workers worried about work return risks

Four in five workers are think returning to work will put their family at risk, a GMB survey has revealed. The poll, which was completed by almost 3,500 workers across a wide range of sectors, showed 60 per cent are worried about being pressured into returning to work, with 95 per cent worried about catching Covid-19. Fewer than 1-in-5 (18 per cent) respondents said they believed returning to their workplace will be safe.  John Phillips, the acting GMB general secretary, said: “We need a safe and managed return to normal working but that isn’t happening yet.” He added: “The government’s unclear advice and failure to enforce workplace standards means risky behaviour by some employers could see all of us punished with a resurgence of the virus that could destabilise our country’s recovery. It’s on ministers to get this right – they need to be led by the evidence and provide clear plans for the safe return to work.” The GMB leader concluded: “Their responses to this crisis would be an international laughing-stock if the consequences of their failures were not so deadly serious.”
GMB news release.

‘Massive’ GMB sick pay win at giant care provider

Care provider HC-One has pledged to pay full Covid-19 sick pay for all its 27,000 workforce. The company, which operates about 350 homes, has also promised to retrospectively pay any carer who has been diagnosed since the outbreak began. The union GMB said the landmark agreement comes in response to its campaign for full sick pay across the care sector. GMB said most carers have to live on statutory sick pay (SSP) of just £95 a week if they get Covid-19. Kelly Andrews, GMB lead for the care sector, said: “This is a massive win for GMB’s carers. We have been fighting hard for full sick pay across the care sector. It’s is completely unrealistic for anyone to live on £95 a week – and it’s utterly unfair to force carers to make the impossible choice between feeding their families or risking the health of their colleagues and residents by coming into work sick.” She added the union was pursuing back pay “for everyone who had to self-isolate before testing came in. But HC-One has shown the way – GMB urges other care providers to follow.” The test, track and trace systems coming into operation could see far more people ordered to stay off work.
GMB news release. BBC News Online.

PCS wins vital concessions at the Home Office

Home Office border officers are to be allowed to wear face masks in operational and public facing settings, following a PCS campaign. Since the start of the lockdown PCS said it has been objecting to the Home Office refusal to provide frontline Border Force officers with face masks or to install screens at passport controls and at other public facing enquiry points. The civil service union said senior management within Border Force and the Home Office “kept referring to government and Public Health England guidelines, refusing to consider the reassurance that masks might provide to our members working to keep the borders secure during the pandemic.” However, the union said its ‘constant pressure’ has led to a change in the employer’s position and Border Force officers and other public facing Home Office staff are now being provided with face masks to be worn when social distancing in a public setting is impossible. In addition, the fitting of protective screens is now being rolled out across all operational ports, airports and public facing offices. The union said it has also called on the Home Office to go further and to support the wearing of face masks for all staff where they are being brought back into workplaces or where they may come into contact with the public and colleagues.
PCS news release.

Covid response team a hit with PCS members

More than 1,600 PCS members have been helped and supported by the union’s Covid-19 response team since its launch seven weeks ago. The civil service union said in order to support PCS members during the Covid-19 emergency, it had changed the way it worked, so it could provide safety information more quickly. The team is currently handling 60-70 cases a day, the union said, on issues including social distancing, vulnerable workers and return to work. Karen Foster, who is heading up the PCS response team, said: “By setting up a central Covid response team we have been able to identify trends and issues that cut across more than one employer. This has allowed us share higher quality advice and information as well as inform the bargaining agenda.”
PCS news release.

