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



WHO urged to act on big Covid-19 airborne risks

A letter signed by over 200 scientists from around the world has urged the World Health Organisation (WHO) to recognise Covid-19 can be spread by ‘aerosol’ or ‘airborne’ transmission and called on the UN body to revise its guidance. On 7 July, WHO acknowledged there could be a problem and said it plans to review its advice. From early in the coronavirus crisis, global unions have urged WHO to act on worrying evidence of airborne/aerosol transmission, and argued a precautionary approach was necessary (Risks 951). Now the letter backed by 239 scientists, published on 6 July in the in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, reinforces the union concerns and says the evidence is “beyond any reasonable doubt”. It notes: “There is significant potential for inhalation exposure to viruses in microscopic respiratory droplets (microdroplets) at short to medium distances (up to several meters, or room scale), and we are advocating for the use of preventive measures to mitigate this route of airborne transmission.” The paper adds: “Studies by the signatories and other scientists have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that viruses are released during exhalation, talking, and coughing in microdroplets small enough to remain aloft in air and pose a risk of exposure at distances beyond 1 to 2 metres (yards) from an infected individual.” UK prime minister Boris Johnson relaxed physical distancing rules in England from 4 July, noting people should remain 2 metres apart where possible but “one metre plus” was the new minimum.
Lidia Morawska, Donald K Milton. It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19, Clinical Infectious Diseases, ciaa939, 6 July 2020.  New York Times and follow up article. CNN News. LA Times. BBC News Online.

Workers are dying while WHO fails to move

Until the World Health Organisation (WHO) revises it guidance on personal protective equipment, physical distancing and other protective measures in the workplace, workers will continue to die unnecessarily, global unions have warned. WHO has denied repeatedly that there is evidence for the airborne mode of transmission, instead saying the risk was limited to droplet transmission from close contact with infected individuals. The UN body has devised its recommendations on worker protection accordingly. This has meant WHO has only recommended the higher quality protections, particularly use of N95/FFP3 or better respiratory protection, for a small proportion of almost entirely health care staff involved in a small number of particularly hazardous ‘Aerosol Generating Procedures (Risks 950). WHO’s refusal to accept the airborne risk from normal processes like breathing or talking, or the evidence that people with no symptoms can also be spreaders, has also framed its advice on physical distancing. WHO recommends ‘at least 1 metre’ when another UN agency, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), recommends a far more protective 2 metres. ILO, unlike WHO, has a specialist workplace safety unit and consults routinely with employers and unions on its rules and guidance. UK statistics show some of the highest rates of Covid-19 have been in occupations WHO classifies as medium or low risk, including transport, construction, security and food processing workers. Global union organisations have called repeatedly for worldwide reporting, recording and recognition of Covid-19 as an occupational disease eligible for compensation.
A safe and healthy return to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, ILO policy brief, 22 May 2020.  Key issues on the return to work, ITUC Covid-19 briefing, 15 May 2020. ITUC and Council of Global Unions letters calling for recognition of Covid-19 as on occupational disease.

Most testing positive for coronavirus have no symptoms

Only 22 per cent of people testing positive for coronavirus reported having symptoms on the day of their test, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The figures published on 7 July demonstrate the importance of ‘asymptomatic transmission’ - spread of the virus by people who aren't sick or aware they're carrying it. Health and social care staff appeared to be more likely to test positive. While the ONS survey includes relatively small numbers of positive swab tests (120 infections in all) they do suggest in people-facing health or social care roles, and working outside their homes in general, were more likely to have a positive test. The figures are based on tests of people selected at random in homes in England - people living in care homes or other institutions are not included in this study. Some people testing positive without symptoms might go on to develop symptoms – the ‘presymptomatic’ - or they may have already had symptoms and cleared them. However, the study found even taking account of these factors, two-thirds of positive tests were in individuals who were never symptomatic. The findings further discredit claims by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that asymptomatic transmission is ‘very rare’. The figures for England, together with other studies, indicate it is important to maintain as much physical distancing as is practicable at work, supplemented by other mitigating measures.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) infections in the community in England: July 2020. Characteristics of people testing positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19) in England from the COVID-19 Infection Survey, ONS, 7 July 2020. BBC News Online.

