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



School reopening ‘gamble’ criticised by safety advocates

A claim by the education secretary that schools must reopen because there is ‘little evidence’ of a Covid-19 transmission risk has been condemned by workplace safety advocates as an ‘unnecessary gamble’. The national Hazards Campaign was responding after Gavin Williamson said the “latest research, which is expected to be published later this year - one of the largest studies on the coronavirus in schools in the world… makes it clear there is little evidence that the virus is transmitted at school.” The education secretary is believed to be referring to a forthcoming report to be released by Public Health England (PHE). However, the Hazards Campaign points out that international studies have identified “robust spread” in high schools and “sizeable outbreaks” in schools overall. “The safe-to-return claim by Gavin Williamson is patently untrue and could drive an upturn in Covid-19 cases,” said Janet Newsham, the chair of the national Hazards Campaign. “The education secretary is either ignorant of or choosing to ignore considerable evidence of outbreak risks in schools. He is also failing to acknowledge the detrimental consequences of a ‘stop-start’ disruption to schooling and the economy as local flare-ups continue.” The Hazards Campaign is also concerned the move coincides with a relaxation of lockdown rules and government pressure for a reduction in working from home. “The government is failing to take adequate account of a simultaneous wider return to work, which our tracking of UK workplace clusters indicates could be the focus for increasing local outbreaks in offices, factories and other workplaces,” Newsham said. “We have the double jeopardy of return to schools without the essential trace-trace-isolate system in place and a return to work with oversight by workplace safety regulators at a virtual standstill.” She concluded: “Crowding kids back into these schools is an unnecessary gamble and could be counterproductive, setting back Covid-19 prevent efforts and lead to further shutdowns.” Latest PHE figures show workplace cases are an increasing proportion of overall Covid-19 infections and the great majority of cases are in working age people.
Hazards Campaign news release. Weekly Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Surveillance Report, Week 32, PHE, 7 August 2020. BBC News Online.

Studies undermine Williamson’s ‘little evidence’ claim

A series of studies, including two in the last three weeks from UK experts, have undermined claims by education secretary Gavin Williamson that there is ‘little evidence’ of a Covid-19 transmission risk in schools. A study by US and UK experts – including Muge Cevik from the NHS Lothian Infection Service – published online on 24 July found here is “evidence of robust spread of SARS-CoV-2 in high schools, and more limited spread in primary schools. Some countries with relatively large class sizes in primary schools (eg. Chile and Israel) reported sizeable outbreaks in some of those schools.” The  paper noted “these reports suggest that classroom crowding and other factors related to social distancing in classrooms/schools may play a role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in primary schools. Those findings should have implications for school openings in different age groups of children, and they suggest the need to better protect adults over the age of 60 during the community spread of SARS-CoV-2.” A further study, published on 3 August by scientists from University College London (UCL) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, found current testing and contact tracing levels are not sufficient to prevent a second wave of coronavirus after schools reopen (Risks 959). The researchers warned: “Without sufficient coverage of a test-trace-isolate strategy the UK risks a serious second epidemic peak either in December or February.”
Edward Goldstein, Marc Lipsitch, Muge Cevik, On the effect of age on the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in households, schools and the community, medRxiv preprint, 24 July 2020. doi:
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:

Clearer guidance needed on school face coverings

Parents and staff are still confused over the wearing of face coverings in schools in England, UNISON has said. The union has now written to secretary of state for education Gavin Williamson urging him to allow all school staff to be allowed to wear face coverings if they choose. UNISON also supports calls to let pupils wear face coverings too, given what it described as ‘emerging evidence’ that transmission rates among secondary school children could be equal to those for adults. Employers must also provide safety kit, such as masks where necessary, to staff found to be at higher risk of Covid-19 following an individual assessment, said UNISON. Current Department for Education guidance to schools needs an immediate review to ensure measures to protect staff, pupils and the wider community are improved, said the union. UNISON senior national officer for education Ruth Levin said: “We’re just weeks away from a return to the classroom and staff and pupils need to know where they stand. UNISON believes they should be allowed to wear face coverings if they want to. It’s a shambles from the start on what the rules are.” She added: “The government must act urgently to sort out this mess and ensure the reopening of schools is as safe as possible for staff, pupils and the public.” Teaching union NEU has also said: “It remains our view that no member of staff or pupil should be prevented from wearing a face mask if they wish to do so and we anticipate that the majority of schools and colleges will respect this.”
UNISON news release. NEU news release.

