Toggle high contrast
Issue date

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



Face coverings u-turn for England’s secondary schools

Secondary pupils will have to wear masks in school corridors in local lockdown areas of England, after the government reversed its guidance. Headteachers in any secondary school will also have the “flexibility” to introduce masks in their schools. Education secretary Gavin Williamson said the shift follows advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that was updated last week. It also follows repeat demands from unions for clarity on the issue (Risks 960). The Department for Education said that, for most areas of England, it is keeping its recommendation against using face coverings - but that schools will be able to make their own decision whether to ask pupils and staff to wear them. This will apply in ‘communal areas’ of schools such as corridors, where it is difficult to have social distancing, and when schools “believe that is right in their particular circumstances”. But in parts of the country with high levels of coronavirus transmission, such as those with local lockdown measures, the wearing of masks will be compulsory in such communal areas for adults and pupils. But it will still not be necessary to wear face coverings in the classroom, where “protective measures already mean the risks are lower, and where they can inhibit learning.” The new guidelines, which apply from 1 September, also warn that “stricter guidance” on face coverings could apply to all schools “if the rate of transmission increases across the whole country.” GMB said the u-turn showed why ministers must learn to listen to workers. NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney welcomed the move but said in its updated guidance “WHO called for staff aged over-60 or otherwise vulnerable and who work closely with children, to wear medical-grade masks,” a message he said the government should also heed.
Department for Education news release. Q&A: Children and masks related to COVID-19, WHO, 21 August 2020. NEU news release. GMB news release. BBC News Online and related story. The Guardian.

Government ‘negligent’ on school return safety rules

Unions have reacted angrily to claims that coronavirus is more likely to be spread by teachers than pupils, warning that everyone has a responsibility to try to avoid bringing Covid-19 into school and transmitting it to others. The union comments follow a report by Public Health England (PHE) and the Chief Medical Officer, trailed two weeks ago by the government (Risks R960), which found that though Covid-19 outbreaks were “uncommon” in English schools after they reopened in June, the virus was more likely to be spread by staff than pupils. PHE detected 67 single cases and 30 outbreaks - defined as 2 or more linked cases - in schools across England in June. The majority of cases identified were linked to outbreaks among staff, who were warned to be “more vigilant” regarding exposure outside school. Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of teaching union NEU, said the report by PHE “acknowledges there are limitations on the generalisability of its findings - both because there was little data from secondary schools and because in primary schools much smaller ‘bubble’ sizes were possible in the summer.” Accusing the government of being “negligent in the extreme,” he warned “school staff, parents and pupils are being sorely let down by government because of a lack of a Plan B and of ensuring robust track, trace and test is in place throughout the country. Schools and colleges need to know what should happen if an outbreak of the virus occurs in individual schools or more widely with either national, regional or local spikes.” He said: “Government should be employing more teachers and seeking extra teaching spaces to allow education to continue in a Covid secure manner if infections rise.” Patrick Roach, the general secretary of NASUWT, said: “As with any workplace, school employers must also focus their attention on the controls needed to minimise the virus being spread amongst staff.” UNISON’s Jon Richards said the PHE report’s “acknowledgement of the transmission risk between staff in schools underlines why it’s vital they should be able to wear face coverings.”
Prime minister’s office news release. PHE news release. NEU news release. NASUWT news release and related release. UNISON news release. The Guardian. Morning Star. Evening Standard.