One in ten Covid-19 cases in health and care workers

An estimated 10 per cent of all covid-19 infections in England between 26 April and 7 June were among healthcare workers or social care workers interacting directly with patients or care home residents, according to a new report. The research was carried out by Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics (DELVE) – an independent group of researchers convened by the Royal Society. DELVE’s scoping report noted: “Using publicly available data, we estimate that at least 10 per cent (95 per cent confidence interval: 4-15 per cent) of all Covid-19 infections in England were among patient-facing healthcare workers and resident-facing social care workers during the period from 26 April to 7 June 2020.” It added: “Although surveillance systems and large-scale hospital-based studies have recently been set up, there remain gaps in availability of surveillance data on hospital-acquired infections, particularly of healthcare workers (including agency staff) and in nursing homes; important questions remain unanswered, including about the impact on Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) health and social care workers.” The report noted: “Transmissions early in the epidemic reflected evolving understanding of the disease (eg. the risk of asymptomatic infection and role of masks in source control) and limited access to testing and personal protective equipment.” It warns that a lack of physical distancing between staff – not just on wards, but also in canteens, offices, and corridors – could be fuelling the spread of the virus. According to DELVE, not enough data has been collected to determine the ways in which coronavirus infections are being spread within hospitals.
Scoping Report on Hospital and Health Care Acquisition of COVID-19 and its Control, Royal Society DELVE Initiative, DELVE report number 3, 6 July 2020. New Scientist. The Telegraph. Daily Mail.

Chancellor backs down on Covid tests tax

The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has reversed a decision to force workers to pay income tax on Covid-19 tests purchased by their employers. HMRC guidance published this week stated that workers would face a taxable benefit in kind when their employer pays for coronavirus testing, meaning a reduction in take-home pay. But the Treasury select committee chair, Mel Stride, said the move was unfair, with a letter to the chancellor pointing out that workers could face mounting tax bills that risked discouraging them from getting checked. Now Sunak has relented, telling Stride that the government is “introducing a new income tax and NICs [national insurance contributions] exemption from income tax for employer-provided Covid-19 antigen tests.” The original guidance published by HMRC stated: “Coronavirus testing kits or tests carried out by a third party which have been purchased by you to provide to your employees are treated as a taxable benefit in kind on the employee.” Benefits in kind are those that workers receive from employers that are not included in their salary, such as cars, and are commonly referred to as ‘perks’. Employees have to pay income tax calculated on the value of these benefits, which is then deducted from wages through PAYE. In a letter to Stride, the chancellor noted: “As most workers will already be able to access tests for free through the NHS, we expect this to only impact a small number of individuals. However, given the importance of widespread testing, the government wants to ensure that all employers who wish to provide testing to their employees can do so without increasing their tax liability. We are therefore introducing a new income tax and NICs exemption from income tax for employer-provided Covid-19 antigen tests.”
The Guardian. Treasury Committee news release and letter to the Chancellor. HMRC guidance, 6 July 2020. BBC News Online.

Boohoo to investigate suppliers over exploitation claims

The online fashion retailer Boohoo is launching an independent review of its UK supply chain after allegations that some factories in Leicester that sell clothes to Boohoo paid workers below the minimum wage and failed to protect them from the coronavirus outbreak. The company had more than £1bn wiped off its value on 6 July as it pledged to investigate renewed claims staff making its products in the city were being exploited and put in danger. Boohoo was already under fire after Labour Behind the Label, a workers' rights group, claimed that some employees at factories in Leicester that supply the fast fashion firm were “being forced to come into work while sick with Covid-19”, charges the company denied. The union Usdaw has also criticised the company for leaving workers at its Burnley warehouse without PPE or sufficient social distancing (Risks 944). The TUC said last month that Boohoo was one of eight major companies that was not publishing online its Covid-19 risk assessments (Risks 952). Boohoo, which owns brands including Pretty Little Thing and Nasty Gal, said the review would be led by Alison Levitt QC, the former head of Mishcon de Reya’s white collar crime unit, and said it would initially invest £10m towards “eradicating malpractice” in its supply chain.
Labour Behind the Label publication notice and report, Boohoo and Covid-19: the people behind the profits, June 2020. The Guardian and related story. BBC News Online and related story. Morning Star. Financial Times.