HSE must intervene in schools reopening moves

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) must be urgently tasked by government with providing guidance and advice to schools and colleges about the safety of reopening to more pupils, teaching union NASUWT has told ministers. NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach has written to both the education secretary Gavin Williamson and work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey calling on them to exercise their powers to direct the HSE to provide support and advice to schools and colleges. The union said it believes that the publication of the SAGE scientific advice and the guidance issued to date for schools and colleges by the Department for Education has failed to provide the assurances employers, teachers and parents need that schools and colleges can be reopened safely. “Given the considerable uncertainty that remains about whether schools will be in a position to reopen safely to more children from 1 June, the NASUWT is today urging the government to immediately and urgently call on the Health and Safety Executive’s expertise for assistance,” the NASUWT leader said. “There is a strong case that urgent guidance needs to be provided by the Health and Safety Executive in respect of the management of Covid-19 risks in schools and other education settings. It is surprising that this has not already happened. We want to see work by the Health and Safety Executive to assist school and college employers to be clearer about what constitutes acceptable levels of risk in the management of Covid-19 and how they should act to mitigate these risks. The involvement of the Health and Safety Executive would also give teachers and parents reassurance and could reduce the risk of the wider reopening of schools being interrupted indefinitely. Harnessing the expertise of the Health and Safety Executive as a regulator and enforcer of workplace health and safety standards is now critically important as schools and colleges prepare to ensure that they can reopen safely to more children.”
NASUWT news release. Prime minister’s office news release. The Guardian.

NEU ‘does not agree’ school reopening can be right

Teaching union NEU has said it is ‘not convinced’ that it is safe to open schools more widely on 1 June, and “does not agree” the plan is right. The union was commenting after the prime minister’s 24 May announcement that primary schools could move to wider opening from 1 June, though Boris Johnson also acknowledged that many wouldn’t be ready to do it by that date. NEU said it is concerned that independent evidence does not support wider opening. It points out the comments from Sir David King of the Independent Sage group and a former chief scientific adviser to the government, who warned: “It is clear from the evidence we have collected that 1 June is simply too early to go back, by going ahead with this dangerous decision, the government is further risking the health of our communities and the likelihood of a second spike." Independent SAGE modelled specific risks and concluded the risks to children, staff and others could be halved by delaying opening to 15 June and reduced yet further by opting for later reopening dates. Kevin Courtney, NEU joint general secretary, said: “The NEU does not agree that it would be right for primary schools to open more widely on 1 June. We once again call on the government to engage meaningfully with the education unions on these matters. We stand ready to talk to the government about how our five tests can be met and then how we can then proceed to a safe wider re-opening of schools.” Scores of councils in England have said they cannot guarantee primaries will reopen on 1 June, throwing government plans to get pupils back to school into chaos.
NEU news release and 5 Tests. Should Schools Reopen?, the draft report of Independent SAGE, 22 May 2020. Prime minister’s office news release. ASLEF news release. Morning Star. BBC News Online.

Government should ‘step back’ on school restart

Public sector union UNISON has reiterated its call on the government to ‘step back’ from its unsafe plan to see thousands of schools reopen on 1 June. Commenting on the report on school safety from the committee of independent scientists chaired by Sir David King, UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “This is the evidence school staff and parents have been waiting for. Not only do these scientists say the government’s plans for schools in England are premature, they also suggest any risks to children would be halved by waiting a fortnight. Ministers need to heed these concerns, stop doggedly pushing schools to meet the arbitrary 1 June deadline, and ensure proper tracking and tracing is up and running first.” He added: “It’s time ministers took a step back and delayed any moves to increase the number of pupils in schools until it’s safer to do so.” UNISON – which represents caretakers, administrative staff, teaching assistants, cleaners and caterers – last week published the results of a survey of more than 45,000 school support staff. This found an overwhelming majority don’t feel reassured by government claims that English schools are safe to open to more pupils at the start of next month, and that the government’s rushed back-to-the-classroom plans aren’t putting safety first. Over threequarters (77 per cent) didn’t feel their school would have the resources to cope with the additional responsibility of putting health, safety and risk assessments in place in time.
UNISON news release and survey news release. Full Independent SAGE report, 22 May 2020. BBC News Online.

