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



Lancet review backs better masks and physical distancing

Reducing physical distancing advice from 2 metres to 1 metre could double the risk of coronavirus infection, according to the most comprehensive study to date. The research, commissioned and part-funded by the World Health Organisation (WHO), also concludes respirators rather than less protective surgical masks should be the ‘minimum’ requirement for health care work. The study, published in the Lancet, comes in the week after Boris Johnson said he hoped to “be able to reduce that [2-metre] distance” as part of the government’s plan to ‘ease’ the lockdown. The Lancet meta-analysis of 172 observational studies across Covid-19 but also – predominately – Sars and Mers, highlights the potential consequences of a change. It found that keeping a distance of more than 1 metre from other people reduced the risk of infection or transmission to 2.6 per cent, but this risk halved at 2 metres. The results make it clear that the WHO should recommend that essential workers like nurses and emergency responders wear respirators not just surgical masks. David Michaels, a professor at George Washington University who headed the US safety regulator OSHA through the Obama administration, noted: “Reliance on surgical masks has no doubt led to many workers being infected,” adding that other workers like meatpackers also needed the higher level of protection. Current WHO guidelines do not recommend respirators for all health care workers caring for infected patients.
Derek K Chu, Elie A Akl, Stephanie Duda, Karla Solo, Sally Yaacoub, Holger J Schünemann, on behalf of the COVID-19 Systematic Urgent Review Group Effort (SURGE) study authors. Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis, The Lancet, published online 1 June 2020.
New York Times. The Guardian. The Independent. CNN News. The Telegraph.

‘Unacceptable risk’ to frontline workers, says expert

Health care workers are not being give the protection they deserve and are contracting deadly infections as a result, a top biohazards expert has warned. Writing in the Lancet, Raina MacIntyre, an epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, noted the World Health Organisation’s current Covid-19 guidance, which has been the template for health worker protection in the UK and elsewhere, is failing health workers by refusing to recommend respirators for a wide range of health care work. “This kind of denial, what purpose is it serving — except to harm health care workers?,” she told journalists, adding WHO’s current guidelines reflected shortages of respirators rather than good practice. “Guidelines should be based on evidence, not on supplies,” she noted. “It’s like telling an army, ‘Oh sorry, we’ve run out of guns, just take these bows and arrows and face the enemy.’” She said WHO’s acceptance of surgical masks was harming workers. “Although medical masks do protect, the occupational health and safety of health workers should be the highest priority and the precautionary principle should be applied. Preventable infections in health workers can result not only in deaths but also in large numbers of health workers being quarantined and nosocomial [hospital originated] outbreaks. In the National Health Service trusts in the UK, up to one in five health workers have been infected with Covid-19, which is an unacceptable risk for frontline workers.” In the commentary co-authored with Quanyi Wang, MacIntyre is scathing about WHO’s promotion of an ‘at least 1m’ physical distancing standard. “The 1–2 m distance rule in most hospital guidelines is based on out-of-date findings from the 1940s, with studies from 2020 showing that large droplets can travel as far as 8m. To separate droplet and airborne transmission is probably somewhat artificial, with both routes most likely part of a continuum for respiratory transmissible infections.” MacIntyre concluded: “Protection against presumed droplet infections by use of respirators, but not masks, supports a continuum rather than discrete states of droplet or airborne transmission. Both experimental and hospital studies have shown evidence of aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2.”
C Raina MacIntyre and Quanyi Wang. Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection for prevention of COVID-19, The Lancet, published online 1 June 2020.01, 2020.

Public health experts say 2m distancing essential as firms reopen

Pressure from some business sectors to reduce social distancing between individuals to one metre rather than two metres must be resisted by government, the environmental health practitioners’ body CIEH has said. CIEH said it has demanded that the government holds its ground on the two metre distance, especially as the riskier businesses gear up to open from the beginning of July, including pubs, restaurants, and hairdressers. Citing a Lancet study that suggests that for every extra metre up to three metres, the risk of infection or transmission may halve, CIEH’s Kate Thompson said: “Protecting public health and avoiding the possibility of a second peak of infections should be key. It is therefore vital that the two metre rule is not reduced due to pressure from industry. We call on the government to stand firm in its stance on the two metre rule when it comes to social distancing, especially as the riskier businesses, like pubs and hairdressers, are set to reopen from next month.”
CIEH news release.