Second bed factory suffers outbreak

A West Yorkshire bed firm has been hit by a coronavirus outbreak just days after an outbreak at another bed firm just four miles away. Wakefield Council confirmed Deep Sleep Beds UK Ltd in Ossett has had four employees test positive for Covid-19. It said the cases were confirmed by Public Health England and action was taken as quickly as possible to help limit the spread of the virus. The outbreak follows one at Batley's DuraBeds factory a week earlier, where eight employees tested positive. Anna Hartley, Wakefield council’s director of public health, said: “Four cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed at Deep Sleep Beds in Ossett. We’re working closely with the business, and our partners, to do all we can to limit any potential further spread of the virus.” She added: “The NHS test and trace system is now in place. Staff who require testing are being offered testing, and those that have been in contact with a positive case are self-isolating at home as a precautionary measure.” Dura Beds in Batley closed for two weeks as a safety precaution after the outbreak was confirmed, with all workers offered testing.
The Examiner. BBC News Online.

Second Asda meat factory hit by coronavirus cluster

A second Asda-owned meat factory in West Yorkshire has been hit by a coronavirus cluster, with 17 workers testing positive last week. Further cases are being investigated at Forza Foods in Normanton, with 300 staff offered tests and told to self-isolate at home. The incident come less than a month after an outbreak of Covid-19 at the Asda-owned Kober meat factory in nearby Cleckheaton, where there were 165 confirmed cases. The factory in Normanton remained operational, with the company saying most of those who tested positive work the same shift. Parent company Asda said the authorities were “satisfied with the safety precautions” in place. An Asda spokesperson said: “As soon as we became aware that some colleagues had tested positive we alerted the relevant authorities.” He said the local authority and the Health and Safety Executive had both inspected the site, which employs more than 1,000 people to slice and pack cooked meat.
BBC News Online.

Government has no plans to tackle PPE shortages

The government still has no proper plans to ensure that hospitals and care homes have sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) to deal with a second wave of coronavirus, MPs have warned. The cross-party Commons public accounts committee said the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) was not treating the issue with “sufficient urgency.” It comes after Downing Street refused to apologise for prime minister Boris Johnson’s comments on 6 July, when he implied that care homes might be to blame for deaths because “too many… didn’t really follow the procedures.” A June report from the National Audit Office concluded it was catalogue of government errors including gross shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) that contributed to high Covid-19 death rates care homes (Risks 952). NHS trusts and care homes reported shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the first months of the pandemic, putting staff and already vulnerable patients at risk of infection. The committee said it was “extremely concerned” by the shortages and told the government to come forward with a detailed plan within two months, setting out how it intends to keep the NHS and care sector fully supplied. UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said it was “despicable” for Mr Johnson to blame “incredible, dedicated” care workers for his own government’s failings. “Care staff have kept working throughout to help the vulnerable, putting their own health at risk with little or no protective kit and without testing,” Mr Prentis said. “Many lacked full sick pay, so couldn’t afford to stop home. Others went unpaid if they became ill, causing real financial headaches for doing the right thing. This was all the result of poor decisions taken by his government. The prime minister should be ashamed, take responsibility and commit to proper, lasting reform of social care.”
House of Commons Public Accounts Committee news release and report summary, conclusions and recommendations and full report. Morning Star. The Independent. BBC News Online.

Anger at huge national stockpiles of unusable PPE

Almost 80 per cent of respirators in the national pandemic stockpile were out of date when coronavirus hit the UK, a Channel 4 News investigation has found. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has issued safety warnings, notices for disposal, and distribution stoppages for 85 million masks and respirators, according to an investigation. Health service workers said the revelations revealed “dereliction of duty” by the government. The masks and respirators were part of the government’s pandemic stockpile and have reportedly been distributed to hospitals, care homes and GP surgeries since March. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) last week issued guidance to the NHS that more than 67 million Cardinal surgical masks distributed by the company Medline should be “disposed of.” The investigation also found that safety warnings were issued about 11.5m “sub-optimal” 3M-brand respirators, most of which had expired at the start of the year. Channel 4 also found that distribution of Cardinal-branded respirators — of which there were 6.8m in the stockpile — was halted after staff experienced problems with fit-testing. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) council, said: “If doctors and health and care workers have been supplied with, and worn, faulty, re-dated masks, this is clearly a dereliction of duty to ensure the safety of NHS staff and patients.” GMB national officer Rachel Harrison said that a lack of availability and poor quality PPE has been “a consistent feature of this pandemic.” She called on health secretary Matt Hancock to address the scandal urgently and explain how “issues will be resolved ahead of any second peak.”
Channel 4 News. Morning Star.

