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



Jobs, security, dignity – TUC Congress 2020, 14-15 September

The TUC’s Congress 2020 is going ahead – and is set to be the biggest ever. The national union body says every trade unionist is invited to join the event, the first to take place online. On the mornings of Monday 14 and Tuesday 15 September, trade union members from across the UK will discuss the huge impact of coronavirus on working lives and how to stop mass unemployment. The event will hear from Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, as well as union leaders and frontline workers. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This is a critical time. Working people must not bear the burden of the pandemic – and the government must act now to stop mass unemployment. Congress is our chance to come together and debate our priorities for the year ahead.” She added: “This year’s Congress has to be different, to keep us all safe. We are delighted to be able to welcome trade unionists and working people from across the UK to join Congress online. I encourage everyone who cares about rebuilding a fairer society to join us on 14-15 September.”
Sign up for TUC Congress 2020, 14-15 September – and see the dedicated TUC Congress webpages include the agenda, programme and details of fringe events. Sign up to Congress updates. Share on Facebook and twitter using #TUC20.    

PM told to drop the back-to-work scare campaign

Boris Johnson has been urged to produce a “credible plan” for persuading more workers to return to the office instead of relying on what unions have condemned as a “scare campaign”. The government is expected to launch a publicity campaign in the coming days to encourage more workers to return to the office, and advise employers about what they can do to keep staff safe. On 28 August, Downing Street distanced the government from reports that ministers planned to argue that working from home could put employees at greater risk of being fired. Responding to a Daily Telegraph headline that said: ‘Go back to work or risk losing your job’, a government source said it was “a deeply irresponsible” headline, adding: “Our priority has always and will always be protecting people’s jobs.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady commented: “The prime minister needs a credible plan to help more people travel and work safely, not a scare campaign. Throughout this crisis millions of people have worked extremely hard from home, often in cramped bedrooms with limited equipment or balancing work with childcare. Many now want a better balance of office and home-based working. But before this can happen, ministers must take responsibility for guaranteeing workers’ safety with a fast and reliable test and trace system, and better enforcement of transport safety and workplace risk assessments.” She added: “Many working parents have lost all their childcare. Until proper support is provided, they have no choice but to keep balancing work and care by working at home. And many disabled workers can only safely undertake their roles at home. Increased childcare investment and strengthened rights to flexible working are vital to protect these workers’ jobs.”
TUC news release. Daily Telegraph. The Mirror. The Guardian and related article. The Independent. Evening Standard. Morning Star. BBC News Online.

Scottish unions reject ‘shambolic’ UK government push

Scotland’s national union body has dismissed the ‘shambolic’ UK government drive to pressure people back into their workplaces. The STUC was commenting after the UK government announced a campaign encouraging people to go back to their workplaces in England will start this week. It said the campaign will see employers asked to reassure staff that it is safe to return by highlighting measures taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The STUC is instead urging employers and workers in Scotland to follow Scottish government guidelines. Roz Foyer, STUC general secretary, said: “It’s highly dangerous for the UK government to be pressuring workers who don’t have to be based there back into the workplace and it needs to be made clear to all Scottish workers that this is not in line with public health guidance here in Scotland. Many offices, particularly call centres, are potential coronavirus hot beds. Employers and governments should be ensuring that they’re doing everything they can to assist workers to work effectively from home, until we can be confident that the virus has been sufficiently suppressed.  We also need to keep the pressure off our public transport systems as far as possible at this key time.” She concluded: “Nothing could be more damaging for our economy than a second lockdown, which is why we must continue to show caution and restraint in the business of reopening our economy. The UK government should be standing firmly in agreement with the Scottish government that if you can work from home, you should work from home.”
STUC news release. BBC News Online.

