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



TUC warning over ‘heartless and reckless’ work return plan

The TUC has urged employers to prioritise the safety of shielded workers and not demand that they return to workplaces immediately. ‘Shielded workers’ are those with health conditions that make them more likely to experience serious complications from a Covid-19 infection, so they have needed to follow more stringent guidance on social isolation. Official guidance ends shielding from 31 July in Scotland, 1 August in England, and 16 August in Wales, so shielding workers may face demands from their employers to return to workplaces. In March the UK government asked around 627,000 people who had been in work to shield from coronavirus. One in three (31 per cent) of them – nearly 200,000 people – could not work from home and were furloughed. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It would be heartless and reckless for employers to demand the immediate return of shielding workers. After self-isolation for a number of months, requiring shielding workers to immediately travel to workplaces may cause anxiety and distress. We all want people to return to workplaces as soon as possible. But the virus remains a threat to shielding workers. And we may see further outbreaks that require local lockdowns.” The TUC leader added: “The government must make clear to employers that they cannot give shielding workers unreasonable ultimatums to return to workplaces. The job retention scheme is in place until at least October, so employers must continue using it if home working is not an option. And the government should make clear that furlough will still be an option after October for shielding workers who cannot safely travel to workplaces or who may be subject to a local lockdown.”
TUC news release and report, Job security: Saving the jobs of those who cannot work at home, July 2020. Daily Mail. Personnel Today.

Serious concerns over shielding ‘pause’

Serious concerns have been raised about the UK government’s plans ‘to pause’ its shielding policy and the challenges that will then face thousands of extremely vulnerable people returning to the workplace. Unite said that the world of work had changed dramatically since the lockdown was introduced in March and questioned if ministers had thought through all the implications of ‘pausing’, as Covid-19 was still prevalent across the UK. Unite pinpointed key issues such as mental health as people were fearful of returning to a work environment over which they had no control; concerns about disciplinary procedures for those too worried to return to work; and lack of adequate policies for a structured return with the necessary induction programmes. The union is also concerned that many employers will not have organised ‘vital’ professional health assessments, necessary to identify and implement extra measures needed to protect an extremely vulnerable group. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “As the government was too slow to react at the onset of coronavirus, it now appears it could be moving too fast in pausing the ‘shielding’ barrier and removing much valued support for this vulnerable group. It should not be forgotten that Covid-19 is still prevalent throughout the UK.” She added: “We shall be watching the situation very closely in the nation’s workplaces to see how this rolls out during August and will intervene with management where we feel improvements could be made for the safety and welfare of all employees.”
Unite news release.

RMT warning over ‘high risk’ back to work gamble

Transport union RMT has warned that ‘confused and conflicted’ government messaging could lead to widespread breaches of public health measures on masks and social distancing. The union was commenting as Boris Johnson urges people to “get back to work” on 3 August, a move that coincided with tightened restrictions being introduced in areas hit by Covid-19 infection spikes, including large areas of Lancashire and West Yorkshire. RMT said the government determination to get people back to work was not matched by adequate staffing, police or monitoring resources to manage flows and maintain basic safety standards. The union said the move “represents a massive gamble” at a time of increased infection rates. RMT senior assistant general secretary Mick Lynch said: “The confused and conflicted messaging from the government risks placing transport workers right in the firing line again as Boris Johnson calls for a return to work just at the same point that he is tightening up lockdown measures in response to a rise in infection rates. This is a high risk strategy and at this critical time no one should be gambling with the safety of passengers and staff.” He added: “RMT reps on the ground will continue to monitor the situation and this trade union will continue to take whatever action is required to protect the safety and livelihoods of our members.” Early indications were that relative few workers had heeded Boris Johnson's plea to get back to offices, the Guardian reported.
RMT news release. The Guardian.

Covid breaches at Oxford put reopening plans at risk

The University of Oxford has been accused of flouting government guidelines on reopening universities. The university has refused to share health and safety risk assessments as staff try to ensure the university is able to reopen safely in October. UCU said it wrote to the University of Oxford vice-chancellor Louise Richardson last month requesting formally that the university share risk assessments about staff safety after trying to raise the issue on multiple occasions with the university. The university responded to the request saying “it is not practical or useful to share all risk assessments with Oxford UCU.” However, an agreement between universities and unions on working safely on campus through the pandemic says that universities must consult with trade unions on staff health and safety, and about how the institutions will manage risks from Covid-19 when re-opening. UCU says it makes clear that universities must undertake risk assessments and review them “in consultation with trade union health and safety representatives.” UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “It is shocking to see the University of Oxford flouting health and safety guidelines in the middle of this pandemic, whilst claiming the health of staff and students is its highest priority. The statutory duties and government guidance regarding risk assessments and consultation over health and safety are clear. The university now needs to work with us to ensure it can safely reopen in October, rather than putting the safety of staff and students at risk.”
UCU news release.