Boss demands blood from isolating school worker

A self-isolating school worker was horrified when bosses from her academy turned up at her home and bullied her into taking a Covid-19 blood test. Her union GMB said the ‘terrified’ teaching assistant, who had already requested a test from the NHS, let them take her blood – even though the NHS does not recommend home antibody test kits, as it has not been confirmed they are safe and reliable. Management then refused to show her the results - but insisted they were negative and ordered her to return to work next day. Loretta Barratt, the headteacher who ordered management to the worker’s home, then held an all-staff meeting in which she publicly breached the privacy of the worker by naming her and recounting the events of the test. The union said Dorrington Academy, where the woman worked, has failed to provide the medical training records of those who drew the blood, risk assessments, school policies around testing or consent forms to GMB, despite repeated requests. GMB organiser Michelle Harris said: “Dorrington Academy has put the health of its pupils, their families and the staff at risk by deliberately breaking a staff member’s self-isolation in order to bully them into taking an unproven test in their own home.” She added: “Sending untrained members of management to draw blood from someone in self-isolation, then allowing those managers back onto site without testing them, is playing fast and loose with the lives of the children and their families. We have a responsibility to our NHS and key workers - who have sacrificed so much for us - to abide by the rules of the lockdown and keep our children safe.”
GMB news release.

Returning teachers not told of virus safety measures

A majority of teachers returned to schools in Scotland this week without knowing what safety measures their schools are taking to deal with coronavirus, an NASUWT survey has found. Two-thirds (67 per cent) of teachers responding to the NASUWT survey did not feel prepared to return to their school/college and the vast majority (87 per cent) felt anxious about returning to their school as it reopened to all pupils. The NASUWT survey found teachers in Scotland have not been given assurances on social distancing or the provision of PPE. The survey also highlighted major concerns around the lack of consultation with teachers, especially staff who are at greatest risk from contracting Covid-19. A majority of teachers (60 per cent) were not consulted on any arrangements for opening and were not consulted (65 per cent) on risk assessments.  For extremely vulnerable groups, seven in 10 (69 per cent) had not had any contact from their employer regarding their individual risk assessment. NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “Our survey has highlighted that teachers have not been given assurances that even basic hygiene measures to help supress the virus, such as paper towels and soap and hot water, will be made available to them. This is deeply concerning and must be addressed immediately.” Jane Peckham, NASUWT national official for Scotland, said “ministers and school employers must do more to reassure parents and the schools workforce that everything is being done to minimise transmission of the virus and that rigorous safety measures and procedures are in place should any outbreaks occur.”
NASUWT news release and related news release. BBC News Online.

Most teachers concerned over Scotland schools return

The majority of teachers in Scotland still had serious concerns about Covid-19 school safety measures immediately ahead of the return of pupils to schools on 11 August. A total of 29,867 teachers took part in a survey by the union EIS, with 60 per cent expressing support for the decision to reopen schools but 66 per cent expressing anxiety and a lack of confidence that sufficient mitigations would be in place. Only 1 in 5 expressed confidence that schools are currently safe – indicating that much more needs to be done to reassure staff that schools are safe to work in, said EIS. Over half (53 per cent) expressed a lack of confidence that an established capacity to test, trace and isolate is in place to support a safe return. More than six in 10 (63 per cent) expressed support for the mandatory wearing of face coverings by senior pupils in classrooms. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “There is significant concern amongst all teachers on issues such as the large number of pupils in each class, inability to maintain social distancing, and the need for the wearing of face coverings to ensure safety in some circumstances. These concerns grow more acute based on the age of pupils being taught, with secondary teachers expressing a particularly high level of concern over the potential risks of teaching young adults for long periods of time in an enclosed classroom environment.” He said: The very clear message from these findings is that teachers are far from convinced that all necessary steps have been put in place by the Scottish government and local authorities to make schools safe.”
EIS news release and survey report.