Coronavirus sick pay win for 15,000 care workers

Unions have won full sick pay for at least 15,000 care workers employed by Four Seasons Health Care (FSHC). Negotiations by GMB, RCN and UNISON secured full pay for any coronavirus-related absence for all staff at the company's care facilities. FSHC will also advise all the staff who have tested positive for Covid-19 they will receive full pay backdated to April 2020. The company is also in discussions with the unions over the use of infection control funding and will continue talks on how they can improve working conditions. Kelly Andrews, GMB social care lead, said: “This is a massive win for our members. Carers across the country have been struggling on statutory sick pay whilst battling this virus. And now they have at least some protection. GMB is calling for full sick pay across the social care sector so that our vulnerable are protected, not just now but always.”
GMB news release.

PCS challenges HSE on air conditioning and fan claims

Civil service union PCS has written to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) asking the regulator to revisit its position on the use of air conditioning systems and ceiling and desk fans in light of emerging scientific evidence. The union’s move came after HSE published a statement claiming air conditioning systems and desk fans pose ‘an extremely low risk’ in the transmission of coronavirus. In a response to Sarah Albon, HSE’s chief executive, the union asks HSE to “stump up evidence to support this conclusion.” PCS said in response to a review of scientific studies of the virus compiled by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth “we issued guidance to reps outlining these risks and advising the use of air conditioning and desk fans to factored into risk assessments. The Federation of European heating, ventilation and air conditioning association (REHVA), representing over 120,000 HVAC designers, building services engineers, technicians and experts across 27 European countries, backs up our concerns and advises employers to implement a number of measures to make ventilation systems covid secure.” The union also pointed to a study from China suggesting infections among bus passengers in Hunan Province could be linked to air conditioning helping the virus to travel up to 4.5 metres. “In light of all of this, PCS is asking the HSE to revisit this conclusion and to ensure any guidance the issue is based on the scientific evidence available,” the union said. 
PCS news release. HSE statement.

Union demands clarity on English schools return

School leaders in England need clear guidance based on scientific evidence, teaching union NEU has said, but instead they are confronted by a government “rushing through ideas that seem more based on hope than on science.” Commenting on guidance issued today by the Department for Education, intended to prepare schools for full opening from September, Kevin Courtney, NEU joint general secretary, said: “We all want to see a full return for all pupils from September, but this must be safe, well-planned and in pupils' short-term and long-term interests. The litmus test for school leaders, teachers, support staff and parents alike will be a thought-through strategy that puts to bed any concerns over safety.” He added: “School leaders need clear guidance based on scientific evidence, but instead they are confronted by a government which is rushing through ideas that seem more based on hope than on science. A poor plan, such as this one, risks failing children, parents and staff alike. We need much clearer science as well as guidance that is grounded in reality, for the full return of all pupils to work. As ever, the National Education Union is ready to talk with government to find a way forward."
NEU news release. Department for Education guidance.

Scottish teachers have fears over August return

Only just over a quarter of teachers in Scotland think it will be safe for their pupils to return to their school or college in August, a survey by the teaching union NASUWT has found. Nearly half (49 per cent) of teachers who responded to the survey said they do not feel prepared to return to their school or college in August and just 22 per cent said they feel safe or very safe as a result of the provisions their employer is putting in place to mitigate the risks of Covid-19. The survey, which examined the experiences of over 350 teachers in Scotland during the lockdown and in preparing for wider reopening from the start of Scotland’s new academic year in August, found concerns about a lack of PPE and adequate safety measures to protect staff and pupils in schools and colleges. Over a third (34 per cent) of teachers who said they were in one of the Scottish government’s vulnerable groups said they had nevertheless been asked to attend work during the lockdown period. Jane Peckham, NASUWT’s national official for Scotland, said: “The survey underlines the fact that ministers still have much work to do to win the confidence of teachers in their plans for the wider reopening of schools and colleges. This will not have been helped by the timing of the decision on full reopening, particularly as many teachers had spent considerable time and effort developing a model of blended learning for pupils.” She added: “The government must now ensure that the next steps on school and college reopening do not put at risk public health and that there are robust mechanisms in place to ensure that all employers are taking effective measures to minimise and mitigate the risks of Covid-19 in every school and college.”
NASUWT news release.