Test, trace and isolate 'key to schools returning'

Current testing and contact tracing levels are not sufficient to prevent a second wave of coronavirus after schools reopen, scientists have warned. Researchers said getting pupils back to school was important - but more work was needed to keep the virus in check. Schools are due to restart for all children in Scotland on 11 August and across the UK in early September. Researchers from University College London (UCL) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) used computer models to see how the virus might spread in the UK as pupils returned to the classroom and their parents were more able to go back to work or resume other activities. The study assumes children are less likely to catch - and therefore spread - coronavirus and that some parents would continue to work from home. The findings, published in the Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, shows a second wave could be prevented if both 75 per cent of people with Covid symptoms were found and 68 per cent of their contacts traced; or both 87 per cent of people with symptoms were found and 40 per cent of their contacts traced. However, the researchers said NHS Test and Trace in England was currently falling short. They estimate only 50 per cent of contacts are being traced and while it is harder to know the percentage of people being tested, they say this also appears too low. UCL’s Dr Jasmina Panovska-Griffiths, who led the study, called for an improved ‘test-trace-isolate’ (TTI) system, adding: “Our modelling suggests that with a highly effective test and trace strategy in place across the UK, it is possible for schools to reopen safely in September. However, without sufficient coverage of a test-trace-isolate strategy the UK risks a serious second epidemic peak either in December or February. Therefore, we urge the government to ensure that test-trace-isolate capacity is scaled up to a sufficient level before schools reopen.”
Jasmina Panovska-Griffiths and others, Determining the optimal strategy for reopening schools, the impact of test and trace interventions, and the risk of occurrence of a second COVID-19 epidemic wave in the UK: a modelling study, Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, Online first 3 August 2020. DOI: CIEH news release. BBC News Online.

UNISON condemns ‘chaotic’ track and trace

England’s ‘chaotic’ privately-run test and trace system is unlikely to prevent a second wave of Covid-19, public sector union UNISON has warned. UNISON has labelled the system ‘a mess’ after researchers at UCL and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) warned reopening of schools in September, combined with a sluggish test and trace system, could bring another spike in the virus. UNISON said the private companies that the government has awarded the £10bn contact tracing system have delivered what has been labelled as a “chaotic” provision and “a complete shambles” in recent months, with the test-and-trace burden instead falling to “cash-strapped” councils. Local authority staff in Blackburn, Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Leicester are now contacting people where the national contracted-out system has failed, it said. UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “We all want schools to reopen, and to reopen safely. We all want safe places for young people to learn in and staff to work in.” But she added: “The current system in England is a mess. Billions of taxpayers’ money has already been spent on a system that can’t deliver and now cash-strapped councils are being forced to pick up the pieces.”
UNISON news release.

Listen to school staff on reopening, says STUC

The STUC has called on the Scottish government and local authorities to heed the advice of teachers and the whole education workforce to ensure that schools are safe environments for pupils and staff. Commenting after Nicola Sturgeon announced schools in Scotland would reopen on 11 August, STUC deputy general secretary Dave Moxham said: “Schools re-opening full-time is an enormous step which requires continuing suppression of the virus across communities, the full implementation of safety guidance and a proactive testing regime. We support the call of education unions to ensure that smaller class groupings are the norm with sufficient resources ploughed into schools to ensure this can happen.” He added: “Despite the correct decision not to move into Phase 4, it is vital that we recognise that school re-opening coincides with a wider return to work under phase 3 and that pressures on school and public transport must be carefully monitored. Government and local authorities will need to listen carefully to staff across the whole school community as they strive to maintain a safe environment, allay the fears of pupils and parents and provide a positive education experience in these abnormal times.” Some councils can opt for a “phased return over the first few days” of the new term, the first minister said, but Nicola Sturgeon added “we expect all pupils to be at school full time from 18 August at the very latest.” Under the guidelines, primary school pupils will not have to physically distance from each other, but secondary schools will be advised to take steps to encourage distancing. The guidance states: “Two metre physical distancing between adults, and between adults and children and young people who are not from the same household should be maintained.” A surveillance programme is also being developed for schools, to enable regular testing.
STUC news release. Scottish government news release and related news release. BBC News Online. Daily Record.