Poll finds two-thirds of workers want real inspections

The vast majority of UK workers want the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to carry out physical spot inspections to check employers are sticking to social distancing and other safety plans, new research for HSE union Prospect has found. In May, the prime minister pledged that the HSE would be carrying out “spot inspections to make sure that businesses are keeping their employees safe”, leaving many with the impression that there would be widespread on-the-ground inspections of workplaces to ensure that standards are being maintained. Prospect, which represents HSE staff, revealed how reliant the HSE had become on telephone checks to ensure safe working. The YouGov poll commissioned by the union shows that 67 per cent of the public said they thought random in person checks should be carried out, with just 9 per cent saying phone checks would be good enough and 11 per cent saying employers should be allowed to police themselves. Just 30 per cent of workers said they would feel comfortable going into work if only telephone checks were taking place. Only half (53 per cent) of respondents were confident that someone in the workplace would contact the HSE if Covid-19 health and safety procedures were not being followed. Prospect said this further demonstrated the importance of pro-active spot checks to achieve compliance with the new rules. Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect, said: “While there are millions of businesses in this country, the HSE has only been given the resources to check up on a tiny fraction of them. The extra money that the prime minister’s promised restores less than less than 10 per cent of the £145m that has been cut in real terms. The right first step would be to restore everything that has been cut in the last decade.” He added: “If we can’t get this right the country faces a double blow from prolonged economic damage caused by workers feeling unsure about returning to workplaces, and the risk of localised coronavirus hot spots around workplaces that are not following the rules.”
Prospect news release. The Independent.

Test and Trace only works if isolating workers get paid

The TUC is calling on the government to make sure that all workers have financial support to comply with social isolation requirements under the NHS Test and Trace scheme. The union body warns that inadequate sick pay could stop people acting on public health requests to self-isolate.  Many workers benefit from contractual sick pay, paid for by their employer. But around seven million employees – a quarter of the workforce – have only the protection of statutory sick pay. This currently provides just £95.85 per week, which is too little for many families to live on. Around two million of the lowest waged employees do not even qualify for statutory sick pay, because their earnings fall below the qualifying income threshold. The TUC is calling for government to bring in emergency legislation to ensure that statutory sick pay covers all employees, regardless of how much they earn. It also wants an increase in the weekly amount of statutory sick pay to the equivalent of a week’s work at the National Living Wage (£325 per week). And there should be a legal duty on employers not to penalise or discriminate against any workers who are required to self-isolate once or repeatedly by NHS Track and Trace. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Everyone wants NHS Test and Trace to work, so we can all get on with our lives. But it’s not viable to ask people to self-isolate, perhaps repeatedly, if they will be pushed into financial hardship by doing so. Instead they will be forced to keep working. That puts them at risk – and their family, workmates and local community too. The government must raise statutory sick pay to at least the level of the real Living Wage - £325 per week. And it must make sure low-paid workers can get it. That’s how to show that we really are all in this together.”
TUC news release. Testing & tracing for Covid-19: How to ensure fair access and manage monitoring in the workplace, TUC, May 2020. The Guardian.

Track and Trace will spread problems without full sick pay

The union GMB said the new Track and Trace app will spread either poverty or infection - unless it is backed up by full sick pay for all. GMB national officer Rachel Harrison said: “Ministers on whopping salaries expecting the keyworkers who've been keeping our country going to self-isolate on £95 a week. People are being forced back to work in unsafe working environments, on unsafe public transport, to come into contact with people with Covid-19, and then be forced to take 14 days off work on statutory sick pay.” She said: “Civic duty does not pay the bills, neither does SSP. If the government is instructing people to stay at home, they must pay their wages. Otherwise Track and Trace will just spread either poverty or infection.”
GMB news release.

Short-time furlough move another union win, says TUC

Changes to the job retention scheme for furloughed workers, which will allow some wages to be reimbursed by government where workers return on reduced hours, have been described as ‘another union win’ by the TUC. General secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We’re glad the chancellor has listened to unions and allowed employers to start using short-time furlough from July. This will help employers gradually and safely bring people back to work, protect jobs and support the economy to recover.” She added: “As employers begin to contribute to the costs of furlough, we remain pleased that all workers will continue to receive at least 80 per cent of their wages for every hour worked until the scheme closes in October. However, the government needs to act urgently to make sure workers with health conditions or childcare responsibilities aren't first in line when it comes to redundancies. The UK cannot afford the misery of mass unemployment.” The TUC leader concluded: “The government must start planning now to build on the job retention scheme with a national recovery plan that prioritises protecting and creating jobs. That means a jobs guarantee scheme so that everyone can get a decent job on fair wages. And working with unions and business to deliver support for strategic industries that have the potential for many good jobs once the outbreak is controlled.” 
TUC news release.