Covid warning as a million students set for uni return

Universities in the UK are being urged to drop plans for face-to-face teaching until Christmas in order to prevent a second wave of coronavirus. With students set to return in September, academics' union UCU said more than a million students moving around the country was “a recipe for disaster.” UCU leader Jo Grady said having tens of thousands of students heading into cities across the UK “risks doing untold damage to people's health and exacerbating the worst public health crisis of our lifetimes.” She said: “We are very concerned that universities, and the UK more generally, are simply not prepared for the mass migration of what is over a million students. In particular, we are concerned about students going from high risk areas into areas with fewer cases.” She said she was particularly worried about the risk of the virus spreading in cities with big student populations. “If we look at some key cities: Manchester has 100,000 students; Birmingham isn't far behind with 80,000; and Leicester has 40,000. These are all cities that have had some form of local lockdown and have come out of it or are about to go into one.” The UCU leader added: “We don't have a functioning track and trace [system], we don't have a UK-wide testing for students who are arriving for university, or subsequent and regular testing… We don't think sufficient safety measures are in place.” The union said it was backing the position of the Independent Sage (I-Sage) committee which has called for online learning to be universities' default position. National Union of Students president Larissa Kennedy said universities should only deliver face-to-face teaching for lab-based and practice-based courses. “In-person teaching should only take place if can be delivered safely for all staff and students, and social distancing guidelines and other safety measures can be maintained,” she said.
The Observer. BBC News Online.
Independent Sage Consultation Statement on Universities in the context of SARS-CoV-2, 21 August 2020.
Resources: How to measure ventilation in a classroom, Harvard University.

Government ‘abdicating responsibility’ on work risks

The UK government has been accused of “abdicating responsibility” for making workplaces safe before urging people back to offices, ahead of the launch of a publicity campaign aimed at reducing working from home. The Independent Sage (I-Sage) group of scientific advisers has called for a national system of inspections to make sure even the worst employers are complying with social distancing best practice to keep workers safe. I-Sage said workplaces should have to be certified before employees return, and that unannounced inspections should be introduced to ensure they continue to follow the rules. The group also criticised the timing of the official push back to offices, which coincides with the mass return of pupils and students to school and universities – as well as a rise in daily Covid cases, with the UK reporting its highest daily number of new coronavirus cases since 12 June on 27 August, with 1,522 confirmed positive results. I-Sage member Stephen Reicher, a professor of social psychology at St Andrew’s University, said: “We have seen how poor working conditions and pressure on employees to come to work when unwell have contributed to outbreaks of infection which have then affected whole communities. It is quite clear that rigorous procedures to ensure workplace safety must be central to any overall pandemic strategy. And yet the government has abdicated responsibility for this, simply telling employers to make workplaces safe but without any support or procedures to make sure this happens. You simply can’t fight Covid-19 on a wish and a prayer.” He said Health and Safety Executive (HSE) oversight had been “largely dismantled” over the last decade. Professor Susan Michie, who specialises in health psychology at University College London, said there was “concern about the timing about encouraging a return to work of those people who don’t need to” at the same time as schools and universities are restarting.
Independent Sage YouTube channel, 28 August 2020 and The COVID-19 Safe Workplace Charter and briefing document on ending work lockdowns in GB. Hazards Campaign news release. The Independent.

'Paltry’ £13 a day is not enough to help self-isolate

The UK government’s pilot of payments of £13 a day to people on low incomes who need to self-isolate is insufficient, unions have warned. They were commenting after the government announced a trial in Blackburn with Darwen, Pendle and Oldham, which it said could be rolled out nationwide if successful. However, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “These paltry payments will not make the difference needed. Every worker should have the right to decent sick pay so they can help stop the spread of the virus. Ministers shouldn’t need a trial to know that’s the right thing to do. And sick pay must not become a post code lottery.” She added: “The sooner government gets on with delivering fair sick pay for everyone, the quicker we will beat this pandemic. It should be at least as much as the real Living Wage - £320 a week - so everyone who needs to self-isolate can afford to.” Roz Foyer, the STUC general secretary, said: “We have been warning for months that the government needs to make sure that people can afford to do what is required by the guidance. Hundreds of thousands of low paid workers live from pay cheque to pay cheque. For them, the difference between their normal pay and £130 per week is massive.” She added: “We are calling on the government to look again at this announcement, increase the rate of support and extend it to all self-isolating workers.”
Department of Health and Social Care news release. TUC news release. STUC news release.