Teachers concerned over Scottish school reopening

‘Significant concerns’ have been raised by a teaching union over new guidelines for the reopening of Scotland’s schools. The executive committee of the EIS has written to deputy first minister John Swinney calling for urgent action to protect pupils, staff and the wider community from the risk of Covid-19 infection. In the letter, EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan highlights “significant concerns,” including physical distancing and class sizes, procedures for testing for Covid in schools, contradictions between procedures for schools and other settings such as public transport and shops, and concerns over staff members who have been shielding. The letter calls for “the strongest mitigations possible in place and erring on the side of caution particularly where there is conflicting or emerging evidence in relation to the behaviour of the virus and its capacity for transmission among and by children and young people. These should include specific physical distancing guidelines for pupils.” On testing, the EIS letter notes: “We would urge that further consideration be given to a more proactive approach to supporting teacher and staff confidence that they are working in Covid-secure schools, by providing asymptomatic access to regular testing.” EIS said a new survey of its members in schools across Scotland this week will “seek their views on these issues and on the steps that should be taken to ensure that schools are safe.”
EIS news release, related news release and letter to John Swinney.

Deep cleaning ‘vital’ for re-opening of schools

A regular deep cleaning regime must be in place for when schools reopen in Scotland, UNISON has said. Lorraine Thomson, chair of UNISON’s education issues group, said: “Crucial to ensuring a safe return is that schools get a regular deep clean, that’s why UNISON will continue to raise the needs school cleaners, janitors and other staff who have a role to play in getting kids back safely into schools.” She added: “Pupil support workers and teaching assistants work up close with children so UNISON continues to seek details of additional surveillance and testing regimes for schools and early learning establishments.” UNISON’s head of local government Johanna Baxter, said the union welcomed the extra funding announced by the first minister “and that she recognises some schools might need a phased return and the recognition that we need a whole school approach to ensure that education staff and pupils can return safely. However, while welcome, these additional funds must be put in the context that there is more than a £1bn funding gap for local government in Scotland. This challenge is not going away and we need a serious discussion about the future of local government funding to protect jobs and services going forward.”
UNISON Scotland news release. Scottish government news release.
Webinar: The US Toxics Use Reduction Institute is to run a free Safer Cleaning and Disinfection for Schools webinar on Friday 14 August 2020, 3-5pm UK time.

STUC welcomes Scottish call centre guidance 

Scotland’s national union centre has welcomed new stringent call centre guidance released by the Scottish government and has called on non-union firms to make use of the expert advice available through the union roving rep system. The guidance comes two weeks after health officials said they were investigating an outbreak of Covid-19 at an NHS test and trace call centre in run by Sitel in Motherwell (Risks 957). This week one case in a new outbreak in Inverclyde was linked to the Sitel cluster. STUC deputy general secretary Dave Moxham said: “As we have been arguing for months, call centres are potential infection hot spots – a fact that was underlined by the outbreak at Sitel in North Lanarkshire. Following in-depth discussions with unions and call centre experts, the Scottish government has brought forward strong guidance which, if adhered to, can save lives. The guidance includes a clear presumption in favour of homeworking where possible, that face to face work meetings should be avoided and strict limitations placed on the use of shared workstations.” Moxham added: “We are calling on all call centre employers to adhere to the Scottish government guidance irrespective of whether their operation is UK-wide and to engage with unions where a recognition agreement exists. For non-unionised workplaces, the STUC can provide a union health and safety rep at the request of employer or workers. The newly launched ‘Call Centre Collective’ campaign is on hand to support non-unionised workers too.”
STUC news release and Call Centre Collective campaign. Scottish government call centre guidance and publication note. BBC News Online.

Call for workplace zero-Covid policy

The UK government should adopt immediately a zero-Covid-19 policy, with prevention of work-related infection and transmission a priority, campaigners have said. The union-supported Hazards Campaign said the action was necessary to drive down the infection rate. According to the campaign: “The UK and in particular England has one of the worst death and transmission statistics in the world. This isn’t because we are unlucky but because the government has failed to act, failed to protect and failed in its job to put the health of its people before profits. Workers health is public health.” Janet Newsham, chair of Hazards Campaign, said: “The North of England is in chaos, following closely behind the Leicester saga and hundreds of workplace outbreaks across the country since the unplanned chaotic return to work started. People are angry that pubs and restaurants will stay open when visits to family are stopped. It makes no sense and will not protect and save people’s lives, nor will it regenerate the economy, it will only extend the misery that this government has inflicted on its people.” Newsham added: “Much of the current mess is because of failed enforcement in workplaces, failed lock-downs and controls of the risks, none of which has been mentioned but the government chooses to blame individuals and not their own incompetence.”
Hazards Campaign news release.