Qualified union welcome for furlough plan ‘lifeline’

Unions have described the revised furlough plans announced on 29 May by Rishi Sunak as a ‘valuable lifeline’ but have warned extra safety and pay protection is needed, particularly for industries hardest hit by the lockdown. John Phillips, the GMB’s acting general secretary, said: “The chancellor’s furlough plans provide a valuable lifeline for business and workers - but people mustn’t be abandoned while the economy is still stuttering. In October lots of sectors – leisure, hospitality, aviation – may still be on their knees. Those workers can’t just be thrown to the wolves.” But he added: “People are still going to be very worried after today’s announcement; vulnerable workers whose lockdown could last beyond October, those reduced to less than the minimum wage while on furlough, the lack of PPE and unscrupulous employers using the JRS [job retention scheme] to pay for redundancies.” He added: “We need to be clear - no one should be back at work unless the workplace is safe, that goes for the self-employed too. Now's the time for employers to step up and keep their workers safe and above the breadline. Of course people want to get back to work, but safety has to be the top priority.” Mike Clancy, the general secretary of Prospect, also welcomed the revised scheme, but warned “the stark reality is that there are currently many viable employers with no cash-flow who are looking at months before they can fully resume operations. Even asking for modest contributions from these employers before they reopen will trigger a wave of avoidable redundancies. Government must act urgently to prevent this with a package of targeted support aimed at sectors that will take longer to unlock.”
Labourlist. Prospect news release.

All staff should be assessed before return to work

Staff should be assessed individually before they return to workplaces during the Covid-19 pandemic, civil service union PCS has said. The union has laid out tests it wants carried out in workplaces to ensure they are safe. These would ensure that workplaces are used only for essential duties, that union health and safety reps have signed off risk assessments, vulnerable workers are protected and staff have been given individual risk assessments. The union also wants a broad return to work to happen only once the virus is being managed effectively. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “These tests provide a safe route back to the workplace for our members and ensure that the government is fulfilling all its obligations to keep workers safe during the pandemic.” He added: “Around 80 per cent of PCS members are successfully working from home and ministers should only be sending people back to workplaces when it is safe to do so. Safe workplaces mean less chance of a second Covid-19 spike and that is in the interests of the whole country.”
Morning Star.

‘Stay alert’ shift left workers more worried about safety

Workers have become increasingly concerned about health and safety since the government encouraged those who can to return to work, official research has found. The survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also revealed working adults have become increasingly concerned about health and safety since the government eased lockdown rules and encouraged those who can return to work to do so. The proportion of adults worried about health and safety in the workplace during the coronavirus outbreak almost doubled in the space of a week, the ONS said. One in five (20 per cent) adults who said the pandemic is affecting their work have health and safety concerns, up from 11 per cent the previous week. The most common concerns are around difficulties in following social distancing and hygiene advice and having limited or no protective equipment. The ONS polled 1,028 adults between 21 and 24 May as part of its weekly opinions and lifestyle survey, to understand the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on British society. More than four in 10 (43 per cent) said their work had been affected by coronavirus over the past seven days. Of the sample of 310 people asked why, a fifth said it was due to health and safety concerns, making it the third biggest concern behind decreased hours and being furloughed. The surge in concern follows the change in advice from the government on 10 May, from “stay at home” to “stay alert.” The advice included encouraging those in England who were unable to work from home to return to their jobs from 13 May if their workplace was open.
ONS opinions and lifestyle survey. The Guardian. Morning Star.