Union calls for on-site testing of school staff

GMB Scotland has called for routine on-site coronavirus testing of school staff. The union is urging the Scottish government to bring forward a Covid testing regime for every school in the country. It followed a survey of its members indicating two-thirds of school support staff do not feel safe at work. The Scottish government said staff can access a test if they believe they may have been infected. The GMB Scotland call came after a spate of school outbreaks. Kingspark School in Dundee was closed last week after 27 cases were linked to the school - 21 staff members, two pupils and four community contacts. The union has written to deputy first minister John Swinney, urging him to give school staff the opportunity to access Covid testing in their workplace - similar to the system for care homes. A letter to the minister from the union's senior organiser, Drew Duffy, noted: “Testing kits should be delivered to every education setting on a weekly basis and staff have the choice to get a routine test in their workplace.” A GMB Scotland survey of 1,400 members - support staff including cleaners, janitors, caterers and pupil support assistants - found almost two-thirds (63 per cent) do not feel safe at their work, over one-fifth (23 per cent) have confirmed a suspected or positive case of Covid at work, and just under half (46 per cent) would not know what to do if there was a suspect or confirmed case of Covid at their work. GMB Scotland organiser Helen Meldrum said: “You cannot have a safe return to full-time education if a significant chunk of the workforce needed do not feel sufficiently safe, valued or heard by our decision-makers, and that's why we urged the deputy first minister to intervene now.” On 24 August, it was reported that one member of staff and two pupils had tested positive at High Blantyre Primary School in South Lanarkshire. Deputy first minister John Swinney announced this week that all secondary school pupils in Scotland will have to wear masks from 31 August, a move welcomed by teaching union EIS.
Tayside Cares update. Scottish government news release. EIS news release. BBC News Online, related story and story on the South Lanarkshire outbreak. The Independent.

Prediction of ‘explosion in work cases’ proved right

The workplace is emerging as the new frontline for Covid-19 spread, after the UK government and health agencies ignored warnings on the dangers of a rush back to work, occupational health experts have warned. Janet Newsham, the chair of the union-backed national Hazards Campaign, which is tracking workplace outbreaks, said the organisation had earlier raised concerns about the unsafe opening of workplaces, including schools. “While the community transmission is so high reopening of schools will massively increase contacts between potentially infected individuals and will lead to pressure for more people to return to workplaces, greatly increasing risks,” she said. The campaign’s analysis of Public Health England (PHE) figures shows that over the last five weeks the ‘workplace’ has emerged as the second most common site of Covid-19 ‘situations/incidents’, trailing only care homes. PHE’s definition of workplaces does not include work-related Covid incidents in hospitals, schools or prisons, so under-estimates the real extent of work-related cases. The campaign warns that evidence elsewhere, including France and Germany, shows workplaces are the ‘new frontline’ for virus spread. The report notes: “The Covid-19 workplace clusters that are now appearing all over the country, are being put down to individuals breaking the rules, but when that coincides with workplaces closing down, mass testing of workers and mass positive results of the same workers, then this is uncontrolled transmission of the virus in workplaces, especially where workers are working inside buildings with an aerosol risk of transmission.”
Hazards Campaign report. National COVID-19 surveillance report: 14 August 2020 (week 33) and National COVID-19 surveillance report: 21 August 2020 (week 34), PHE.

Virus risks fuelled by ‘shoddy’ guidance and HSE cuts

Unions have condemned official inaction on workplace Covid-19 risks. The unions were speaking out after the national Hazards Campaign revealed workplaces are suffering ‘an explosion’ of Covid cases because the government ignored warnings not to rush Britain back to work. Sarah Woolley, general secretary of the bakers’ union BFAWU, accused the government of issuing “shoddy misleading guidance.” She told the Morning Star: “The pandemic has hit on the back of a decade of austerity and has rendered the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) useless in dealing with employers who are following the government guidelines but failing to remember or adhere to their legal duties under health and safety legislation.” She said: “To add insult to injury, many essential workers who experience symptoms are then penalised for doing the right thing and staying at home to self-isolate by being paid statutory sick pay, which is not fit for purpose.” Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the civil service union PCS, said: “Boris Johnson’s handling of the corona pandemic has been calamitous. Recent Cabinet Office advice for civil servants returning to the workplace goes against the principles of health and safety legislation… the government have not compelled individual departments to negotiate with the union on returning to work, disregarding basic health and safety law.” Sheffield Trade Union Council secretary Martin Mayer said: “Here in Sheffield, there are plenty of examples of bad bosses forcing their employees back to work when it’s not safe to do so.” He added: “Workers who refuse to come back are dismissed or their zero hours contract remains literally just that — zero hours.”
Morning Star.