Homerton hospital workers in sick pay victory

Homerton Hospital’s cleaners, porters and security staff will be paid the London living wage and NHS sick pay “from day one” of a renewed, five-year contract with facilities firm ISS. Since December 2019, the unions UNISON and GMB have been running a campaign to persuade hospital chiefs to bring the outsourced services back in-house, ensuring parity for the lowest-paid key workers. Over half of the 200 staff employed by ISS were only entitled to statutory sick pay, meaning they were paid nothing at all for the first three days of sickness and just £94.25 a week thereafter. Concerns were raised about staff working in an infectious environment during the coronavirus pandemic, and potentially coming into work while ill because they could not afford to take time off. UNISON organiser Michael Etheridge said: “While this is far short of equality and what our members deserve, we will celebrate sick pay as a big victory.” Vaughan West, GMB London region organiser, said: “Our members at ISS Homerton have had huge support in their fight for equality with their NHS colleagues. The faced the same risk as their NHS colleagues and deserve parity them. The use of statutory sick pay in hospitals like Homerton is not only cruel but dangerous and irresponsible.”
UNISON news release. GMB London news release. Hackney Gazette.


TUC says workers shouldn’t be feeling the heat

More needs to be done to protect workers from the risks of working in extreme heat, the TUC has said. “Time in the sun can be enjoyable for many, but it also creates serious hazards at work,” warned TUC safety lead Shelly Asquith. In a blog posting on the union body’s website she added: “It’s not just unions being hot-headed – in the worst cases, workers can die as a result of working in heat or sun exposure. This includes some of the most serious illnesses, including skin cancer and organ failure. What’s more, scientists have recently predicted that 40 Celsius temperatures in the UK are becoming more likely. Adaptions to work, to keep people safe, are not keeping up with the rise in temperatures.” Calling for a wide range of safety measures, she said: “Heat and sun exposure should be included in workplace risk assessments – a process any employer must legally carry out. All work-related illness associated with hot weather and sun exposure should be identified as risks, with a clear outline of the action plan to mitigate against each risk.” She added that while there is no legal maximum working temperature, “there is scientific evidence showing that certain temperatures create optimal working conditions both for health and productivity,” ranging from 13°C for heavy work in factories to 20°C for offices and dining rooms. “When temperatures get above 24°C and workers feel uncomfortable, employers should attempt to reduce temperatures,” she said. “The best examples of employers taking heat and sun risks seriously are where workers have come together collectively to call for change. While we still need the law to change on maximum temperatures, there are legal obligations on employers, and power in our trade unions to demand safety measures to protect our members.”
TUC blog and guides on dealing with high temperatures in the workplace and organising for health and safety at work.

New report calls for Scottish work safety shake up

The Scottish workplace safety system needs a ‘radical’ revision, a new report has concluded. The report released this week by the Jimmy Reid Foundation, authored by Professor Andrew Watterson of the University of Stirling, argues for new principles, policies and practices that reject the “deregulation on occupational health and safety throughout Britain.” It adds “the Holyrood parliament has the opportunity to diverge in many respects from the path pursued by Westminster.” Core recommendations include “a new independent, properly resourced and staffed occupational health and safety body for Scotland”, with effective representation at board level for workers and their unions, employers, local authorities and communities. It adds a Scottish Occupational Health Service Agency (SOHSA) should be developed and mainstreamed within NHS Scotland “to end the employer driven, free market delivery of occupational health interventions deeply distrusted by workers and unions.” Professor Watterson commented: ‘The challenges presented by Covid-19 have revealed many failings in the way the UK has addressed worker health and public health; the two cannot be divided. Scotland has faced the pandemic challenge far better than the UK government. It is critical that it now builds on its work post-pandemic and improves worker health and safety through a range of measures involving health, social and economic policy changes and with recovery plans that create healthy and safe jobs across Scotland in a radical Green New Deal.”
Jimmy Reid Foundation news release and report, Occupational health and safety in Scotland after the Covid-19 pandemic: the case for new principles, policies and practices involving lessons we have forgotten, lessons we have learnt and lessons we should apply in the future, Jimmy Reid Foundation, August 2020.