Scotland’s schools to stay shut

Scottish teaching union EIS has welcomed official confirmation that the country’s schools will not reopen before August. The union said it has called consistently for three conditions to be met before schools reopen: full test trace and isolate capacity to be established; a programme for implementing operationally in schools all public health advice eg. physical distancing; and demonstrable evidence that the virus is under control. EIS said these remain its red lines. Commenting on the announcement last week by first minister Nicola Sturgeon, EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “This will provide valuable time to allow schools to prepare for what will be a very different learning environment, with physical distancing requiring smaller class sizes and schools delivering a blended approach of part time in-school learning and part time remote learning for most pupils.” He added: “There is a strong shared commitment to protecting the health and wellbeing of everyone in the school community. Delivering a new blended learning approach is potentially the biggest curriculum challenge of this century, however, and it will require significant commitment from all parties to make it work.” First minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish parliament last week that staff would begin work in June to prepare classrooms for the next term - and “a different model of learning.” She said all schools would reopen from 11 August using a “blended model.”
EIS news release. BBC News Online.

Retailers must put safety first when reopening stores

Usdaw is urging retailers to work with the union to complete thorough risk assessments and to ensure reopening stores are safe for staff and customers. The retail union has also called on the government for tougher guidance and more rigorous enforcement of safety measures. Paddy Lillis, the union’s general secretary, said: “Usdaw is concerned that businesses will pay little attention to government advice as they rush to reopen. We also have deep concerns about meaningful consultation with staff where an employer does not recognise a trade union. We urge retailers to engage with Usdaw, so that we can ensure their staff have a proper say in establishing safe working conditions.” He added: “Risk assessments and the necessary safety measures must be completed prior to any public announcement that stores are reopening. Once a risk assessment has been completed, with the engagement of staff and that is best done through a trade union, it must be published alongside the re-opening announcement. The government must make it absolutely clear that a business can be closed down if they fail to comply,” noting official guidance does not “go far enough on enforcement, union engagement and transparency.” The union leader concluded: “Usdaw wants the government’s risk assessment guidance to go further, so that it focuses on the need to reduce the presence of coronavirus in the workplace. That means enhanced policies around sickness absence to ensure people with symptoms can stay off work. It also needs to reflect the significant risks faced by clinically vulnerable workers, acknowledge the difficulties faced by workers impacted by school closures and address issues over public transport and travel to work.” On 26 May, prime minister Boris Johnson announced all non-essential retailers will be able to reopen in England from 15 June, as part of plans to further ease the lockdown.
Usdaw news release. Prime minister’s office news release. BBC News Online.

Bakers’ union says ‘let’s stay protected’

As attention moves to reopening the economy, the bakers’ union BFAWU has said the enhanced coronavirus safety protections it has obtained so far must be maintained. In a blog post, the union’s national president Ian Hodson noted: “Many of those that work in the food industry have continued to attend work throughout, working together with employers and our safety representatives to put in place measures to protect people.” These measures include “more frequent safety meetings, staggered start times, relocation of hand washing facilities to outside entry points, installation of internal washing stations, temperature checks on workers and ensuring the provision of PPE risk assessments to build in social distancing measures,” he said. But Hodson said “moving forward”, safety standards, pay and employment protection must be preserved. He added “if anyone does become infected, work areas/place should close for deep cleaning.” The union has provided its own ‘workplace assessment’ checklist for union reps. “Don’t forget that a trade union is its members,” Hodson noted. “It is critical that members are informed and consulted about improving control of the risk in the workplace and that they have the opportunity to raise concerns and receive feedback and all information that will impact on them.”
BFAWU blog.