HSE hampered by ‘chronic’ resource shortages

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors “have been let down by a chronic lack of resources”, the safety regulator’s inspectors have warned. Neil Hope-Collins and Geoff Fletcher, both experienced HSE field inspectors and members of the union Prospect, said when Covid-19 hit they “did not stop regulating workplaces. Initially working remotely (including via video calls) [Risks 948] and then through in-person site visits. But there are only 390 full-time equivalent band 3 (main grade) inspectors for the whole of mainland UK. That is just not enough.” In a blog posting on Prospect’s website, they note: “HSE just doesn’t have the capacity to fulfil public and political expectations in these high-profile areas and maintain meaningful activity in other places. There just aren’t enough suitably qualified and experienced staff, and it takes at least five years to train an inspector. This capacity isn’t a tap the country can just turn on overnight.” The £14 million one-year-only funding boost announced by the prime minister in May (Risks 947), had by 2 July seen just £4m spent on “additional call centre capacity from a private contractor.” Hope-Collins and Fletcher note: “Prospect supports and sympathises with HSE. Covid has lifted the curtain. It is now clear for all to see that years of underfunding has left HSE without the capacity to fulfil public or politicians’ expectations.” They concluded: “No one should turn away funding when it is offered but £14 million this year only for fixed-term contracts does not fix chronic under-investment [Risks 956]. We’ll continue to campaign for the resources so that HSE can do its job effectively, which is in the interests of everyone in the UK.”
Prospect blog.

Workers ‘sacked workers for raising Covid-19 concerns’

British Cables Company has sacked workers for raising Covid-19 safety concerns, the GMB has said. GMB members Steve Saxon and Mark Vernon expressed worries about management’s lax attitude to workers’ wellbeing after a member of staff tested positive for Covid-19 in April. The pair also contacted their GMB union official, highlighting several breaches of government rules by the company. GMB said both workers have now been dismissed. Shaun Buckley, GMB organiser, said: “Steve and Mark have been sacked for daring to speak out – for daring to try and keep them, their colleagues and the public at large safe. It’s outrageous.” He added: “GMB vows to fight this injustice and will continue to highlight the need for companies to adhere to Covid-19 guidance to keep its members safe at work.” It is illegal to discipline or victimise workers for raising genuine workplace safety concerns, or for refusing to undertake work where there is a ‘reasonable belief of serious or imminent danger’ (Risks 947).
GMB news release. About Manchester.
Resources: Worksmart guidance on the Employment Relations Act and Pubic Interest Disclosure Act. Section 44 and Section 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. TUC/HSE Covid-19 concerns reporting form. Trade union reps can report coronavirus related concerns to the HSE by email, to

Thousands told to self-isolate after factory outbreak

Families of workers at a chicken factory hit with a large Covid-19 outbreak have been told to stay at home and self-isolate until the end of the month. Health bosses issued the 20 August urgent update to restrictions in place at the 2 Sisters plant in Coupar Angus. All 900 staff at the plant were told to enter quarantine after an outbreak of the virus last week (Risks 961). The official guidance from the multi-agency Tayside Cares noted: “Factory workers and their household members, including children, must stay at home from Monday, 17 August until Monday, 31 August 2020.” On 20 August, it was reported 43 people connected to the factory had tested positive for the virus - 37 of whom are workers and six their contacts. First minister Nicola Sturgeon described these cases as “a significant cluster”. However, within days that figure was revised sharply upwards. By 25 August, 134 employees at the factory had tested positive, plus 18 of their contacts. In response, NHS Tayside issued ‘an urgent change in advice’. Dr Emma Fletcher, associate director of public health with the health board, said: “This is a critical change to our advice this evening. We are putting in place this extra measure to help prevent further spread of the infection in the community.” She added: “A large proportion of the workforce has already come forward for testing which is excellent but we would strongly encourage all workers who have not yet been tested to take up this offer, even if they don’t have any symptoms. We continue to work closely with the factory and local authority colleagues to ensure that all workers have the right information and support to access testing.” Unite Scotland welcomed a decision by 2 Sisters on 25 August to pay all workers at the plant full pay for the 14-day self-isolation period “following constructive talks with the trade union.”
Unite news release. Scottish government news release. NHS Tayside news release. Tayside Cares alert. BBC News Online. The Herald. The Courier.