Welsh care workers to get full coronavirus sick pay

All care workers in Wales will be entitled to full pay whilst off sick or self-isolating due to coronavirus. The commitment to top up wages by Welsh health minister Vaughn Gethin was welcomed by the GMB. It said until the move, most care workers were forced to survive on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) – just £95.85 a week – if they took time off sick, or were forced by trace, track and protect to self-isolate. While the changes initially only apply to Covid-19 related absence, GMB said it will be working with the Welsh government “to make this a long-term uplift to social care workers terms and conditions.” Kelly Andrews, GMB social care lead, said: “It’s is only right the social care workforce should receive full pay – rather than the completely inadequate statutory sick pay - when they are unable to attend work. Many carers are part time, low paid and just can’t afford to take time off if all they get is £95 a week SSP. That means care workers are faced with the terrible choice between coming into work when they should be isolating - putting residents and colleagues at risk – or not being able to keep a roof over their families’ heads. It’s a deadly and completely unnecessary situation for them to be put in.” She added: “We look forward to working with the Welsh government and employers to make this a reality as soon as possible. Meanwhile Westminster must learn from Wales and put this policy in place across England.”
GMB news release. BBC News Online.

Arriva accused of ‘lax response’ to bus driver infection

Bus company Arriva has been accused of a ‘lax response’ to public and worker safety after one of its bus drivers tested positive for coronavirus. Unite, which represents over 60,000 bus drivers throughout the UK, raised its concerns following the news that a driver based at Arriva’s Southern Counties Northfleet depot in North Kent tested positive on 25 August. The union said the affected driver acted responsibly and immediately contacted their employer. However, the union said it is concerned that the bus company did not act with sufficient swiftness to draw this news to the attention of workers and passengers. The driver had been in work the previous day and spent 45 minutes in the staff canteen and also spent time on a ferry bus with other drivers while being taken to their route. The union advised the company that, in keeping with health and safety best practice, these workers should self-isolate on full pay at least until they could be tested and undergo a full consultation with a medical professional. However, Unite said this approach was rejected by Arriva, who stated that its premises are ‘Covid-Secure’ so the risk of infection was low. Unite regional officer Dave Weeks said: “The lax attitude of Arriva to this Covid-19 positive case is alarming. It means that potentially other workers and the general public are now at greater risk of exposure to the infection.” He added: “The drivers at Northfleet now believe that management are not interested in their health and wellbeing and are more interested in profits than people.” The union officer concluded: “Arriva has to up its game. It must ensure that drivers have not been exposed to Covid-19 and that they are not potentially spreading it. Further, any worker who has been exposed to the virus in the workplace should be fully supported by their employer to take the appropriate public health precautions, and not suffer a financial penalty as a result. Unless companies take a responsible attitude and ensure that workers can self-isolate and are fully paid, then workplace transmission of Covid-19 is going to increase.”
Unite news release.

Death linked to poor PPE guidance for home care workers

A home care worker who did not wear protective equipment may have infected a client with a fatal case of coronavirus during weeks of contradictory UK government guidance on whether the kit was needed or not, an official investigation has found. The government’s confusion about how much protection care workers visiting homes needed is detailed in a report into the death of an unnamed person by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB), which conducts independent investigations of patient safety concerns in NHS-funded care in England. It was responding to a complaint raised by a member of the public in April. The report shows that Public Health England (PHE) published two contradictory documents that month. One advised care workers making home visits to wear PPE and the other did not mention the need. The contradiction was not cleared up for six weeks. The HSIB report said the care worker in question “did not use PPE and had been told this was not necessary… The patient later died, and their death was confirmed as being Covid-19 related.” HSIB added: “The care visits occurred when the patient and other household member were not showing any Covid-19 symptoms.” The primary guidance was not updated and remained online until 13 May. In between, the investigators looking into the Covid-19 death of the home care client alerted PHE to the safety risk. Unite warned on 23 March that home care workers were not being provided ‘basic’ PPE (Risks 940).
HSIB news release and report, PPE: care workers delivering homecare during the Covid-19 response, HSIB, 27 August 2020. The Guardian.