‘Class and race’ biggest coronavirus risk factors

Class and race are the biggest factors in determining those that have died or been taken ill by Covid-19, Unite has said. The union has called for a raft of policies to tackle ‘systemic failures’ that have led to the disproportionate death toll amongst the Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and the poorest groups in society. Unite was commenting on Public Health England’s report ‘Disparities in the risk and outcomes of Covid-19’ which highlighted those groups most likely to die from the infection. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “This report shines a searing light that reveals the pandemic in the UK is intrinsically linked disproportionately to class and race.” She added: “This has been amplified among those in undervalued occupations and jobs where zero hours contracts and precarious employment are the norm. Working hard to provide for your families is no defence against Covid-19 for these groups - these systemic failures need to be tackled urgently and that work should start now.” The PHE report found that those parts of UK society most affected included the elderly; Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) populations generally and those BAME NHS staff on the frontline in particular; those with underlying conditions, such as diabetes and dementia; those living in care homes; and those from deprived communities. Unions TSSA and PCS, the Labour Party and London mayor Sadiq Khan had all earlier called for an inquiry. Health secretary Matt Hancock announced on 2 June that Kemi Badenoch will lead an inquiry into the problem.
Unite news release. PCS news release. TSSA news release. GMB news release. UNISON news release. BBC News Online.
Disparities in the risk and outcomes of Covid-19, PHE, 2 June 2020.

Inquiry is welcome, but action is already overdue, says TUC

A new inquiry in the risks faced by black and minority ethnic people is welcome, but we need action on the known inequalities responsible right now, the TUC has said. Commenting on the 2 June announcement by health secretary Matt Hancock that Kemi Badenoch will lead a further enquiry into why black and minority ethnic (BME) people are more at risk of Covid-19, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government has known for months that the virus has hit black and ethnic minority people hardest – in their health, jobs and wallets. Rather than just warm words, the government must now show that Black Lives Matter with urgent action to protect BME [black and minority ethnic] people at work and to give all key workers the pay rise they have earned. BME communities must have confidence that their health is being taken seriously.” The TUC leader added: “The government needs to put in place a funded action plan to tackle the egregious inequality BME people still face, and must be fully transparent about how it is considering BME communities in its policy decisions.”
TUC news release.

NEU warning on school reopening risks

As many primary schools in England prepared to accept back more pupils on 1 June, teaching union NEU warned the move was premature and could increase the risk to staff and parents. The union was commenting after four prominent members of the government’s own scientific advisory body SAGE broke ranks to express worries about the safety of wider primary school opening. One of the four, John Edmunds, the professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, warned there was still “a very high incidence” of new infections in England. “I think many of us would prefer to see the incidence driven down to lower levels because that then means that we have fewer cases occurring before we relax the measures,” he said. Another, Calum Semple, professor in Child Health and Outbreak Medicine at the University of Liverpool, said: “I think a political decision has been made to tie in with when school was due to start, were everything normal, but it’s not normal.” NEU joint general secretaries Kevin Courtney and Dr Mary Bousted said: “This public break by four prominent of the government’s SAGE committee changes everything.” They added: “Opening schools more widely runs the risk of increasing the R rate and therefore the level of risk to staff and to parents.” They said “we urge government to engage in talks with the profession and the unions, including the NEU, about how to open schools more widely once the contact tracing system is shown to be working.” On 31 May, NEU revealed the government has revised its plans to reopen schools 41 times since 12 May because of “things they have forgotten, things they didn’t know, and things they got wrong had to be added in.”
NEU news release and five tests. Morning Star.

Government's wider reopening of schools ‘disappointing’

Unions have warned school staff are deeply concerned by the government’s rush to reopen schools. The school support staff union GMB has said it is ‘disappointed’ the government has gone ahead with school reopening despite independent advice against the move. GMB national officer Karen Leonard said: “GMB is committed to working with the government, and employers to ensure schools can open more widely with safe systems of work in place. However, we firmly believe schools should only increase numbers when it is safe to do so for pupils, parents and staff. Any plans need to address a range of issues including the provision of PPE; testing and tracing; isolation and social distancing.” She added: “GMB will back our members and challenge employers if they attempt to open schools without consulting our members, assessing the risks from re-opening, or implementing measures to reduce the risks and address worker concerns.” She said a 28 May Independent SAGE report “clearly demonstrates that moving to reopening schools more widely from 15 June will dramatically reduce the overall risk of increased Covid-19 cases.” UNISON said its survey, based on responses from 12,781 support staff, found three in ten (30 per cent) are losing sleep, suffering high anxiety or both as a result of plans to open schools more widely in England. Only a small minority (4 per cent) said that schools had adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). Sir David King, a former government chief scientific adviser and the chair of Independent Sage, said 1 June “is just too early,” adding: “We know that… opening up schools has the potential to raise R by up to 0.3. So we are really concerned that the level of infectivity across the country as a whole is too high to open schools.”
GMB news release. UNISON news release. Independent SAGE report, 28 May 2020. The Guardian.