Norfolk chicken processing plant staff test positive

Seven workers at a Norfolk chicken processing plant have tested positive for coronavirus and five more are isolating as they await test results. The outbreak at Banham Poultry in Attleborough was announced on 25 August by Louise Smith, the director of public health at Norfolk County Council. Several hundred people work at the plant. The council said it has been working with Public Health England (PHE), the NHS and Breckland Council. “We are monitoring the situation and taking action to prevent further transmission both at the site and in the community,” Ms Smith said. “Testing of a further number of staff is being arranged at the Banham Poultry site... as a precautionary measure.” Blaine van Rensburg, managing director of Banham Poultry, said: “The safety of our staff, customers and the wider public is really important to us and we are working with public health authorities to make sure we are doing absolutely everything we can and following all of the correct procedures. The business remains open and operating and we are doing everything we can to prevent the further spread of the virus.”
Eastern Daily Press. Diss Express. BBC News Online.

Meat processor hit by outbreak at second plant

A second plant operated by the UK meat processing firm Cranswick plc had been hit by a Covid-19 outbreak. The Ballymena pork processing plant of the company, which has its HQ in Hull, closed last week for mass testing of its 500 staff after a “significant” outbreak in which 35 workers tested positive for Covid-19. The move come less than three months after the company confirmed three workers at its food processing facility in Wombwell, Barnsley had died after testing positive for Covid-19 (Risks 949). The company, which has annual revenue approaching £1.5bn, said there had been nine confirmed cases at the South Yorkshire plant. Commenting on 21 August on the latest outbreak, Cranswick said it is requiring staff who have tested negative to self-isolate for 14 days - which is likely to mean that the factory will be shut for that period. Unite said it is seeking reassurance that sent-home staff will not lose pay. The union’s regional officer Liam Gallagher said the meat processing sector had been badly hit in the pandemic. “This latest outbreak in Cranswick shows that the issues in the sector have still not been addressed, despite the risks being highlighted since May,” he said. “In particular, Unite has consistently called for a significant increase in unannounced inspections by the HSE, along with other transparent and robust enforcement measures.” Last week, Cranswick plc reported its revenue rose in the first quarter of the 2021 financial year to 27 June due to higher home consumption during the pandemic, and that the positive trend has been continuing in the second quarter. Revenue for the first quarter was 24.8 per cent per cent ahead of the same period last year.
Proactive Investors. Belfast Telegraph. Market Watch. Cranswick plc first quarter trading statement.

Work Covid-19 payouts stop welfare benefits

The families of low-paid frontline NHS and social care workers who die from Covid-19 will be stripped of eligibility for welfare benefits if they receive a payout under the government’s Covid-19 compensation scheme. Under the NHS and Social Care Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme, the £60,000 lump sum breaches capital limits rules for most benefits, meaning that the recipient would be unable to claim universal credit, housing benefit or pension credit. According to the Guardian, “at least” 540 frontline health and social care workers are estimated to have died from coronavirus in England and Wales alone since the beginning of the pandemic, including doctors, nurses, porters, care home workers and paramedics. The figure is widely regarded as a significant under-estimate. UNISON general secretary, Dave Prentis, said: “Taking away the income of families in need makes no sense. These payments are meant to provide financial security when it’s needed most, not be an excuse to make savings elsewhere. Ministers must fix this to ensure the loved ones of health and care workers who lost their lives are provided for properly.” Most workers infected while doing their jobs have no access to state compensation, as Covid-19 is not recognised as a ‘prescribed occupational disease’ under the DWP’s industrial diseases disablement scheme. Several other countries have introduced more broad-based schemes, open to a much wider range of affected workers and not limited to only those who die of Covid-19.
The Guardian.