Chicken plant with rising cases allowed to reopen

A food processing plant in Scotland that was closed due to a cluster of Covid-19 cases has been given the go-ahead to reopen, despite a rising number of infections. A 28 August update from NHS Tayside, just four days ahead of the scheduled reopening, said in the previous 24 hours the number of positive cases linked to the 2 Sisters factory in Coupar Angus (Risks 962) has risen by 11 to 188. Health officials said at that point 164 workers at the chicken factory had tested positive, along with 24 contacts. The decision was made after risk assessments were carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Food Standards Scotland and Environmental Health. They said extra steps have also been taken to ensure workers are physically distanced and further hygiene measures have been put in place. The plant employs 1,200 workers, including approximately 300 agency staff. Dr Emma Fletcher, NHS Tayside associate director of public health and chair of the Incident management Team (IMT) said: “The IMT considered the risk assessments and were satisfied that the factory should be able to reopen from Monday, 31 August. The majority of staff will be able to return from Monday, August 31. However, those who have had positive tests themselves, or those who live with a positive case, must follow the specific self-isolation guidance they have been given and not return to work until their period of isolation is over.” All of the non-agency workers at the factory are receiving full pay while the plant is closed, in a deal struck by the union Unite.
NHS Tayside update. BBC News Online.

Banham Poultry must ‘step up’ on sick pay

Hundreds of workers at the Banham Poultry factory in Attleborough, Norfolk, and their families have been instructed to self-isolate (Risks 962). Authorities reported on 1 September that 104 staff had tested positive for coronavirus. Unite said the affected workers must receive ‘adequate sick pay’. The union, which has members at the site but is not recognised by the company, said the factory must increase sick pay from the statutory minimum of £95.85 a week that its low paid workers currently receive. It said refusing to provide company sick pay risks workers having to ‘choose between self-isolating or going into work because they cannot afford to be ill’. Banham Poultry’s parent company, Chesterfield Poultry, turned over more than £120 million in the year ending June 2019, making gross profits of more than £32 million. Unite said it has been in contact with the factory’s management and stressed that the safety of staff must come ‘first and foremost’, including considering a temporary shutdown of the entire site while the outbreak is brought under control, with staff being put on paid leave. Unite regional officer Miles Hubbard said: “Banham is owned by Chesterfield Poultry, which as a multimillion-pound firm can clearly afford to top up the statutory sick pay of £95.85 a week that its low paid workers are expected to live on if they need to self-isolate.” He added: “Refusing to provide adequate sick pay is unjust in any circumstances, but particularly so during a pandemic, as well as increasing the risk to other staff and the wider public. Unite has been in contact with Banham Poultry’s management and made clear that health and safety of staff must come first and foremost. This includes considering a temporary shutdown of the entire site while the outbreak is brought under control, with staff being put on paid leave.”
Unite news release. Norfolk County Council 28 August news update and 1 September update. Eastern Daily Press. Environmental Health News. BBC News Online.

Grantown abattoir shuts after rise in cases

An abbatoir centred cluster of Covid-19 cases in the Highlands has increased to 31, NHS Highland has said. By 3 September, 29 of the cases in the Grantown on Spey area are linked to the town's Millers of Speyside abattoir. The owners of the meat processing factory have taken the decision to shut the site down for the next two weeks. NHS Highland, which described the move as a ‘voluntary closure’, said its health protection team was carrying out contact tracing. Dr Tim Allison, director of public health at NHS Highland, said: “NHS Highland and partners are working together to manage this community outbreak. Our health protection team is following up with contacts and the appropriate advice is being given to those identified.” He added: “We would also like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that the virus can recur even in rural communities and so everyone should continue to adhere to physical distancing guidelines, wear a face-covering when in enclosed spaces, clean your hands and surfaces regularly and immediately self-isolate if you develop symptoms.”
NHS Highland news release. BBC News Online.

Greggs depot deep cleaned after virus outbreak

A deep clean at a Greggs distribution depot in Leeds has taken place after an outbreak of coronavirus among staff. Leeds City Council, Public Health England, and Greggs said they were working closely together to ensure safe management of the outbreak at the Bramley depot. In a joint statement from the council and Greggs, Leeds City Council’s deputy director of public health Lucy Jackson said: “A number of staff recently tested positive for Covid-19 at Greggs’ distribution depot in Leeds. Following further testing, more staff have been identified as being positive. This highlights why further testing and contact tracing is so important which Greggs is proactively undertaking.” She added: “The safety of Greggs staff, customers and the wider community remains our priority and we are working closely with Greggs and Public Health England to make sure any infection is contained. The workplace is being deep cleaned and further contact tracing carried out, with necessary advice shared about self-isolating and awareness of symptoms.” Roger Whiteside, the CEO at Greggs, said: “Following a number of our staff testing positive for Covid-19 at our Leeds distribution depot, we have taken immediate action to implement our Covid response plan and we are working closely with Leeds City Council and Public Health England to ensure that we minimise any possible impact on our customers and the wider community in Leeds and the surrounding area.”
Joint statement by Leeds City Council and Greggs plc. Telegraph and Argus. ITV News. Evening Standard.