School closes as 7 staff test positive for Covid-19

Seven members of staff at the same primary school have tested positive for Covid-19. Arboretum Primary School, in Derby, has shut after the positive test results. A spokesperson for the Derby Diocesan Academy Trust confirmed the school had been closed “due to a number of staff having confirmed cases of Covid-19”. He said all seven members of staff have only had mild symptoms and are recovering well at home. It comes as many primary school pupils in England returned to the classroom on 1 June, for the first time in more than two months. The Derby Diocesan Academy Trust spokesperson told the Derby Telegraph: “Following one member of staff reporting symptoms, the school quickly identified any other members of staff, parents/carers and/or children who may have been in contact and instructed them to isolate for the government’s recommended period of 14 days. Since then, six members of staff have tested positive and four members of staff who were in contact have tested negative. There have been no reports of parents/carers or children displaying symptoms.” He added: “In line with guidance, the school has closed this week to allow a deep-clean to be completed and will re-open next week, initially to children of key workers and vulnerable children.”
Derby Telegraph. The Mirror. Daily Mail.

Big challenges before Scottish schools can reopen

There are ‘significant concerns’ to address before the planned reopening of Scottish schools on 11 August, teaching union EIS has found. Over 26,000 EIS members responded to it online survey, which the union said made it the biggest survey of teachers’ opinions to have been carried out in Scotland. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said, “We received an unprecedented level of response, with almost 60 per cent of teachers responding to the online survey in just one week. This has given us a very clear picture of the challenges that Scottish education, its pupils and teachers, have faced during the lockdown and will continue to face even once schools re-open following the summer.” He said it identified “some significant causes for concern such as the real challenge of maintaining social distancing in a school environment and how best to ensure that more vulnerable young people and those experiencing disadvantage associated with poverty can receive appropriate support during this crisis. Our survey findings identify many challenges that education will continue to face for months, if not years, to come.”
EIS news release.

Great deal more to be done on early years return

Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that early years and childcare services in Scotland will start to expand from 3 June could be really problematic, UNISON Scotland has warned. The union pointed to the need for risk assessments, staff training and clear guidance on safe working practices prior to a resumption, with full trade union involvement. Lorraine Thomson, chair of UNISON’s education issues group, said: “Education staff can’t avoid close contact with children, especially young children. They change nappies, comfort children, give medicines, support children with disabilities, support children in the dining room and playground and classroom. The safety of all is vital and we need to all be properly prepared.” She added: “Trade union involvement must be a reality on the ground. Staff have skills, they know their jobs and health and safety expertise. They must be included at the start of any local planning of expansion and reopening. Risk assessments and then action to mitigate risks need to be in place to ensure that children and staff are safe. This is no time for short cuts.” The union was commenting after a 28 May announcement by Nicola Sturgeon. The first minister said from 1 June “teachers and staff can return to schools to prepare for their reopening,” with children returning from 3 June. The union’s survey conducted from 18-22 May found “only 3 per cent say that returning to work or increasing the amount of children in schools and nurseries is safe.”
UNISON Scotland news release and survey findings.

PCS warns parliament is not safe from Covid-19

Speaking ahead of a resumption of parliament on 1 June, civil servants’ union PCS warned there are inadequate measures to control the numbers coming on to the parliamentary estate. While the government insists MPs will be kept safe from coronavirus with new working practices, PCS said there is pressure to return to ‘business as usual’. The union noted: “We believe there are significant risks posed to our members, particularly those in roles where they are unable to work from home, including: security, cleaning and catering, and to vulnerable MPs working on site as politicians travel to and from Westminster… we are not satisfied that the estate is a Covid-19 secure workplace, that a planned return to business as usual is premature and carries considerable risks, and we will not sacrifice the safety of our members.” PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It takes incredible guts to take a stand on safety when there is incredible pressure on parliament to fully reopen. Our members take enormous pride in keeping parliament secure and functioning. This in fact goes to the heart of why they do not believe it is safe for MPs, themselves and their colleagues to fully reopen parliament.” He added: “The recent introduction of the hybrid system of working in the Commons was a resounding success, so the government does not need to change course when a second Covid spike is such a strong possibility. Jacob Rees-Mogg and other Tory ministers need to heed the warnings from PCS and sister unions and reach an agreement on the way forward that ensures full democratic participation in parliament and keeps our members safe.”  The government decision to reopen parliament was met with a backlash from MPs, including shadow solicitor general Ellie Reeves, who asked law firm Thompsons for its legal guidance on the situation. “While this may not be in breach of the legislation - because MPs are not considered to be employees – it is nonetheless clear discrimination, which should not be tolerated in parliament,” the law firm said.  
PCS news release. Thompsons Solicitors news release. BBC News Online.