Unscrupulous employers must not exploit distancing change

A relaxation of social distancing rules in Scotland must not be used by unscrupulous employers to risk workers’ health, national union federation STUC has said. Commenting after Scotland’s first minister's announced the country “will retain 2 metres as the default physical distancing requirement” but allow a relaxation of social distancing in transport, outdoor hospitality and retail, STUC general secretary Roz Foyer, said: “It is clear that the scientific advice has not changed – relaxing social distancing from 2 metres to 1 metre comes with increased risk – between two and tenfold. And let’s be honest, for many people 2 metres has always meant less in practice and shifting down to 1 metre therefore carries even greater risk than the modelling tells us.” She said it was “disappointing that the government have succumbed to industry lobbying and will relax social distancing, albeit with mitigations, in certain sectors.” She said STUC was “gravely concerned” that low paid retail and hospitality workers “will bear the risk of having to enforce new rules and take safety decisions. This could include ‘policing’ mask wearing, being insisted to log customer details or intervening on social distancing. This adds extra responsibility and in some cases physical danger. Any employer reducing distancing to 1 metre should bring forward a health and safety assessment which includes ensuring the safety of staff.” The STUC leader added: “The first minister was very clear that employers wishing to reduce physical distancing should engage with unions. Our doors are open. We would urge all workers in these sectors to join a union, work with their colleagues, and push back against unscrupulous employers in order to ensure the strongest possible mitigations are put in place.”
STUC news release. Scottish government news release.

Commons catering staff may refuse unsafe work

Catering staff at the House of Commons could be advised to walk out if health and safety measures are not put in place, their union has warned. The London region of the GMB union is calling on management to adhere to regulations and the government’s guidance on Covid-19, and to meet key coronavirus safety tests. If the tests are not passed and protective measures not enacted “as a matter of urgency,” they will consider the workplace unsafe and tell staff that they have the right to leave, the union said. GMB pointed out that staff in parliamentary bars do not provide an ‘essential’ service and could be at high risk without the necessary protections. A report in the Morning Star said the union has accused management of not consulting GMB or other unions over their decision to have staff return to work, or about the related risk assessment. GMB House of Commons branch secretary Will Conway said: “The unions represented in [the Commons] were not told about the decision or the risk assessment until after it had happened.” He added the assessment and walkthrough happened on the local rep’s day off. “What is clear is that the government’s own guidelines are being breached by management,” he said.
Morning Star.


Creating safe workplaces is more urgent than ever

New workplace death figures are a ‘devastating’ indictment of safety standards in UK workplaces, the TUC has said. The union body was commenting on provisional Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures showing there were 111 fatalities at work in Great Britain in 2019/20. TUC workplace safety lead Shelly Asquith commented: “It makes for devastating reading and a reminder of how important the role of union safety reps are in preventing injury and saving lives.” In a TUC blog post, she added: “The statistics do not include fatal diseases (including Covid-19, which we know has led to a devastatingly high death toll this year), nor fatal transport accidents which do not occur on the railways (for example accidents at sea, in air or on roads). The report does suggest however, that the lockdown due to Covid-19 and the disruption caused to work in the preceding weeks, will have led to a lower rate of fatal injury at work during these months.” The TUC safety specialist noted: “Our safeguard against deaths at work is the ability to identify and mitigate risk and enforce safe working measures. When safety regulators have been gutted by cuts, and proactive inspections and investigations are in decline, it makes our fight that much harder.” She concluded: “Workers organising for safety via trade unions is an absolute necessity: We already know that workplaces with unions statistically have fewer accidents and deaths… Trade unions fight for safety at work because no life should be disposable, no work should be unsafe, and no boss should be able to avoid being brought to justice for thinking otherwise.”
TUC blog. HSE news release and statistical summary, Fatal injuries in Great Britain, 2019/2020.