Asda supermarket staff test positive for Covid-19

Eight workers from an Asda supermarket in the West Midlands have tested positive for coronavirus. The company said the employees had self-isolated and it had carried out a “comprehensive deep clean” at the store in Cape Hill, Smethwick. No delivery drivers have been infected and the supermarket remains open, Sandwell Council said. Asda said as soon as it had become aware of the positive tests, it had notified Public Health England and the council and had ordered a deep clean as well as introducing “additional cleaning.” In a statement, the retailer said: “The safety of our customers and colleagues is our top priority and we have introduced extensive measures across all our stores to help keep everyone safe.” It said these measures include “protective screens at every checkout, social distancing signage and hand sanitiser.” Sandwell's director of public health Dr Lisa McNally said the current high infection rates in Smethwick meant all businesses “need to be especially careful to maintain social distancing” and “ensure face coverings are worn.” Dr McNally added: “We are strongly advising everyone to avoid crowds and social gatherings as much as possible right now. This is a serious situation and we all need to be very careful.”
Sandwell Council news release. BBC News Online.

IKEA agrees to continue virus sick pay

Furniture giant IKEA has said it will pay full wages to staff forced to self-isolate for 14 days during the coronavirus pandemic. The move was welcomed by retail union Usdaw. Dave Gill, the union’s national officer for IKEA, said: “We will continue to work with IKEA on their absence policy, and welcome the clarification that IKEA will continue to pay our members who are affected by the coronavirus their full pay for the duration of their sickness or isolation period and this will not be counted towards any absence trigger points.” The move came after staff at the firm’s Glasgow store claimed workers would feel pressurised into coming to work, putting colleagues and customers at risk, by a move to cut sick pay. An IKEA spokesperson said: “Any co-worker requiring to isolate as a result of Covid will be paid in full, other than where a co-worker travels abroad and quarantine may be imposed whilst they are away.”
Usdaw news release. Daily Record.

Unite call for clarity on face coverings on flights

Cabin crew union Unite has said the government and aviation authorities must publish clear policies requiring the use of face masks on flights. The union call came after travellers found to be infected were discovered to have travelled on packed passenger flights, with little or no regard paid to social distancing or use of masks. A statement from Unite noted: “The UK government and the civil aviation authorities must promote and enforce a clear policy on the wearing of face coverings and masks for airline passengers. It should not simply be left to ground staff and cabin crew to police the public during this pandemic. Passengers must be totally clear on this policy, their responsibilities and the penalties if they fail to abide by the rules before they even arrive at the airport.” The statement added: “Passengers have to be given clear direction. They should be informed that travel through an airport and on an aircraft will requires the wearing of a mask or face covering, unless there are clear medical exemptions for the individual passenger. Passengers should be informed of such a policy, and that refusal to abide by this policy will incur denied boarding, removal from a flight, or a financial penalty and even a travel ban. We would also urge the industry and the UK government to make it a priority to get a common approach agreed across all common travel areas.”
Unite news release. The Guardian. BBC News Online.

Scottish schools failing on Covid safety measures

Schools and colleges in Scotland are failing to follow essential safety measures on physical distancing, cleaning, hand hygiene and dealing with suspected cases of Covid-19, a survey by the teaching union NASUWT has found. No teachers responding to the snapshot survey of their experiences since the reopening of their school or college at the start of the new academic year were able to say that pupils were always following physical distancing and only 5 per cent said adults in their school are always keeping a two metre distance from others. Just 12 per cent said managers in their school are always modelling and reinforcing messages on physical distancing. Nearly half (46 per cent) said arrangements for cleaning in their school were not adequate and just over half (51 per cent) said arrangements rely on teachers and other staff who are not trained as cleaners undertaking cleaning themselves. Almost half (48 per cent) said access to PPE in their school was inadequate and 15 per cent said they did not have access to soap and water to clean their hands. Only just over half (51 per cent) said their school has an effective protocol which is being followed at all times for dealing with suspected Covid cases. Jane Peckham, NASUWT’s national official for Scotland, said: “The survey highlights the challenge of ensuring that physical distancing, PPE and effective cleaning measures are implemented fully if pupils and adults are to remain safe. If these provisions are not being robustly adhered to and enforced in every school and college, the introduction of masks will not be a panacea to prevent further outbreaks of Covid-19 of the type we have already seen linked to schools since the start of term.”
NASUWT news release.