Government must improve food processing guidance

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) must open a dialogue with food producers and unions to address the “inadequacy of the government guidance” on coronavirus risks, the union GMB has said. The GMB call came after confirmation that three workers at a Cranswick food processing facility in Wombwell, Barnsley, which supplies UK supermarkets, have died after testing positive for Covid-19. Earlier in May, the union wrote to secretary of state George Eustice and major retailers, about problems in the food and drink supply chain it believed could lead to unnecessary deaths in the industry. GMB national officer Eamon O'Hearn said: “Our thoughts are firmly with the family and colleagues of those victims. It’s imperative that Cranswick works with GMB to review operations and identify any issues that could impact on the safety of our members. We really hope that they’ve been following GMB guidance on social distancing which is significantly more comprehensive that government guidance recently issued.” Commenting on 22 May, he added: “We wrote to the secretary of state for Defra about our concerns earlier this month, precisely because we wanted to avoid further deaths in our industry. It’s now crucial that Defra establish a dialogue on the food and drink supply chain, including addressing the inadequacy of the government guidance issued last week.”
GMB news release.

Eurostar incident shows visors are ‘absolutely vital’

The “absolutely vital” provision of visors for all staff on Britain’s railways has been highlighted after a customer travelling from London to Brussels was given a police caution for displaying aggression when he was challenged for not wearing a face mask, the union TSSA has said. Face masks are compulsory on public transport and in many outside spaces in Belgium. However, when a Eurostar staff member challenged the individual who was not wearing a mask on the train, the man then became aggressive and on arrival in Brussels Border Police cautioned the passenger. TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes commented: “There can be no compromise when it comes to our members’ safety and that of passengers. We made it clear that on board crew at Eurostar must wear visors and were pleased when this was adopted by the company. However, this incident again shows the dangers of not having protection from coronavirus and that visors are absolutely vital.” He added: “Eurostar passengers going to Belgium know they must wear masks and anyone not doing so should rightly be challenged. Our member did the right thing, but we now need to see visors being worn by staff right across our rail network.” Cortes concluded: “The use of visors should be implemented now at all companies to prevent any further spread of this deadly virus and to protect frontline transport workers who are doing so much to keep vital services moving.”
TSSA news release.

Firefighters call for UK-wide moratorium on fire cuts

The firefighters’ union FBU has called for a UK-wide moratorium on fire cuts, calling on the prime minister and devolved administrations to halt fifteen years of “unprecedented” austerity and to invest in the fire and rescue service. In a letter to Boris Johnson and the first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Nicola Sturgeon, Mark Drakeford, and Arlene Foster, and Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, Michelle O’Neill, firefighters criticise the lack of preparedness amongst public services for the pandemic and warn leaders not to allow plans to be drawn up that reduce vital fire cover during or after the crisis. Instead, the union that represents firefighters and emergency fire control staff across the UK asks politicians to “not only guarantee sustainable levels of funding but also… a programme of investment to ensure our fire and rescue service is resilient going forward”. Firefighters have taken on 14 new areas of work to support their communities through the pandemic, delivering “important results for the health service and the public”, the letter says, which “may be needed in case of further waves or future outbreaks”. In the letter, the FBU has also warned about the impact the collapse on business rates caused by the pandemic is having on the finances of services. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “The crucial value of investing in public services has never been more apparent than during the Covid-19 pandemic. We cannot return to the failed politics of slashing services and then expecting them to spring into action when a crisis comes around.” He added: “There’s a host of foreseeable risks that could cause the next major national emergency – not least the risk of another coronavirus wave or another pandemic. When that emergency comes, there should be a properly funded fire service ready to respond.”
FBU news release and related news release.