Sharp rise in site deaths as enforcement plummets

A large increase in construction deaths could be related to a steep fall in proactive inspections and prosecutions being undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Unite has said. The union was commenting after provisional figures released by HSE showed that construction fatalities increased by 33 per cent in a year from 30 in 2018/19 to 40 in 2019/20, and made up over a third of all work-related deaths. A freedom of information request by Unite has discovered that the increase in deaths corresponds with at least a 25 per cent decline in proactive (unannounced) construction inspections. In 2018/19 there were a total of 9,286 proactive inspections compared to just 6,381 in 2019/20, a decline of 31 per cent. In March 2020, the HSE ceased making proactive inspections in response to Covid-19. “Notwithstanding this development, the fall in construction inspection still amounts to a massive 25 per cent reduction in the number of inspections when compared to the corresponding 11-month period in the previous year,” Unite said. Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “These figures are alarming and raise serious questions about the safety of construction workers. Each of the fatalities was a terrible tragedy, a loved one went to work one day and never came home again.” He added: “It is simply no coincidence that the drop in inspections has occurred at the same time that there has been a steep rise in deaths. We need to be honest, the constant cuts to the HSE since 2010 have had an awful impact on workers’ lives. The simple way to protect construction workers and to help stop the loss of life in our workplaces is to restore funding to the inspection and safety agency.” The union officer said: “With the added problems of the Covid-19 pandemic, regular inspections by the HSE have never been more important. For employers who are trying to ensure that they follow the complex rules on social distancing, there is a real danger they could take their eye off the ball when it comes to other safety measures.” Unite’s freedom of information request also revealed that the total number of enforcement notices issued by the HSE declined by 30 per cent in 2019/20, and prosecutions by 24 per cent.
Unite news release. Construction Enquirer.

HSE inspector calls for ‘desperately needed’ funds

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is desperately in need of more funds to meet the ‘expectations’ of politicians and the public, an HSE inspector had said. Neil Hope-Collins, who is also the vice-president of HSE union Prospect, said a succession of reviews have found “the HSE is strongly supported by both business and workers. It feels sometimes as if the only part of the tripartite foundation that wants to reduce HSE is the government! And reducing HSE is exactly what government has done. They stopped carrying out reviews, and instead have just systematically cut the funding.” In a Prospect blog, Hope-Collins adds: “HSE has now been reduced to such an extent that it is unable to fulfil public and political expectations. For years, our members working for HSE have seen the contortions and strategies used to present a façade of effectiveness to politicians. We have seen how figures have been presented in ways that hide the full impact of cuts in funding.” He said Covid-19 had “put a spotlight on the fact that HSE is not able to fulfil public expectations. HSE is in steady decline. More inspectors leave every year than HSE is able to recruit, its science base is shrinking. Something significant has to be done to turn around this decline. The country needs to invest in the health and safety of workers, and that means building the regulators that ensure workers go home at the end of the day.”
Prospect news release.

Driverless trains are an unsafe ‘nonsensical distraction’

Rail unions have hit back at the prime minister's suggestion that driverless trains should be a condition of the funding settlement for Transport for London this autumn. Mick Whelan, the general secretary of train drivers’ union ASLEF, commented: “It’s the usual signs of a failing Tory government that they'll attack trade unions and working people to try to distract from their own failings. Train drivers on London Underground have continued to work throughout this pandemic to make sure that fellow key workers can get to work and back. Now those very same workers are being treated with contempt and told they're not needed.” He added: “Driverless underground trains are simply not viable on London Underground. It would not be safe to run services without a trained member of staff onboard in case of emergency. Even the Docklands Light Railway, which was purpose built to be driverless, is staffed with a train captain who is able to drive the train if necessary.” The ASLEF leader concluded: “This is desperate stuff which is completely unworkable and unnecessary.” RMT senior assistant general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Linking additional funding for rail operators to cuts, or driverless trains on TfL as suggested by the prime minister, is a shameful attempt to make frontline transport workers pay the price of the global health crisis.” He added: “The government knows that rail privatisation has failed, and therefore, it must use this substantial additional funding to bring the rail network back into public ownership, rather than continuing to bail out the private operators at a significant cost to the public purse.”
ASLEF news release. RMT news release. ITV News.