‘Outdated’ physical distancing rules criticised

Current rules on safe physical distancing are based on outdated science, with evidence suggesting the coronavirus responsible for Covid-19 may travel much further than 2m through activities such as coughing and shouting. In an analysis published in the British Medical Journal, Nicholas Jones of Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, and colleagues note the rigid physical distancing limit “overlooks the physics of respiratory emissions, where droplets of all sizes are trapped and moved by the exhaled moist and hot turbulent gas cloud that keeps them concentrated as it carries them over metres in a few seconds.” The paper adds that studies have demonstrated airborne spread of virus-containing aerosols of up to 8 metres. The analysis says rules should take account of a range of factors that can lead to risk. After the cloud slows sufficiently, ventilation, specific patterns of airflow, and type of activity become important. Viral load of the emitter, duration of exposure, and susceptibility of an individual to infection are also important, it adds. The paper concludes: “Physical distancing should be seen as only one part of a wider public health approach to containing the Covid-19 pandemic. It needs to be implemented alongside combined strategies of people-air-surface-space management, including hand hygiene, cleaning, occupancy and indoor space and air managements, and appropriate protective equipment, such as masks, for the setting.”
Nicholas R Jones and others. Analysis: Two metres or one: what is the evidence for physical distancing in Covid-19?, BMJ 2020;370:m3223, published 25 August 2020. doi:,


Asbestos app could lead to blacklisting - Unite

An app which rates the performance of asbestos workers could potentially be used to blacklist workers, Unite has warned. The construction union says the app, launched by the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association (ARCA), allows contractors to rate operatives which the union believes could be used to victimise and blacklist workers. It has written to ARCA chair Jason Davy raising its concerns. Unite national officer for construction Ian Woodland said the union “fears that in an attempt to ensure competency levels, ARCA has created a system which allows unscrupulous contractors to victimise and blacklist workers who, for example, may have challenged dangerous working practices, giving them a low score when rating their ability. A low mark would then result in the affected worker struggling to be hired for future asbestos removal work.” He added: “Unite is concerned that there is no evidence that the app includes sufficient safeguards to prevent blacklisting and discrimination to occur. Unite has written to Mr Davy to raise our concerns and is seeking a meeting in order to ensure that these concerns are resolved. In the meantime Unite would urge that the roll out of the app is suspended in order to ensure that workers cannot be blacklisted, discriminated or victimised by this technology.” Dave Smith from the union-backed Blacklist Support Group commented: “Without any doubt whatsoever, this app is going to be used for blacklisting anyone who kicks up a fuss about safety, unpaid wages or bullying on a building site.” He added: “This is a new blacklisting scandal waiting to happen. This app should be banned right now. If the major contractors develop one for the whole construction industry, anyone standing up for workers’ rights will be unemployable.”
Unite news release. ARCA news release. Construction Enquirer.

Shopworkers’ Protection Pledge backed by Usdaw

Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw is supporting a campaign by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) to improve legislation to protect shopworkers from violence. The BRC Shopworkers’ Protection Pledge has been signed by MPs who support legislation necessary to protect shopworkers. Usdaw said the latest initiative comes as a parliamentary petition launched by the union’s leader Paddy Lillis quickly passed the halfway mark in a campaign for the 100,000 signatures that should trigger a parliamentary debate. The petition promoted by Usdaw is backed by the UK’s largest convenience store retailer Co-op Food, along with the industry’s leading trade bodies the British Retail Consortium and the Association of Convenience Stores. Commenting on 2 September, Paddy Lillis said: “We are grateful to the employers for supporting our petition and welcome today’s BRC initiative. When retailers, the trade union for shopworkers and MPs from across the parties unite in a call for action, it should be time for the government to sit up, listen to our concerns and deliver much needed protection for staff.” He added: “I urge the government to respond positively, listen to the voices of shopworkers and employers and commit to legislating for stiffer penalties for those who assault workers. With incidents of abuse doubling during the Covid-19 crisis, we are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be just a part of the job. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.”
Usdaw news release and petition.