Unite's ‘unique’ support for extremely vulnerable workers

Unite has pledged to support vulnerable workers as the UK government increases pressure for them to return to work (Risk 959). The union says an estimated 627,000 workers are deemed to be in the extremely vulnerable category. In response, Unite says its new checklist will help its workplace reps assist members who have been shielding to safely return to work where the workplace is “Covid-secure”. Unite’s checklist advises reps to ensure that employers are consulting with union reps on all aspects of the work being undertaken by extremely vulnerable workers. Unite national health and safety adviser Rob Miguel said: “Extremely vulnerable workers returning to the workplace will be tremendously nervous and will need support from their union in order to safely readjust. Given the length of time workers have been required to shield and the nature of the pandemic, employers need to be equally aware of protecting workers mental health as well as their physical health. Workers may have developed additional mental health issues and an absolute fear of returning to work.” Miguel added: “If extremely vulnerable workers returning to their workplace have any concerns about their safety they should immediately seek support and advice from their workplace reps. The checklist is an essential tool. Every workplace is different and each worker has different circumstances and vulnerabilities, a one size fits all approach is not at all acceptable in these circumstances. This is another example of trade unions showing to their members and employers that, just as we have demonstrated throughout this crisis, we are here to assist with the safe return to working and the re-opening and recovery of the economy.”
Unite news release and vulnerable workers checklist. Updated government working safely guidance.

Worker safety can’t be an afterthought - Wales TUC

Wales TUC has renewed its call for workers’ health and safety to be at the centre of plans to reopen the Welsh economy. This call from the union body came following a Welsh government press conference where international relations minister Eluned Morgan announced that rules designed to keep people safe will be enforced by the police. She also clarified that businesses flouting the rules could be forced to close. Wales TUC general secretary Shavanah Taj welcomed the announcement, but said hospitality workers mustn’t be put at risk. “We strongly welcome Welsh government’s cautious approach to easing lockdown and reopening sectors such as indoor hospitality, something we have previously called for to be done safely. We are concerned that as we reopen, some employers may ignore or place less emphasis on the health and safety of their staff… Ministers cannot always rely on employers to do the right thing, so we are encouraged by Welsh government’s tough stance on bad bosses.” She added: “Workers’ health matters more than profit. Trade unions’ work with Welsh government is key to understanding where employers are not complying with guidance and are putting workers, and the public, at risk. Our confidential whistleblowing form has already received hundreds of responses since the start of lockdown, from people working across Wales in many different industries.” At a 4 August Welsh government press briefing, Eluned Morgan said new enforcement powers “will allow us, local authorities and the police to take action if some people’s behaviour becomes a threat to other people's health. Changes to those powers this week will mean that this includes closing premises if it's necessary.”
Wales TUC news release, related news release and confidential whistleblowers form. Keep Wales safe at work guidance. Daily Post. ITV News.

Concern at spate of Swindon workplace outbreaks

A Tesco Extra store has become the latest Swindon workplace to see staff test positive for coronavirus. The news comes after an Iceland distribution centre, a Royal Mail depot, the Honda car factory and workers at the town's fire station were also found to have the Covid-19 infection. Swindon is on the government's coronavirus watchlist after a recent rise in cases centred around an Iceland supermarket distribution centre. Tesco said the affected staff at an Extra store are now self-isolating. A spokesperson for Swindon Borough Council's Public Health department said: “We are aware of the very small number of Covid-19 cases affecting staff at the Tesco store,” adding: “All staff affected are self-isolating in accordance with government guidance.” On 31 July, it was revealed 64 people had tested positive for coronavirus at the Iceland supermarket distribution centre in Swindon. The borough council confirmed a further 13 staff had tested positive at the site run by XPO Logistics, which has 750 workers. Commenting at the time, Unite said some employees, 150 of whom are self-isolating, were afraid to return to the premises. Unite’s John McGookin commented: “Let's be honest, if you've had the number of cases that this site has had in a small town, you'd be seriously thinking of quarantining the site.” He added: “We have no idea why they [XPO Logistics] have not done that. They are not communicating with us.” On 22 July, it was confirmed a Royal Mail depot which had closed for a deep clean after two workers tested positive for Covid-19 had reopened. Royal Mail said the building had undergone an “intensive clean” and the majority of staff had returned. Public health officials confirmed there had also been a ‘small outbreak’ at the town’s Honda car plant. And Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service said three firefighters had tested positive.
BBC News Online on the Tesco, Iceland and Royal Mail outbreaks. The Mirror. Daily Star. Swindon Advertiser.