Firms must address all work risks, says IOSH

As lockdown restrictions are eased and workplaces reopen in many countries, businesses have been again urged to ensure new working practices do not cause health and wellbeing problems for staff. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) says reopening premises cannot happen overnight as employers may need to adjust policies, procedures, working conditions and other factors to manage the risk of Covid-19 being transmitted. IOSH believes the creation of a ‘new normal’ for businesses will likely lead to changes in values, attitudes, behaviours and culture – which could ultimately cause health and wellbeing problems among workers. IOSH head of policy Richard Jones said: “Health and safety must come first. For organisations, it’s about a systematic plan-do-check-act approach and forward-thinking employers have already been planning for safely restarting work, once allowed to cautiously do so. Any organisations that haven’t already made plans need to develop them and take precautionary action now. It’s not just about opening workplaces and expecting workers to return, it must be safe and healthy and create a ‘new normal’.” He added: “Employers need a planned, risk-controlled approach, based on strong leadership, worker involvement and sound health and safety advice. Cross-functional teams should assess the risks for Covid-19 security and general health and safety and ensure action before workers return.” Launching a suite of ‘returning safely’ resources, he said mental health issues and accommodating workers with disabilities must also be considered.
IOSH news release and Returning Safely resources.


Violent threats to journalist must be stopped

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has strongly condemned hundreds of threats of violence directed at reporter Amy Fenton and her family. Amy is Newsquest's chief reporter in South Cumbria, a local trade union rep in Barrow and a member of the NUJ. She is staying in a secret location with constant police protection following the on- and off-line harassment, including death threats. Chris Morley, NUJ northern regional organiser, said: “Amy is a union member and a journalist working for a local newspaper. She has been following basic journalistic standards on reporting allegations and court proceedings.” He added: “It is not expected that everyone should agree with all opinions or news reports but what is expected is that journalists’ safety, wellbeing and the life of their family should never be threatened.” Amy Fenton said: “Over the last week I’ve received in excess of 100 death threats and threats of unlawful violence - and there have been countless more which have been reported directly to the police by my colleagues. This isn’t the first time I’ve been subjected to vile abuse simply for doing my job, and for reporting the facts as the law dictates and as any qualified, experienced senior reporter would, but the extent and relentless barrage of coordinated abuse is unprecedented.” She added: “Not only have they threatened to 'throat punch' me, slit my throat, and set me on fire, but they have involved the welfare of my little girl and that is beyond acceptable. As a journalist I won’t tolerate anyone threatening me but as a mum I won’t tolerate anyone putting my daughter’s life at risk. But out of this there have also been so many examples of the best side of society - offers of support from so many people, and I’m also incredibly grateful for the way my colleagues, my bosses and employers, the NUJ, and reporters across the industry have 'had my back' and reminded me that this abuse comes from a small, ignorant minority of people who have no understanding of the way our constitutional judicial system works.”
NUJ news release.

Real costs of retail crime and violence revealed

Retail trade union Usdaw has called for government action after a new report exposed the high cost to business and staff of violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers. Commenting on ‘Retail violence: abused and attacked at work’, the online report by broadcast journalist Jamie Long, Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers are unfortunately nothing new, as this report sets out, but we were shocked to see that incidents have doubled during the coronavirus emergency. At a time when we should all be working together to get through this crisis, it is a national disgrace that people working to keep food on the shelves for their local communities are being abused and assaulted.” The union leader added: “Urgent action is required. Our message is clear, abuse is not part of the job. So there needs to be action to help protect staff. We want the government to legislate for stiffer penalties for those who assault workers; a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, CPS, the judiciary and most importantly criminals. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected.” Lillis said: “Nearly a year ago, alongside a broad range of retail employers, we responded to the Home Office ‘call for evidence’ and jointly called for action to tackle this problem. Disappointingly the government is yet to respond and we remain deeply concerned by the lack of progress. They need go much further and much faster to address this ongoing, growing and pressing issue.”
Usdaw news release. Retail violence: abused and attacked at work, Jamie Long, May 2020.