Call to allow disabled workers to work from home

Disabled employees working from home during lockdown say they have been more productive and took fewer days off sick than when they were doing their jobs in the office, according to a UNISON survey. The union is now calling on the government to give disabled people a new right to work from home if they wish and for employers to face penalties if they don’t comply. The right under equality laws to ‘reasonable adjustments’ to reduce the effect of a disability should include working from home, but UNISON has been told by workers that many employers argue this doesn’t count as a reasonable change to their employment arrangements. Figures released by the union, based on responses from more than 4,000 disabled workers across the UK, show that half worked from home during the Covid-19 crisis. This is a huge increase on the 1-in-20 (5 per cent) who say they usually do this. The survey found that nearly threequarters (73 per cent) of disabled staff felt they were more or as productive working from home compared to their pre-lockdown place of work. Many of those who felt they were more productive said they were taking fewer sick days as they were able to manage their condition better. As part of its campaign, UNISON this week hailed a  ‘major victory’, after the Department for Work and Pensions announced that new help will be available to disabled people who are working at home, with the Access to Work scheme extended to include support for specialist equipment, travel costs and mental health. The union had called for the extension in a July meeting with Treasury officials. UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “For those who want to do their job from home, it’s time to give disabled workers a new right to do so.” Fifty of the biggest UK employers questioned by the BBC have said they have no plans to return all staff to the office full-time in the near future. Off these, 24 firms said they had no plans in place to return workers to the office. However, 20 have opened their offices for staff unable to work from home.
UNISON news release and related news release. BBC News Online.

NHS Scotland workers at 'breaking point'

Scotland’s health service workforce is at ‘breaking point’, a union survey had found. The findings of the Unite Scotland survey of NHS Scotland workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, found a large majority of workers are suffering in the face of acute staff shortages, regularly work beyond their contracted hours and don’t feel valued by their employer. The survey, completed by 2,198 Unite Scotland member between 24 June to 31 July, found: 83 per cent frequently or sometimes experience staff shortages; 79 per cent regularly or occasionally work beyond their contracted hours; and over half (51 per cent) don’t feel valued. Unite regional officer James O’Connell said: “The scale of the problem is unsustainable and the workforce is at breaking point. Worryingly more than half don’t feel valued at all by their employer or the Scottish government, despite the public praise being lavished upon them. There is a widespread belief that the work they do is being paid lip service and just isn’t being valued in the way that it should be.” He added: “Urgently addressing these issues must be a priority for the cabinet secretary for health. A key element has to be the re-opening of the NHS pay award from 2018, which expressly allowed for talks to begin if the circumstances changed. It’s our hope that what thousands of NHS Scotland workers have told us in this survey should facilitate immediate talks on how we can ensure the NHS Scotland workforce are properly valued, resourced and supported in their day to day roles particularly for all that they have done during this pandemic.” 
Unite news release. Morning Star.

Midwives missing out on breaks, report reveals

Overworked midwives are missing meals and loo breaks while at work as they do not have enough time to take them, union research has revealed. Midwives are also working additional unpaid hours, on top of long shifts, according to a survey of 980 professionals in England carried out by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM). More than a fifth are working at least five extra hours each week for no pay to keep maternity services running. During a typical working week, 87 per cent of midwives delay going to the toilet because they do not have enough time, and 77 per cent skip meals, including more than 25 per cent who do so always or most of the time. More than half said that they feel dehydrated most or all of the time at work because they do not have enough time to get a drink, and 37 per cent never or rarely take the breaks to which they are entitled. RCM employment relations adviser Alice Sorby said: “The physical and mental health of midwives, maternity support workers and all NHS staff has never been more important, but sadly what the results of our member survey has revealed is there has been little improvement over the past four years.” She added: “Covid-19 has undoubtedly increased the pressure on midwives, some of whom have been working additional hours unpaid just to keep maternity services open and running. We must break this vicious cycle by investing in staff in areas where there are shortages.”
RCM news release. Morning Star.