Empty promise of 'zero tolerance' on shop violence

Retail trade union Usdaw has criticised the prime minister for failing to back a new law to protect shop workers from violence. The union said it took over a year for the Home Office to respond to evidence on violence against shopworkers, and the eventual response this week was ‘deeply disappointing’. Boris Johnson promised ‘zero tolerance’ of retail violence at prime minister’s questions this week, but did not accept there should be a new law to protect staff. Paddy Lillis, Usdaw’s general secretary, said: “Zero tolerance is easy to say, but means very little if it is not backed up by actions. We are deeply disappointed that the government and now the prime minister have not backed legislating for stiffer penalties for those who assault workers. They have failed to listen to the voices of shop workers and retailers, who had jointly called for a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, CPS, the judiciary and most importantly criminals.” The union leader added: “We are shocked that violence, threats and abuse have doubled during this national emergency. At a time when we should all be working together to get through this crisis, it is a disgrace that the people working to keep food on the shelves for their local communities are being abused and assaulted. Our message is clear, abuse is not part of the job.”
Usdaw news release and related news release. Home Office news release and response to a call for evidence on retail violence.

Post workers demand protection from dangerous dogs

With an average of seven dog attacks on post workers every day, the CWU and Royal Mail are highlighting the legal responsibility of owners to ensure their dogs are kept indoors when their postman or postwoman calls. Speaking ahead of of Dog Awareness Week 2020, which kicked off on 6 July, CWU national safety officer Dave Joyce said: “Of the 2,500 dog attacks on Royal Mail workers over the past year, 83 per cent of them happened either at the front door or in the garden, but with a few basic precautions, these could be prevented.” He added: “We know that not all dogs are dangerous, in fact most don’t present a problem, but if a dog feels it or its territory is being threatened – no matter what breed – it will be defensive… we’re going to be highlighting the potential risks to our members and also the potential risks of prosecution for owners and the possible loss of their pet if attacks occur and asking all dog owners to please follow these simple steps.”
CWU news release.

One in five bosses not trained in health and safety

One in five companies don’t train their managers in health and safety, according to a new report. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) report, ‘How to manage your people safely’, includes the results of a YouGov survey of 698 company decision makers. It found of the respondents, 96 per cent agreed that line managers are important in ensuring the people who report to them are safe and healthy in the workplace, with 21 per cent saying investigations into accidents had shown a management failure was a contributing factor. However, 19 per cent said their organisations do not train line managers in health and safety. IOSH’s head of advice and practice, Duncan Spencer, said managers “need different health and safety competence for their role which needs underpinning with useful training they can apply in practice. Our survey suggests that the vast majority of businesses recognise that this is the case but it is worrying that so many don’t train their line managers in health and safety.” He added: “We urge organisations to ensure their line managers do access health and safety training. We know from our survey that those which have invested in such training have really benefited. This is particularly crucial at the current time. As businesses across sectors are reopening premises, they must manage an array of risks. They have to ensure their workplaces manage the threat of Covid-19 transmission while also continuing to provide measures to prevent all other hazards. Again, line managers are key here.”
IOSH news release and report, Managing your people safely, 7 July 2020. Personnel Today.


Help build a database of coronavirus risk assessments

The TUC is collating the risk assessments published by employers as they start to open again after lockdown. The TUC said its aim is to support a safe return by increasing transparency about how safety is being addressed in each sector and to pressure non-compliant employers to conduct the proper risk assessments and publish them online. “You can help by checking out your own employer or others in your sector, and entering them into the database at”, the TUC said.
COVID Secure Check portal.


Get your essential TUC guide to Hazards at Work

The 6th edition of TUC’s best-selling Hazards at Work guide is the best single source on health and safety, union style. The revised new edition is packed with advice on health and safety laws and good practice at work. It covers all the classic hazards and has new Covid-19 related advice and reworked chapters on mental health, bullying, harassment, and all the other modern workplace causes of illness and injury. It also has extensive checklists, case studies and links to online resources.
Reps, unions, employers can order online from the TUC shop. Single copies, £22. For large orders, email the TUC.


Australia: Welcome for work safety, diseases and suicides move

Unions have welcomed a new legal safety measures coming into force in the Australian state of Victoria.  From 1 July, employers in the state that fail to meet health and safety obligations face tough new workplace manslaughter penalties should their negligence lead to a worker dying on the job. As part of the health and safety reforms, the state regulator WorkSafe has also broadened the definition of a workplace death. These now include killed on the road while working, suicides attributable to a workplace health and safety failure, deaths from industrial diseases such as silicosis, and workplace deaths resulting from a criminal act. National union federation ACTU welcomed the reforms, saying other states and territories in the country should now follow Victoria’s lead. ACTU assistant secretary Liam O’Brien said: “Including people who get sick or take their own lives as a result of accidents or hazards in their workplace is essential to gaining a full understanding of the gaps which exist in our occupational health and safety system.” He added: “The Cancer Council estimates that every year 5,000 people contract cancer as a result of exposure to hazards in their workplace, and we have no reliable estimate of how many suicides are linked to workplaces every year. Understanding the scope of these problems is the first step in addressing them and ensuring that every worker is safe at work.”
WorkSafe Victoria news release and workplace manslaughter law. ACTU news release.