Refurb firm convicted and fined £1.1m after engineer’s fall

A London-based relocation and refurbishment company has been fined £1.1 million after a worker was seriously injured in a fall from a ladder. Luton Crown Court heard that, on 5 September 2016, an engineer was testing a sprinkler system for leaks at a site in Hemel Hempstead. He climbed onto an internal roof and was inspecting the leak from an extension ladder. The ladder slipped away from him and he fell almost three metres into the gap between the internal roof and the external wall. The worker suffered severe blood loss, estimated at about half the blood in his system. He required a blood transfusion and needed 14 stitches to his head. He also sustained fractured vertebra and suffered soft tissue damage. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that reasonably practicable measures had not been taken to prevent a fall from the internal roof for both the engineer and other contractors working on the roof. Modus Workspace Limited, the principal contractor, was found guilty of a criminal safety offence after a five-week trial. The company was fined £1.1 million and ordered to pay costs of £68,116.18. After the sentencing, HSE inspector John Berezansky commented: “The engineer’s injuries were life changing and he could have easily been killed. This serious incident and devastation could have been avoided if basic safety measures had been put in place.”
HSE news release and construction and work at heights webpages.


Hazards manual

The TUC’s newest edition of Hazards at Work is now available - the comprehensive volume of expert guidance on H&S regs, statutes and good practice that union reps have used for nearly four decades. I'd like to invite you to buy copies at the same kind of rates as previously.
Hazards at Work has guidance on all the 'classic' hazards, plus Covid-19 related advice and reworked chapters on mental health, bullying, harassment, and all other modern workplace causes of illness and injury. It also has extensive checklists, case studies and web resources.
Reps, unions, employers can pre-order online from the TUC shop here: or if you wish to make a large order, contact 


Asia: Wide-range of jobs linked to high Covid-19 risks

Greater preventive efforts and surveillance strategies are ‘warranted’ to tackle work-related Covid-19, a study on infection patterns in Asia has concluded. The paper authored by experts from Harvard University’s TH Chan School of Public Health identifies a wide range of jobs leading to a “high-risk” of work-related Covid-19. It rates the top five jobs for infection risk as healthcare workers (HCWs), drivers and transport workers, services and sales workers, cleaning and domestic workers and public safety workers. The study, which used data from governmental investigation reports in Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam, notes: “We found 48 per cent of locally transmitted cases in the early transmission period were due to possible work-related transmission, compared to 11 per cent in the late transmission period… high-risk occupations comprised almost a half of local transmission during the early period of outbreak.” The paper also warns the risk is higher in workers of ‘lower socioeconomic status,” who are over-represented in high-risk jobs. “They are more likely to have chronic health conditions which could lead to more severe consequences after being infected. Protecting the high-risk workers could provide an opportunity to prevent the spread of the disease and to mitigate the deepening of health disparities,” it notes. The paper concludes “our study demonstrates that occupational infections are considerable in early Covid-19 local transmission. Second, several specific professional groups were at higher risk during early domestic outbreaks. We urge authorities to implement preventive strategies for each of these high-risk working populations.”
Fan-Yun Lan, Chih-Fu Wei, Yu-Tien Hsu, David C Christiani and Stefanos N Kales. Work-related COVID-19 transmission in six Asian countries/areas: A follow-up study, PLoS ONE 15(5): e0233588, 19 May 2020.

Australia: Deep cleaned classrooms ‘not a real thing’

As Australian pupils head back to school with the promise of deeply cleaned classrooms, cleaners say the concept doesn’t exist. State governments have allocated millions of dollars to employ an influx of cleaning staff to help disinfect schools and ensure the safety of returning students from an outbreak of Covid-19. But hundreds of cleaners surveyed by their union say it’s all a fallacy. The United Workers Union survey revealed nine in 10 cleaners say they have to rush essential work, and eight in 10 revealed they do not have enough adequate equipment, including suitable disinfectant. Union organiser Georgia Potter Butler noted: “Deep cleaning is a language that doesn’t describe a real thing. It is totally made up,” she said. “Real-life is a cleaner going in wearing their tracky dacks, using cloths that may not be washed regularly. A lot of them will be using detergents instead of disinfectants.” She said most cleaning contracts just covered vacuuming and toilets – not a full clean of every surface. Cleaners were often not trained in infection control, and cost-cutting measures meant the focus was on avoiding complaints, rather than cleaning for public health, she said. Cost pressures mean “you have cleaners who are doing huge workloads that aren’t able to finish the job properly. They’ll get six minutes to do a classroom for instance.”
United Workers Union news release. The New Daily.