'Shocking' lack of regulation at Leicester garment firms

Leicester’s garment district, which is home to more 1,000 factories, has received fewer than 60 health and safety inspections and only 28 fire inspections since October 2017 despite long-held concerns about working conditions, a Guardian investigation has found. The paper said the figures highlight the low rate of regulatory oversight of factories in Leicester despite the creation of a multi-agency group to try and tackle their problems in October 2017. The group was established after a 2015 report by the Ethical Trade Initiative, made up retailers, trade unions and pressure groups, flagged illegally low pay and poor conditions. Of the 58 inspections the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has carried out since October 2017, 27 have taken place since 1 April this year, when the coronavirus pandemic renewed attention on Leicester’s garment industry. The HSE has not brought any prosecutions against textile firms in the country as a whole since 2017. There are only four frontline HSE inspectors in Leicester and three trainees, though the team had managed to visit 45 textile and clothing businesses since March. HSE told the Guardian it was “committed to working in partnership with other enforcement bodies, both strategically and at an operational level to share intelligence where necessary, and take action to improve the working lives of those within the textile and other industries.” It said there was “nothing to indicate significant health and safety issues” following inspections in 2018, 2019 and early 2020. A Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said inspections were carried out as part of its risk-based programme, but that it had suspending the programme after the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London “in order to fully focus on residential high-rise buildings across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.” It said this “had an impact on the number of inspections we completed in other premises, such as factories”. The workers’ rights group Labour Behind the Label said the low inspection rate in Leicester highlighted the “lackadaisical and hands off approach to labour market enforcement” under the current and previous governments.
The Guardian.

Isle of Wight firms fined over site worker death

Three firms have been fined for criminal safety failings after a worker was fatally injured on a building site. David Shayler, 53, died in hospital after he was hit on the head by masonry at the site in Newport, Isle of Wight, in October 2016. At Portsmouth Crown Court, Ryde Demolition, Stoneham Construction and HJ Bennett Ltd admitted criminal health and safety charges. Judge Timothy Mousley QC said they had not “adequately monitored” the site. Mr Shayler was removing part of a roof from a former family centre on 13 October when he was hit by a collapsing gable end, the court heard. The father of two, from Ryde, died six days later from head and neck injuries. Judge Mousley said a site supervisor had shown a “blatant disregard for the safety of site workers.” He said there was a risk of building collapse and no fall protection, with scaffolding only on one side of the building. The judge added: “The demolition was done by hand, not by an excavator, which was crucial. There was no adequate monitoring of the site by any of the defendants... and a flagrant disregard for the method statement.” Stoneham Construction, the principal contractor, pleaded guilty to failing to manage the work properly and was fined £56,667. Ryde Demolition, which employed the supervisor, was fined £80,000 after admitting two counts of failing to ensure the safety of workers regarding the risks of structural collapse and working at height. HJ Bennett Ltd, which is to cease trading, pleaded guilty to two counts of exposing workers to those risks and was fined £120,000. Each firm was also required to pay £12,000 costs.
HSE news release. BBC News Online. Island Echo.

MoD censured following death of military diver

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been issued with a Crown Censure by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after a military diver died during training. On 26 March 2018, 27-year-old Lance Corporal George Partridge was brought back to surface after he stopped responding to lifeline signals while he was underwater. He was pronounced dead after CPR was performed. He had been on a training course at the National Diving and Activity Centre in Chepstow. Lance Corporal Partridge and his dive buddy were tasked with attaching a distance line from the base of a shot line to the underwater wreck of a helicopter at a depth of 27m. When he was recovered his cylinders were found to be empty. HSE served two Crown Improvement Notices relating to the failure to train all army divers how to undertake air endurance calculations and to assess the risk of a diver running out of air. Julian Turvey, an HSE inspector who specialises in diving, said: “This was a tragedy for all concerned however just like any other employer, the MoD has a responsibility to reduce dangers to its personnel, as far as they properly can. The scenario of a diver running out of air is a very real risk that needs to managed.” By accepting the Crown Censure, the MoD admitted a criminal breach of safety law. Government bodies cannot be prosecuted and fined for criminal safety offences.
HSE news release.