Unite calls for masks for site workers

Construction union Unite is demanding that workers are provide with masks when they cannot keep to the two metre social distancing guidelines on site. The union has written to the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) highlighting its concerns about the current site operating procedures (SOP). The latest SOP notes: “If you are not able to work while maintaining a two metre distance, you should consider whether the activity should continue” and adds “that management should minimise the frequency and time workers are within two metres of each other.” The guidance also states that “workplaces should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against coronavirus (Covid-19).” In his letter to CLC’s Mark Reynolds, Unite construction officer Jerry Swain states: “The SOP could and should be revised to explicitly state that the job should not be undertaken without appropriate PPE, which of course would include masks.” Unite also wants workers supplied with masks where more than one person travels in a work vehicle and social distancing cannot be maintained. Swain said: “No one should be required to work within two metres of someone else on a construction site and on the extremely rare occasion when this is simply not possible then the full appropriate PPE must be issued.”
Unite news release. Construction Enquirer.

Unite demands strict safety checks on new bus plan

Unite has given its qualified support to the announcement by Transport for London (TfL) that has seen the start of a phased return to front door entry on London buses. Only buses that have been fitted with new screens, developed in conjunction with experts at University College London (UCL) and that completely seal the driver's cab, will return to front door entry. The union said in a further effort to build worker and passenger confidence, Unite shop stewards and safety reps will inspect and clear each bus before front door loading is re-introduced. There will also be reduced capacity on buses, a measure also introduced on a number of regional bus systems. Unite said that since the pandemic began, at least 33 London bus workers have died of Covid-19. Unite officer for London buses John Murphy said: “Unite has been working closely with experts at UCL, TfL and London bus operators to ensure that the return to front door loading does not adversely affect driver safety.” He added: “Unite will continue to lobby and work with employers and TfL to ensure that all bus workers are full protected at work, and that passengers and the wider public are cared for.” Heidi Alexander, deputy London mayor for Transport, said: “Working closely with unions, TfL has introduced a range of measures to improve safety including putting in place an enhanced anti-viral cleaning regime across the network, applying a protective film to the Perspex screen of bus driver cabs to seal off holes and preventing passengers sitting next to bus drivers.  All frontline staff have also been offered simple face masks.” She said the safety of transport workers and passengers was ‘paramount’.
Unite news release. TfL news release.

Rail union hopes Covid-19 tragedy leads to improvements

After the British Transport Police (BTP) said it had concluded its investigation into the incident at Victoria Station that preceded the death of railway ticket office clerk Belly Mujinga from Covid-19, rail union TSSA said it hoped it would lead to better protection of transport workers. In a statement, BTP said it was taking no further action after its probe, which included reviewing CCTV footage and interviewing witnesses. Belly Mujinga was a TSSA member. It was the trade union that reported the incident to the Office for Road and Rail’s (ORR) Railway Inspectorate April. BTP subsequently started its own investigation. Manuel Cortes, TSSA general secretary, said: “We are pleased that the British Transport Police investigated this incident as it sends a very strong message that abuse and attacks directed at transport workers are always unacceptable. We hope that the ORR’s health and safety investigation – which is ongoing – will help to establish more facts about this case and put in place clear guidance on protecting rail workers from this killer virus.” Cortes added: “What is clear is that protective equipment is absolutely vital to protect frontline workers like Belly. All transport workers on the frontline should have access to masks, visors, hand sanitiser and other protective equipment. Even this week, Belly’s GTR colleagues at Victoria Station still did not have visors despite other companies providing them. This has to change now. Staff are scared and infection rates remain high. Our thoughts and support remain with Belly’s family and her colleagues throughout this time.”
TSSA news release. BTP statement. Morning Star.