Europe: Chemical restrictions drive use of safer substances

Replacing harmful chemicals with safer alternatives and greener technologies is strongly driven by regulation, with companies reporting that restrictions and authorisation are their main drivers for substitution, research by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has concluded. Based on a survey of industry associations and more than 80 companies, many of which were affected by authorisation or restriction, around 19 per cent indicated that restriction is their main reason for replacing hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives. ECHA said adding a substance to the substances of very high concern (SVHC) Candidate List or Authorisation List was the next most significant trigger for companies, with authorisation selected by 15 per cent of the companies responding. Aside from regulation, companies also highlighted demands from their customers, enhancing their public image and adopting their own corporate sustainability policies as their main drivers to substitute hazardous substances with safer alternatives. “While regulation pushes for harmful substances to be replaced, moving away from them is also increasingly becoming an essential part of their corporate policies and the way towards a sustainable and greener Europe in the future,” said Bjorn Hansen, ECHA’s executive director. ECHA said the progressive substitution of SVHCs with suitable alternatives is one of three key objectives of the REACH. The others are making sure that the risks to human health and the environment are properly controlled and ensuring the good functioning of the internal market.
ECHA news release.

Global: OECD backs paid Covid-19 sick leave

Paid sick leave can be a particularly effective tool in addressing the coronavirus crisis, an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) analysis has concluded. A new OECD policy brief reveals that about half of OECD countries have strengthened support to employees suffering from Covid-19 and that nearly all OECD countries provide income support to eligible employees in mandatory quarantine – which it described as an ‘unprecedented’ policy in most countries. The OECD concludes that paid sick leave can be a particularly effective tool, as part of a rigorous testing, tracking, tracing and isolating strategy. It adds that there is a need for permanently improving access to paid sick leave for the entire workforce. OECD says governments should also prepare for future pandemics by improving the adaptability of paid sick leave systems. The OECD’s Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) said it “welcomes the OECD observations and agrees that paid sick leave plays an important a role even beyond its core function to protect sick workers during a health pandemic and subsequent economic crisis.” TUAC adds: “Self-isolating due to exposure to the virus for example should not result in loss of income. Paid sick leave, with a fair risk sharing between governments, employers and employees, is therefore a necessity in an orderly de-confinement strategy.” TUAC is calling for Covid-19 to “be recognised as an occupational disease and paid sick- and pay-leave entitlements must be extended to all workers, students and apprentices irrespective of their employment status in the formal and informal economy via universal coverage.” 
OECD TUAC news release. OECD policy brief on sick leave.

South Africa: Thousands of miners hit by Covid-19

Mining industry figures show 18 mineworkers in South Africa have so far died from Covid-19, with nearly 3,000 workers testing positive for the virus. The Minerals Council said more than half of the deaths were in the platinum sector, which has seen the highest number of infections as companies ramp up production following the easing of lockdown regulations. Gold mines, which have some of the world's deepest shafts, have reported six deaths, while no deaths have occurred in the coal sector. The number of deaths has been slowly rising, the industry body said, despite hygiene and safety guidelines aimed at curbing the spread of infections, including the daily screening of employees before they enter work spaces. The Minerals Council has previously dismissed claims the mining sector was a hot spot for infections, attributing the rising number of infections to rigorous testing mechanisms. It said so far 290,535 workers have been screened and 21,386 tests conducted. However, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) believes that the explosion of infections in the platinum belt was a result of lack of adherence to safety guidelines during the earlier stages of the lockdown. “Some mines in the early stages of the lockdown applied to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy to be allowed to operate during the lockdown. During that time there was no adherence to safety regulations,” said union spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu. “We are not surprised that this is now happening… it is a result of mines chasing profits ahead of lives.” The NUM now wants the government to shut down mines that fail to comply with healthy and safety regulations, and arrest mine managers found to be flouting the law.
News 24.


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