HSE must end rumours on deadly crane collapse

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) must publish its initial findings into the causes of the fatal crane accident in east London in July, in which a member of the public died and worker was seriously injured (Risks 956). Construction union Unite wrote to the HSE last month urging it to not to delay publication of the initial findings in order to end ‘a cloud of suspicion’ about who was to blame. With the removal of the Wolffkran Ltd crane likely to take several months, Unite is arguing that the local community need to have the reassurance that the site and all involved with it are safe. It says the HSE’s initial findings are also important in order to ensure that similar accidents are prevented. This week, Tower Hamlets council admitted that due to how and where the crane collapsed it may take six months before it can be fully removed. Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “The HSE cannot be seen to be trying to sweep the investigation into this accident under the carpet. It is already nearly seven weeks since the accident occurred. The company concerned and the workers involved have a cloud of suspicion hanging over them and this is almost certainly unfair.” He added: “Unite is the recognised union at Wolffkran. Our members are already having to operate in difficult conditions due to Covid-19 pandemic; it is simply unfair to have unanswered questions about this accident hanging over them.” The Unite officer said: “If the HSE cannot publish their initial findings for any reason then they must publicly say why and what is causing that delay.”
Unite news release.

TSSA raises concerns over deadly Stonehaven crash

The leader of the rail union TSSA has questioned why rail services across the country were allowed to continue on the day of a train derailment killed three people in Aberdeenshire. TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes has written to the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) to “raise questions” relating to the fatal derailment of a ScotRail passenger train near Carmont, west of Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire on 12 August (Risks 961). In the letter, Cortes stresses he does not wish to speculate “about the events of the derailment, but simply ask a number of questions relating to what happened.” The letter notes that “on the day of the accident at Carmont, weather conditions across much of the East Coast of Scotland were atrocious with flooding in places like Stonehaven... Aberdeen services were also mostly cancelled but one question has to be why all trains were not stopped? Why were certain services allowed to continue and not others?” Cortes also asks “whether Network Rail and its contractors have carried out – or plan to carry - any remedial work around the site of the accident given the issue with landslips? More broadly, will the accident report make recommendations about whether Network Rail has sufficient funds and staff to be able to carry out such work given it manages 190,000 earthworks assets?” Two independent task forces were launched by Network Rail this week “to help it better manage its massive earthworks (cuttings and embankments) portfolio and its understanding and response to severe weather events.”
TSSA news release. Network Rail news release. The Herald. The National. BBC News Online and related story. Press and Journal.

Celebs back Surrey ‘deadly’ fire cuts campaign

Surrey firefighters have welcomed a new petition campaigning against cuts to their fire and rescue service (Risks 961). More than 3,700 people have signed a petition from writer, actor and Celebrity Masterchef winner Emma Kennedy calling for a reversal of cuts to Surrey Fire and Rescue Service. The author and Surrey resident has called fire cuts “terrifying for us local residents”, warning that it’s “madness” to close fire stations and that Surrey County Council “has its priorities all wrong”. It comes after Queen star Brian May spoke out about the “criminally under-supported” fire service during August’s wildfires which highlighted the impact of cuts on the service. Emma Kennedy said: “In the past few weeks, I’ve seen how woefully overstretched our firefighters in Surrey are. For five consecutive days in August, our firefighters had to battle heat, dehydration and exhaustion to bring wildfires on our heathland and commons under control.” She added: “We’re losing another three fire engines in October and it’s terrifying for us local residents to know that Surrey, one of the wealthiest counties in the country with one of the highest council taxes, has inadequate fire cover. Our council has its priorities all wrong. In the face of cuts, our fire and rescue service is under further threat. It is time we residents repaid our firefighter's commitment and stand with the Fire Brigades Union against these brutal cuts."
FBU news release. Save our Stations petition. Surrey Live.


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: Banned asbestos found in new ferries

New ferries operating in New South Wales and manufactured overseas contain banned asbestos, a union has revealed. A 21 August letter from the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Sydney assistant branch secretary Paul Garrett to MUA members on Transdev Sydney Ferries said the union had called an urgent meeting with the company. The subsequent meeting heard the company was aware four river class vessels contained the cancer-causing substance, which was banned in Australia in 2003. The union has called for “a full independent inspection” of all the new vessels. The letter to members noted: “The four new 24m river vessels are not to be boarded, inspected or worked by MUA members until further advised from the Maritime Union of Australia.” It added: “For some 18 months now, the MUA has warned both the NSW government and Transdev Sydney Ferries about our concerns that asbestos containing material was going to be used in these vessels. However, Transdev Sydney Ferries has allowed a process that has seen the new vessels built with taxpayer money using asbestos containing materials. Those responsible at Transdev Sydney Ferries for the build of these vessels overseas using asbestos containing materials (when they could have been built to Australia Standards, in New South Wales, by NSW workers) should own up, take responsibility and resign today.” In October 2019, the New South Wales (NSW) Labor opposition leader Jodi McKay accused state premier Gladys Berejiklian of breaking her promise to NSW manufacturing workers by planning to buy 13 new Sydney ferries from overseas. It is believed the Australian shipbuilding company Birdon subcontracted the ferry construction to yards in China and Indonesia.
MUA news release. Nine News. Junkee.