Smell and taste loss points to high NHS worker infections

A large proportion of UK healthcare workers may already have been infected with Covid-19, according to new research led by the University of East Anglia in collaboration with University College London (UCL). In May, Public Health England added loss of taste or smell (anosmia) to the list of tell-tale symptoms for Covid-19. The research published on 6 August in The Lancet Microbe found a high prevalence of anosmia cases among healthcare workers between mid-February and mid-April. Senior author Prof Carl Philpott, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Smell loss as a symptom of Covid-19 is particularly important for healthcare professionals because they are at the frontline of pandemic – and at high risk of both contracting and spreading the virus.” The research team distributed questionnaires to staff at London’s Barts Health NHS Trust – one of the largest NHS trusts in the UK. The questionnaire was completed by 262 healthcare workers in the week 17-23 April. At this time, 73 (27.9 per cent) of the participants had been tested for Covid-19, with 56 of these (76.7 per cent) confirmed positive. Prof Philpot said: “The really interesting thing that we found was that 168 of the participants – nearly two-thirds – said that they had lost their sense of smell or taste at some point between mid-February and mid-April. We also found a strong association between smell loss and the positive Covid-19 test results, with those who had lost their sense of smell being almost five times more likely to test positive. This suggests that a large proportion of healthcare workers may have already been infected with Covid-19, with only mild symptoms.” The professor concluded: “Cases like this most likely went undiagnosed at the time because of a lack of awareness about smell loss as a symptom. This is really important because healthcare professionals are at the frontline of the pandemic and are at high risk of both contracting and spreading coronavirus. There is a need for awareness and early recognition of anosmia as a means to identify, urgently test and isolate affected healthcare workers in order to prevent further spread of disease.” A international evaluation published last month concluded recent loss of smell was the best predictor of Covid-19 infection.
UEA news release. Matt Lechner, Nicholas Counsell, Jacklyn Liu, Valerie J Lund, Sam Jayaraj and Carl Philpot. Anosmia/hyposmia in healthcare workers with a SARS-CoV-2 infection, The Lancet Microbe, 6 August 2020.
Richard C Gerkin and others. The best COVID-19 predictor is recent smell loss: a cross-sectional study, medRxiv preprint, 26 July 2020. doi:

Concern over fatigue and anxiety levels in NHS staff

The mental and physical health of staff will be a major concern for leaders of NHS trusts as they prepare for the next phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, a report has concluded. The report from the NHS Confederation, the body that represents NHS organisations, is based on interviews with 13 trust chief executives conducted in May and June. It found that trust leaders were concerned about the long-term effects that Covid-19 could have on the mental and physical health of their staff. High levels of anxiety and fatigue among staff were reported by all trust leaders, but particularly by those with a high proportion of ethnic minority staff, who felt extremely anxious. Chief executives also said that many staff were currently working “on adrenaline” and that it would not be long until fatigue set in, which they recognised would cause further challenges. “As trusts move into the next phase of the Covid-19 response, the leaders we spoke to felt it imperative to continue to support staff,” the report said. Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the report highlighted the many positive changes that had come about during the pandemic but “reveals the huge strain that has been placed on staff and the challenge NHS leaders face in ensuring staff in their organisations get the right psychological and other support that they will need.” 
NHS Confederation news release. BMJ news.

Surgeons told not to discuss lack of PPE

Surgeons were told by their NHS employers to stop discussing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus crisis, a survey has found. The Confederation of British Surgery (CBS) said almost 70 surgeons working in major hospitals around the country – over 1-in-10 of those surveyed - had been warned off discussing a lack of PPE by their trust. A third of surgeons said the supply of PPE was inadequate at their hospital, with many complaining of inconsistent guidance, rationing of supplies and poor quality PPE when it was available. The CBS findings are based on responses from 650 surgeons. Professor John MacFie, president of the CBS and a consultant colorectal surgeon, said: “The level of dissatisfaction with the lack of preparation for the crisis, and perceived disregard for healthcare workers’ safety was such, that one in twelve of all respondents are considering changing their discipline or leaving the field of surgery altogether. That, in fact, is a figure that should be horrifying to all.” Nigel Mercer, a founding member of the CBS, said “it is clear that both patients and staff remain very concerned about post-surgery Covid security. Maximising new technology and especially testing and track and trace are essential for safety in perioperative care.” Health care unions have warned since the early stages of the pandemic response about problems with the supply of suitable PPE.
The Independent.