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Europe: Despite the virus, safety doesn’t make EC’s to-do list

Trade unions have said they are ‘shocked and concerned’ that the European Commission still has no official plans to make workplaces safer in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. An updated work programme published by the Commission on 28 May includes 43 new initiatives, including proposals ranging from airport charges to crypto assets and ‘better regulation’. But the Europe-wide union body ETUC said the Commission has again omitted improvements to health and safety from the document, having already overlooked the issue in its political guidelines and original work programme. ETUC deputy general secretary Per Hilmersson said: “The omission of health and safety from the Commission’s work programme was wrong before this crisis when there are still 4,000 fatal accidents at work every year and 100,000 work-related cancer deaths.  But it is astonishing that improving health and safety at work is not among the Commission’s top 40 priorities following a pandemic during which workplace exposure caused thousands of deaths.” He added: “The Commission has taken some action, but it’s clear that an urgent upgrade of European health and safety standards should be a priority so that people can return to work with confidence and a second wave of the virus is prevented.”
ETUC news release.

Global: Health and safety ‘paramount’ for return to work

Ensuring health and safety in workplaces must be the highest priority as people return to work in many countries emerging from Covid-19 restrictions and closures, the global union confederation ITUC has said. “Re-opening workplaces is much more complicated than closing them, and it is crucial that occupational health and safety regulations, procedures and systems provide the basis for return to work, as well as in situations where work has continued,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary. “Arrangements which are simply imposed on workers without consultation and union involvement pose a much higher risk, both to working people and to the public in general. All the evidence shows that workplaces, whether health and care facilities, transport systems, public venues and other places where workers come into contact with the public, or processing facilities, offices and other places where significant numbers of workers are together, are major vectors for the spread of the virus. Good occupational health and safety protects workers, members of their households and the public.” She said it was critical to harness the skills and knowledge of trade unions, citing agreements reached by UK unions with major companies that allow union health and safety representatives to provide advice and guidance through their supply chains. She said the new Scottish union roving reps’ system was another positive example. The ITUC is also calling for Covid-19 to be classified as an occupational disease under national regulatory frameworks with an official occupational disease reporting and recording requirement, both for preventive reasons and for workers’ compensation.
ITUC news release.

Japan: Health care workers face coronavirus discrimination

While medical workers in many nations have been heralded as heroes in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, many nurses and doctors in Japan have faced discrimination and ostracism despite heightened social media efforts to recognise their contribution. In an April survey conducted by the Japan Federation of Medical Workers’ Unions, 9.9 per cent of its 152 offices across the country responded that medical workers in their jurisdictions had encountered discrimination or harassment due to the coronavirus pandemic. Cases included being told by family members not to come home, being shunned even by staff from other wards and being subjected to abuse when making house calls. A study also found that hospitals and their workers were blamed when coronavirus infections occurred there, resulting in the children of hospital staff being refused entry to kindergartens and other childcare facilities or being pressured to stay away from school. To counter the hostility experienced by some medical workers, sports figures, companies and local governments have stepped in to show their appreciation. In early April, five players from a professional soccer league in Japan established the Instagram account “ThanksMedicalWorkers.” A Japanese hashtag meaning “medical workers are our heroes” has also been trending, with many professional tennis players, boxers and baseball players posting photos of themselves with fists raised in gestures expressing their support for frontline workers.
Japan Times.

USA: Senators call for review of workplace Covid enforcement

A group of US senators has asked the inspector general of the Labor Department to review the actions of its Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. The federal health and safety regulator has been criticised for not doing enough to protect workers. Last month, the national union federation AFL-CIO filed a lawsuit attempting to compel the agency to enact a temporary emergency standard in order to protect frontline workers (Risks 948). According to the letter from Democratic senators Elizabeth Warren, Tim Kaine, Tammy Baldwin and Robert Casey and Tammy Duckworth and independent senator Bernie Sanders, OSHA citations have dropped 70 per cent since the national emergency was declared on 13 March; that the inspection rate has dropped, and that not a single citation related to the virus has occurred. While OSHA has revised its enforcement policies as of 26 May, saying it would increase inspections and enforce record-keeping requirements, the senators believe guidance would benefit from an audit. During the pandemic, OSHA has maintained the lowest number of inspectors since 1975, according to a recent report from the National Employment Law Project. Derek Martin, spokesperson for the watchdog Accountable.US, also said OSHA is doing too little. “The Department of Labor’s job is straightforward: keep workers safe,” he told Government Executive. “Instead of rising to the challenge, Secretary [Eugene] Scalia has thrown up his arms and done next to nothing. Federal workers and the American people deserve better.”
Government Executive.


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