Global: Action call on big airborne Covid risks

Transmission of Covid-19 through an airborne ‘aerosol’ is “stronger than that for any other pathway”, greatly increasing the preventive efforts required, a US expert has warned. Jose-Luis Jimenez, a professor of chemistry and a fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder, said the evidence on airborne transmission demonstrates why more stringent efforts are needed to control the virus, going beyond current official guidelines. Writing in Time magazine, he notes that that these guidelines prioritise prevention by reducing contact with contaminated surfaces (fomite transmission) or through exposures to small bits of saliva or respiratory fluid that infected individuals expel when they cough, sneeze, or talk (droplet transmission). The two-pronged transmission model is promoted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which still plays down the risk of a third pathway, airborne transmission. This “is a significant mistake and on 6 July I, along with 239 scientists, appealed to the WHO to reevaluate their stance” (Risks 955), Jimenez notes. “WHO updated its position in response, but the agency’s language continues to express scepticism of the importance of this pathway.” He concludes: “It is critical to have a clear physical description of the ways in which Covid-19 is transmitted, so that individuals and institutions are able to visualise it and will understand how to protect themselves. Contrary to public health messaging, I, together with many other scientists, believe that a substantial share of Covid-19 cases are the result of transmission through aerosols.” He added: “The evidence in favour of aerosols is stronger than that for any other pathway, and officials need to be more aggressive in expressing this reality if we want to get the pandemic under control.” A new paper published online in the journal Environment International has concluded that for airborne transmission the “plausibility score (weight of combined evidence) is 8 out of 9, adding “precautionary control strategies should consider aerosol transmission.”
Time Magazine.
Lidia Morawska, Donald K Milton. It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19, Clinical Infectious Diseases, ciaa939, 6 July 2020.
Song Tang and others. Aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2? Evidence, prevention and control, Environment International, volume 144, November 2020.
WHO knew? WHO’s complacency over work virus risks a world class disaster, Hazards special report, July 2020.

USA: Empowering workers is key to safe reopening

Workers have a key role to play in designing and implementing new, on-the-job health practices - and even more so in the absence of enforceable federal standards, top US work practice experts have said. Writing in Fortune Magazine, Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and Rachel Korberg of the Ford Foundation’s Future of Work(ers) initiative, warn that where workers “aren’t able to speak up when they spot a problem, we risk prolonging this crisis, deepening the economic pain, and ultimately losing more lives.” Hospitals fighting the novel coronavirus have found worker input has been ‘critical’, they note. “Nurses and other frontline staff were critical in developing life-saving innovations, such as keeping IV pumps and ventilation control panels outside of patient rooms so they can be adjusted without entering, which both reduced transmission risk and preserved vital personal protective equipment (PPE).” However, they warn “workers will have the freedom necessary to innovate and provide meaningful input into on-the-job health practices only if employers create a transparent and collaborative work environment where there are no reprisals for flagging concerns. For example, employers must immediately alert their staff when someone falls sick.” Noting worker empowerment approaches can also address racial injustice at work, Block and Korberg conclude: “The terrifying truth is that even as businesses across the country reopen, we don’t yet fully know how to prevent workers and customers from getting sick. Who better to help answer that question than the people who see up close, every day, the way that workplace safety measures are actually playing out in our stores, factories, farms, hospitals, and restaurants?”
Fortune magazine.


Courses for 2020

Find the latest courses at

This newsletter is sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.
View our privacy policy
Enable Two-Factor Authentication

To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).

Setup now