Benefits staff in safety action ballot

Members of the civil service union PCS are being balloted for industrial action over government plans to extend working hours in Universal Credit service centres and jobcentres. The union said despite tens of thousands of its members working “flat out during lockdown” to support claimants, they now face “ministers insisting jobcentres should open to the public, including beyond normal office hours without consulting us or doing a proper risk assessment.” As a result, PCS decided to run a consultative ballot “to get the views of all union members working in jobcentres and the 21 Universal Credit service centres.” The union, which is urging members to back action, says safety is a key concern, noting “during a global pandemic, with many eminent scientists predicting a second wave of Covid-19 in the winter months and as evidence grows of a rise in infection rates, we believe it is wrong to extend operating hours, or to reopen jobcentres to the public at this time as it would be putting the safety of our members at risk.” Commenting on the government plan, the union added: “PCS does not accept that there is evidence of any customer demand for DWP to extend operating hours to 8pm or on Saturdays from the end of November… Appallingly DWP only gave PCS 48 hours’ notice in advance of the announcement to extend operating hours and has made clear that it does not intend to meaningfully consult with your union to justify their decision and plan to impose it.”
PCS news release.

PR workers face stress and abuse during pandemic

More than threequarters of public relations (PR) workers have been working longer than usual hours during the pandemic, with almost four out of five feeling more stressed than usual. Two-thirds told their union NUJ they have suffered abuse or had to deal with abuse because of their employer’s work during the pandemic. The NUJ's public relations and communications council (PRCC) survey carried out in July found the pandemic has had a significant impact on the work of PR workers, a field of work where many are not union members. NUJ PRCC chair Phil Morcom said: “It is worrying to see that so many are having to work far beyond expectations while facing abuse and feeling stress. As the likelihood of home working appears likely to continue for many, it is clear PR workers need continued management support and the right resources to protect their health.” He added: “Standing up for yourself in the workplace can be difficult, which is why union membership is so important, offering the chance of representation and back-up when you need your rights respected. Making sure your rights are maintained when there are threats of redundancy or changes to working practices is so much easier if you have effective representation.”
NUJ news release.


Concern as ex-Tory minister takes the helm at HSE

In a break with convention, a former Conservative minister has been appointed as the new chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Sarah Newton was minister for safety under the tenure of both Amber Rudd and Esther McVey as secretary of state at the Department of Work and Pensions (Risks 826). She stood down as an MP in the November 2019 election. In taking the post, which pays £84,000 plus generous expenses for a three-day week, the government has broken with a practice that saw the safety regulators chair come from either a trade union or employer background. The previous two chairs, Judith Hackitt and outgoing chair Martin Temple, came directly to the job from positions in business lobby groups. Newton is the first former minister to take the role. Janet Newsham, chair of the national Hazards Campaign said the move confirmed a worrying drift towards the political ‘capture’ of HSE. “The Tory party has starved and neutered HSE over the last decade, and Sarah Newton as a former safety minister and MP is complicit in this disaster. These are not safe hands,” she said. “Tory appointments to the HSE board have already seen it dominated by business interests, but this shift represents a new level of government contempt for HSE’s crucial regulatory role.” Commenting on her appointment, Sarah Newton said: “As we move out of the nationwide lockdown and learn to live with Covid-19, the role of the HSE has never been more critical. I am looking forward to working with the HSE non-executive and executive leadership team, tackling the challenges, building on the strengths of the organisation and working in partnership with employers, unions, trade associations, professional bodies, academics and others, enabling Great Britain to work safely and well.” The cuts imposed by the Conservative government (Risks 945) have been identified by politicians, unions (Risks 948) and safety academics (Risks 946) as a major factor responsible for HSE being an “absentee regulator” that has failed to meet effectively the challenges posed by Covid-19 (Risks 958).
DWP news release, public appointment details and Sarah Newton biography. IOSH news release.