Scotland’s workers: No return to unsafe workplaces

Scotland’s national union body STUC has launched a new workers’ safety website. Whether you are a worker worried about returning to work, a business who wants to work with STUC to get things right or a union rep who wants to join our safety community, the union body says the ‘No return to unsafe workplaces’ is the place for you. There’s links to its latest webinars, a ‘going back to work’ section outlining what is expected of employers and what workers can do to make sure it happens and links to Covid-19 resources from unions and other organisations. STUC adds: “Our health and safety community has some of the information reps will need to undertake a Covid-19 risk assessment” and “you can find out more about roving health and safety reps.”
No return to unsafe workplaces, STUC.

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.


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.


Australia: Covid enforcement focus moves to firms

Workplaces have been a significant driver of Covid-19 spread in the Australia state of Victoria, especially in aged care, healthcare and the meat industry, state agencies have found. The state government said it is now starting to provide data on workplaces failing to provide safe and healthy conditions for workers, having earlier focused on penalising the behaviour of individuals. “Since the pandemic started, there’s been 5,259 visits made by WorkSafe inspectors and there’s been 203 notices that have been issued to employers for breaches large and small of Covid-safe work plans,” state premier Daniel Andrews said. “From the end of July, so when this most recent stage four rules [were introduced] along with a really intense focus on trying to deal with workplace outbreaks, some 916 visits and 78 notices have been issued.” A detailed analysis of healthcare infections found that healthcare workers in aged care settings account for around two in five infections, and hospital workers around one-third. Approximately 22 per cent of healthcare worker infections in the first wave were likely to have been acquired at work, the authorities said, with this increasing in the second wave to at least 69 per cent. Urging affected health care workers to submit compensation claims, premier Daniel Andrews said: “My message to every healthcare worker is – if you get coronavirus at work, put in a WorkCover claim straightaway. It’ll be fast-tracked and we’ll get you the support you need.” Minister for health Jenny Mikakos added: “We know that healthcare workers are more likely to come into contact with this virus by virtue of where they work – but we don’t have to accept this as an inevitable part of their job.”
Premier of Victoria news release. The Guardian.

Philippines: Government blamed for spike in work virus cases

An increase in Covid-19 clusters in workplaces in the Philippines can be blamed on the government’s refusal to look after workers’ welfare, a safety organisation has charged. The Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (Iohsad) said government guidance to companies was insufficient to curb infections when certain industries were allowed to restart operations in May. “The spike in Covid-19 cases in workplaces only shows that our workplaces are not safe. The two guidelines released by the government are a failure in protecting workers from the deadly disease,” Iohsad executive director Nadia de Leon said in a statement. “The workers reported to unsafe workplaces and the government is to blame,” she added. On 16 August, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Labor and Employment ordered large and medium-sized companies to offer shuttle services for their employees. The joint memorandum also required companies to designate temporary isolation facilities for employees who would show Covid-19 symptoms. However, major outbreaks have hit construction sites and the Metro Rail Transit system, where over 200 workers were infected. Factories, call centres and other businesses have also been hit, Iohsad said. Iohsad’s De Leon concluded: “Many workers are now sick of Covid-19 because of government neglect. The government refuses to implement mass testing, carries out snail-paced and inefficient contact-tracing, and denies financial assistance to workers who have tested positive or were exposed to those who are positive.”
The Inquirer.

USA: Workers left in jeopardy by government inaction

The top officials in the US Department of Labor and the government safety regulator OSHA should resign, as they failed to take basic steps to curb the spread of the virus in workplaces. Paul Bland, the executive director the non-profit legal advocacy group Public Justice, said labour secretary Eugene Scalia and OSHA head Loren Sweatt “have profoundly failed” on Covid-19. In an opinion piece for NBC News, he notes: “Both Scalia and Sweatt have utterly failed to protect American workers, especially those most vulnerable to the pandemic,” especially the women, Latino, Black and Asian workers, including immigrants, that are over-represented in high risk jobs. “So why, exactly, are Scalia and Sweatt refusing to protect workers? Only they know for sure but regardless of their motivation, there is one inescapable conclusion: Scalia and Sweatt aren’t helping workers stay safe, which is their job. They’re only helping to make a horrible, racially discriminatory situation much worse. For that reason alone, it is time for them to go,” Bland says. “The only way Eugene Scalia and Loren Sweatt can help now is to step aside and allow someone who will actually do the job to take over.”
NBC News.


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