Global: Don’t return to work until you are ‘confident’ it is safe

Workers should not return to their jobs until they are ‘confident’ it is safe to do so, the UN’s top labour standards body has said. Launching its new return to work guide on 22 May, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) also called for consultation with workers’ organisations and a physical distancing requirement of at least two metres. “Unsafe work practices anywhere are a threat to both health and sustainable business, everywhere. So, before returning to work, workers must be confident that they will not be exposed to undue risks,” said Deborah Greenfield, ILO's deputy director-general for policy. She added “social dialogue will be particularly important because it is the most effective way to feed information and views into policies and actions, so creating the best chance for a swift and balanced recovery.” The UN agency calls for “a human-centred approach that puts rights and international labour standards at the heart of economic, social and environmental strategies and ensures that policy guidance is embedded in national occupational safety and health systems.” The ILO policy brief notes: “The determining factors in any decision to return to work must be considerations of life and health and the anticipation and mitigation of risks. For the reactivation of economies to be sustainable, workers need to feel safe at their workplaces and reassured that they will not be exposed to unnecessary risks directly related to the new coronavirus.” The document proposes that each specific work setting, job or group of jobs should be assessed before returning to work and that preventive measures should be implemented to ensure the safety and health of all workers according to a hierarchy of controls. It spells out that working from home eliminates the risk of infection in a work context. For workers returning to workplaces, it adds priority should be given to options that substitute hazardous situations for less hazardous ones, such as organising virtual instead of physical meetings. It says when this is not possible a mix of engineering and organisational control measures will usually be required to prevent contagion. “Physical distancing should be implemented to the greatest extent possible,” it recommends, noting a “distance of 2 metres between workers is suggested as adequate.” It notes under ILO rules workers “have the right to remove themselves” if there is a “reasonable justification” to believe an infection risk “presents an imminent and serious danger to their life or health”.
ILO news release. A safe and healthy return to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, ILO policy brief, 22 May 2020.

USA: Trump breaks safe work rule to force work return

US workers who fear a return to work may not be safe have been told the will be denied unemployment benefits if they don’t go back. President Trump ramped up his coronavirus rhetoric throughout May, referring to himself as a ‘wartime president’ and telling workers to be ‘warriors’ for the economy. However, unions, labour and civil rights groups have warned the guidance from his Labor Department contradicts regulations that protect workers from harm in a disaster. The return to work guidance says when an employer asks its workers to come back on the job, they can’t refuse and keep receiving unemployment benefits. There are exceptions, such as for people who are sick with Covid-19, have a compromised immune system or are primary caregivers for children whose schools are closed. The Labor Department has specifically said, however, that if you’re just afraid of contracting the coronavirus, you can’t refuse an offer of “suitable work” and remain on benefits. However, existing regulations for unemployment insurance in a disaster state that work is not suitable “if the circumstances present any unusual risk to the health, safety, or morals of the individual.” The National Employment Law Project (NELP), in a letter to the Labor Department this week co-signed by the national union federation AFL-CIO, the NAACP and more than 200 other organisations, highlighted the regulatory language in the Disaster Unemployment Assistance regulations on suitable work. The department’s advisories to states so far “fail to put the states, employers and workers on notice of the critical federal protections,” the letter says. Michele Evermore, an unemployment policy expert with NELP, said she hoped the Labor Department would update its guidance. “I don’t understand by what logic we are shoving people back into unsafe environments,” she said.
NELP statement and letter to Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia. Disaster Unemployment Assistance regulations. Huffington Post. Politico. Washington Post.


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