Concrete company fined after worker’s death

Concrete manufacturer Treanor Pujol Ltd has been fined for criminal safety breaches linked to the death of an employee and serious injuries to a second worker in two separate incidents. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigators also identified several electrical safety failings at the Stourton, Leeds, site. Leeds Crown Court heard how on 5 June 2014 Treanor employee Mathew Fulleylove, 30, was operating a mobile saw unit on Line 12 at the factory, while another employee was operating a mobile bed cleaner on Line 11. Mr Fulleylove was standing on the footwell of the saw unit as the other machine passed on the adjacent production line. As the bed cleaner came past, Matthew’s head was crushed between the frames of the two machines and he was killed instantly. An investigation by HSE found Treanor Pujol Ltd failed to identify the risk of crushing posed by the passing machines, failed to devise a safe system of work to control this risk and failed to provide adequate training in such a procedure to employees. On 12 April 2018, in a second incident, a 47-year-old employee was operating a hooks machine trapped his hand, resulting in a fracture and partial de-gloving (stripping of the skin) of his left hand. An investigation by HSE found that the machine was not fitted with working interlocks, meaning several of the machine doors could be opened to gain access to dangerous moving parts as the machine was operating. Treanor Pujol Ltd pleaded guilty to four criminal safety offences and was fined £285,000 and ordered to pay costs of £56,324.97.
HSE news release. Construction Enquirer.

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 says 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: Cold store workers stop work over Covid concerns

Workers at JBS cold storage facility in Melbourne ceased work last week, saying they wanted safety assurances before they returned. Their union said the action was in line with the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act and came after 71 positive cases were linked to a JBS Covid-19 outbreak. The cease work move came two weeks after JBS was ordered to close by authorities. However, during this period the United Workers Union said JBS did responded to many of concerns raised by workers. The company said it would only meet with union only after workers returned to work. In a notice to the company, JBS cold storage workers told the company that “without safe systems of work and without adequate information, instruction and training” there would be a “serious and immediate threat to… health or safety, namely a high threat and degree of risk to the Covid-19 contagion.” Susie Alison, the Victorian secretary of the United Workers Union commented: “JBS has consistently failed their workforce by not communicating with their workers and by not consulting with their representatives. These workers have been battling through this crisis with almost no support. They don’t want to have gone through all that only to walk back onto the floor and catch the virus.” She added: “Workers across this country are getting wise to the way these companies think, that profit is more important than people. They are ready to fight for their safety.”
United Workers Union news release.

Global: Danone agrees to support workers post-Covid

The global food and farming union federation IUF and food multinational Danone have committed to opening negotiations on measures to support workers during and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic. A joint statement recognises that, as a priority, any future agreement will need to focus on identifying and protecting the most vulnerable workers within Danone. Criteria would include workers with low qualification levels and salaries, women and those at risk from systemic racism and discrimination. IUF said a new agreement with the firm would give priority to repositioning workers within the company in the event that employment changes are proposed. It said this “would be achieved by focusing on upskilling programmes that provide employees with new skills to facilitate internal repositioning within Danone but could also be of value and practical assistance in the broader jobs market.” It added: “During the training, which could last up to two years, Danone would guarantee that workers retain their Danone employment contracts, salaries, and relevant benefits. Implementation would be through negotiations between IUF affiliates and management at local and national level while monitoring would take place through the established mechanism used to monitor all existing IUF-Danone agreements.”
IUF news release and IUF/Danone joint statement.

USA: Reopening schools too dangerous while coronavirus lurks

Teachers and support staff at more than 35 school districts across the United States staged protests on 3 August over plans to resume in-class instruction while Covid-19 is surging in many parts of the country. The protesters, who formed car caravans and attached signs and painted messages on their vehicles, demanded schools hold off until scientific data supports a safe return. They want districts to wait until safety protocols such as lower class sizes and virus testing are established, and schools are staffed with an adequate number of counsellors and nurses, according to a website set up for the demonstrations. Coronavirus deaths are rising in 31 US states, up from 27 states a week ago, according to a Reuters analysis. More than 155,000 people have died of Covid-19 related illness in the United States, the most in the world. US president Donald Trump, who is trailing Democratic candidate Joe Biden in opinion polls, has made school reopening for classroom instruction in August and September part of his November re-election campaign. “Cases up because of BIG Testing! Much of our Country is doing very well. Open the Schools!” Trump tweeted on 3 August. The Reuters analysis indicated the rise in hospitalisations and deaths have no connection to an increase in testing.
Daily Maverick. Daily Mail. New York Times. New York Post.
Demand Safe Schools campaign.


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