Don’t let workers get overheated, warned TUC

Employers must ensure staff are protected from the sun and heat, the TUC has said. Commenting after temperatures in parts of the UK soared, the union body warned working in hot weather can lead to dehydration, tiredness, muscle cramps, rashes, fainting, and – in extreme cases – loss of consciousness and death. There is no maximum working temperatures, however during working hours the temperature in all indoor workplaces must be ‘reasonable’. The TUC wants a change in the law to introduce a new maximum indoor temperature, set at 30 Celsius – or 27 Celsius for those doing strenuous jobs – with employers obliged to adopt cooling measures when the workplace temperature hits 24 degrees. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said “working in sweltering conditions can be unbearable and dangerous. Employers must make sure outdoor workers are protected with regular breaks, lots of fluids, plenty of sunscreen and the right protective clothing. Indoor workplaces should be kept cool, with relaxed dress codes and flexible working to make use of the coolest hours of the day.” The TUC leader added: “Safe use of PPE in hot weather is especially important. Staff will need extra breaks to cool down if their equipment reduces ventilation and makes the hot weather harder to handle. Many offices have air conditioning, but few people have it in their homes. Lots of staff still need to work from home, so they may struggle to work during the hottest parts of the day. Employers should allow flexible hours to work when it's cooler.”
TUC news release, blog and guide on dealing with high temperatures in the workplace. Personnel Today.
Sign the TUC petition: Tell Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, we need a maximum working temperature.

Action call on ‘extreme heat’ risk to crane drivers

The extreme heat of recent days could be putting crane drivers at risk, their union Unite has warned. The construction union is calling for immediate action to be taken to support the workforce, writing to the UK’s largest construction companies to seek assurances that safety measures are in place to ensure that tower crane operators are not being placed at risk due to high temperatures. Unite issued its call as temperatures soared on 7 August (Risks 959). It said while responsible contractors will ensure that most construction workers receive extra breaks to guard against heat stress, this often does not apply to tower crane operators who often only receive one break during a 10-hour shift. The union said the vast majority of cranes are not fitted with air conditioning, meaning that in hot weather they become glorified “greenhouses” putting tower crane operators at “extreme risk” of heat stress and undermining their ability to concentrate in a job that demands total accuracy at all times. Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “It is imperative that crane operators are fully protected against extreme heat while at work. Unite has written to the largest construction contractors seeking assurances that minimum standards are in place to ensure that the health of tower crane operators is being protected.” He added: “If a tower crane operator suffers from heat stress, not only is their own health being put at risk but if they are involved in an accident the entire site could be in danger. The long-term solution is for all tower crane cabs to be air conditioned. In the short term, drivers must receive additional breaks, which begin when they reach the canteen, a fridge or cooler is installed in the cab and sufficient quantities of bottled water are freely supplied.”
Unite news release. Construction Enquirer. HSE temperature guidance.


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.


Global: Beirut explosion shows lessons forgotten

A devastating port warehouse explosion in Beirut has exposed how well-known major workplace risks continue to be ignored with devastating consequences. The 4 August blast in the Lebanese capital killed over 200 and injured thousands and occurred when tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate exploded. The tragedy came seven years after one of the deadliest fertiliser plant explosions in US history partly levelled the rural town of West, Texas, killing 15. Ten of those killed were firefighters or first responders. “I don’t know what people were thinking about storing that stuff,” town mayor Tommy Muska told the Associated Press after the Beirut tragedy. He was a volunteer firefighter at the time of the West explosion. Both blasts involved massive stockpiles of ammonium nitrate, a common but highly explosive chemical, and swift allegations that negligence and weak government oversight were to blame. The investigation in Lebanon is focusing on how a reported 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate came to be stored at the facility for six years and why nothing was done about it. The chemical had been stored at the port since it was confiscated from a ship in 2013. It is believed to have detonated when a fire started nearby, although can ignite spontaneously if improperly stored. “We don’t seem to learn that chemical is deadly,” Muska said. “I feel for those people in Beirut, I surely do. It brought back a lot of memories.” Last year, the Trump administration scaled back chemical safety measures that included ending a requirement that plants provide members of the public information about chemical risks upon request. Chemical manufacturers had pushed for the changes. A week after the Beirut explosion, Lebanon’s under-fire government collapsed.
BBC News Online. AP News. WNBG News 12. The Guardian and related story.
FBU news release. Nautilus news release. US Lebanon Embassy news release. HSE ammonium nitrate webpages. IndustriALL ammonium nitrate briefing and statement.

Global: Covid led to ‘brutal crackdown’ on workers’ rights

Some of Europe’s biggest retailers are standing by while Covid-19 is used as a pretext for union busting and other workplace abuses, human rights activists have warned. A new report, from the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), portrays an “emerging and widespread pattern of supplier factories appearing to target unionised workers for dismissal”. Thulsi Narayanasamy, senior labour rights lead at BHRRC, said: “Workers face a brutal crackdown when exercising their most fundamental rights, and brands aren’t stepping up enough to ensure workers in their supply chains are protected. Threatening the right to organise collectively and be part of a trade union at such a critical time… stops them from being able to ensure they are paid wages, are safe at work and free from harassment.” The report looks in detail at several ongoing disputes between unionised workers and managers in factories in India, Myanmar, Cambodia, Bangladesh and India. In every case it is alleged that big name brands should have been more active in ensuring workers were not punished or targeted for being union members. Several of the companies named in the report, including Primark, Levi Strauss, Inditex, H&M and Mango, all stressed in responses to the BHRCC and the Guardian that they are committed to protecting workers’ rights to join and form unions and bargain collectively.
Union busting and unfair dismissals: Garment workers during Covid-19, BHRRC, August 2020. The Guardian.

Netherlands: Ventilation system spread led to outbreak

A Covid-19 outbreak at a Dutch retirement home that affected large numbers of staff and residents was spread by the ventilation system, a leaked official study has indicated. The report by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment into the incident in Maassluis, in the western Netherlands, provides additional evidence of the risks posed by ‘airborne transmission’ of the disease (Risks 955). Its findings were revealed by the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant and 1Vandaag, a current affairs show, and focused on a retirement home where in June almost an entire ward of patients was infected. Despite staff wearing face masks continuously except for lunch breaks, 18 workers were also infected. When a newly installed air ventilation system was inspected, the health authorities found large quantities of the virus on the mesh covering air intake and extraction units and in its filters. “There is simply no other explanation possible, this is how everybody there got infected, all at the same time, through aerosols,” said Maurice de Hond, a data specialist who has criticised the Dutch health authorities for ignoring aerosol or airborne spread. “We need to realise this before autumn comes and more people will gather indoors.” According to De Volkskrant, three days after the report was published internally, the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment changed its official Covid-19 guidance to “avoid recirculation of air in spaces where several people are present, and refresh the air as often as possible.”
New York Times. De Volkskrant (in Dutch).

USA: Distancing key to preventing workplace outbreaks

Working too close to your colleagues is the main factor linked to major workplace Covid-19 outbreaks, new studies have shown. Two reports in the 7 August 2020 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) examine outbreaks at US meat processing plants. An outbreak in a South Dakota plant in March and April 2020 saw 929 workers infected, representing just over 25 per cent of workforce. Two employees died and 210 further cases were identified in contacts of the infected workers. The report of the study in MMWR, published by the US government’s Centers for Disease Control, noted: “The Cut, Conversion, and Harvest department-groups, in which numerous employees tended to work <6 feet (2 meters) from one another on the production line, experienced the highest attack rates. Salaried employees, who typically had workstations that could be adjusted to maintain distancing and did not work in close proximity to other employees on the production line, had a lower attack rate than did nonsalaried employees.” In an outbreak at a Nebraska plant in April and May, 1,216 meat processing facility workers were tested, with 375 (31 per cent) returning positive results. The MMWR report on this outbreak noted: “That nearly one half of interviewed workers worked in close proximity to others highlights the need for physical barriers between workers, physical distancing throughout the facility (especially locations prone to crowding, such as production areas and cafeterias or break areas), and consistent and correct use of masks to reduce transmission in the workplace in this critical industry.”
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), volume 69, number 31, 7 August 2020. COVID-19 Outbreak Among Employees at a Meat Processing Facility — South Dakota, March–April 2020 and Notes from the Field: Characteristics of Meat Processing Facility Workers with Confirmed SARS-CoV-2 Infection — Nebraska, April–May 2020.


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