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



Prime minister told to ‘get a grip’ on work safety

The prime minister must ‘get a grip’ on safety at work and extend support for jobs, the TUC has said. The union body was commenting after Boris Johnson told the Commons on 22 September that the UK had reached “a perilous turning point” as he set out new coronavirus restrictions for England which could last for up to six months. Face masks will be compulsory for taxi drivers and retail and hospitality staff and fines for breaking the rules will increase, he said, adding “we are once again asking office workers who can work from home to do so. In key public services – and in all professions where homeworking is not possible, such as construction or retail – people should continue to attend their workplaces.” Responding, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “With infections rising, the government must get a grip on test and trace and safety at work. Workers are still telling us that employers are not enforcing social distancing or providing PPE to keep them safe [Risks 965]. Ministers must make it a legal requirement for companies to publish their risk assessments. If we don’t deal with the public health crisis, we won’t be able to deal with the economic one.” Highlighting the need for jobs support to continue, O’Grady said: “It’s clear that this pandemic will not be over by Christmas – so neither should state support for jobs. The PM says he will put his arms around the workforce. Let’s see him prove it.” The TUC leader concluded: “Warm words will not pay the bills or save livelihoods. The government must come forward with a new jobs protection and training deal that support short-time working to stop the disaster of mass unemployment. Ministers cannot watch from the side lines as good jobs go to the wall.” In Scotland, first minister Nicola Sturgeon said “everyone who can work from home, should work from home,” adding “if necessary we will put a legal duty on businesses to allow home working where possible.” Wales has maintained a working from home policy throughout.
TUC news release. Prime minister’s statement, 22 September 2020. Scotland first minister’s statement. Wales first minister’s statement. Sky News. The Express. Edinburgh News. The Herald. BBC News Online, changes at a glance and news update.

Gove ‘safer’ workplaces claim exposes risks cover-up

The UK government’s refusal to admit the growing Covid-19 risks arising from work has been further exposed after Michael Gove claimed only limited work restrictions were necessary because “workplace are now safer”. The comments from the Cabinet Office minister, trailing the prime minister’s announcement, came four days after latest official Public Health England (PHE) figures showed workplace outbreaks are at a record high. The 110 ‘workplace settings’ outbreak incidents in PHE’s 18 September weekly Covid-19 surveillance report – up from a then record 65 the week before - does not include the sharp rise in outbreaks in educational establishments (193 incidents, up from 23) and a in care home (313, up from 69). Overall, the statistics suggest there had been well over 600 outbreaks in workplaces in one week. The new advice calling for office workers to work from home, coming in the face of soaring infection rates, is a complete about turn on the prime minister’s instruction on 17 July for people to “start to go back to work now if you can” (Risks 957) and government efforts this month to force 80 per cent of civil servants back to their offices (Risks 964). The Office for National Statistics said on 17 September that 62 per cent of adult workers were commuting to their workplace, up from 36 per cent in May. In the new policy reverse, Gove told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “We are stressing that if it is safe to work in your workplace, if you are in a Covid-secure workplace, then you should be there if your job requires it. But, if you can work from home you should.” The new message brings England into line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have all advised people to work from home wherever possible throughout the pandemic. But Mr Gove told BBC Breakfast the country was “not going back to the sorts of measures that we had in the spring” when strict measures were imposed. He said it was not a case of “revisiting the days at the beginning of our response to this virus” because now “workplaces are safer”.
BBC News Online.  Weekly Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) surveillance report Summary of COVID-19 surveillance systems Year: 2020; Week: 38 and National COVID-19 surveillance data report: 18 September 2020 (week 38), PHE, 18 September 2020.

Safety measures a priority to tackle infection spread

Decent sick pay, social distancing and an effective testing system are key to reversing soaring coronavirus infection rates, UNISON has said. The public service union was commenting after the UK's Covid-19 alert level moved up to 4 on 21 September, meaning transmission is “high or rising exponentially.” The government's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, has warned there could be 50,000 new coronavirus cases a day by mid-October without further action - which, he said, could lead to more than 200 deaths per day by mid-November. UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The situation is spiralling out of control and the measures in place so far aren’t working. Confusing messages and mixed signals from ministers aren’t helping either.” He added: “There’s simply no time for complacency. The government must make public safety a priority. Strict social distancing, fixing the bungled testing system and ensuring low-paid staff don’t take a financial hit for staying off work are crucial. Key workers in the NHS, care, schools and other public services must be protected for all our sakes.”
UNISON news release and news releases on sick pay for care workers and a fit-for-purpose testing system. Update from the Chief Medical Officers on the Covid alert level, 21 September 2020. ONS mortality figures for England and Wales, 22 September 2020. BBC News Online. The Guardian.

Many thousands of work Covid-19 cases unreported

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance outlining when employers should report work-related Covid-19 may miss ‘many thousands’ of cases and should be widened, according to a new study. Professor Raymond Agius of the University of Manchester’s Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health assessed the guidelines on reporting requirements under the RIDDOR regulations that dictate when an employer should report a work-related Covid-19 infection, death or dangerous occurrence. Practitioners were asked to estimate the likelihood that Covid-19 disease may have arisen from two scenarios, one of which is reportable to the HSE as a dangerous occurrence under the current guidance and one which is non-reportable.  The participants ranked the non-reportable scenario as the most likely to result in a Covid-19 work-related infection. Aguis found the HSE guidance doesn’t correspond with Office for National Statistics (ONS) data on the highest risk jobs, as the guidance excludes reports from occupations where employees are working with the general public as opposed to persons known to be infected. The professor also assessed the guidance on when doctors should report a Covid-19 death that is attributable to employment to the coroner. In findings reported in the journal Occupational Medicine, the professor concluded the threshold to report a case to the coroner is much lower than the HSE guidance, as it allows notifications from any form of employment. The coroners’ guidance also corresponded better with the data from the ONS which indicates how high the risk is for different occupations. “Current RIDDOR coronavirus guidance from the HSE is difficult to apply. Available evidence suggests that it might have failed in capturing many thousands of work related Covid-19 disease cases and hundreds of deaths. Thus, the HSE is missing valuable opportunities for investigations that could lead to advice to prevent future disease and death,” Professor Agius said. “The HSE guidance on RIDDOR reporting relating to Covid-19 would benefit from amendment to improve clarity and ease of use and to explicitly allow reports from a wider range of occupations dealing with the general public.” He added HSE need to increase its inspections substantially in order to investigate reports. 
SOM news release.
RM Agius. COVID-19: statutory means of scrutinizing workers' deaths and disease, Occupational Medicine, kqaa165, 21 September 2020.

UNISON recruits record numbers of safety reps

UNISON’s summer campaign to recruit new health and safety reps has already paid dividends, with over 1,000 members so far declaring an interest in taking on the role. Acting national secretary at the public service union, Donna Rowe-Merriman, said: “In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, health and safety reps are vital to ensuring workplaces are safe.” She added: “#BeOnTheSafeSide has got off to a fantastic start. The level of interest shows just how important health and safety is to UNISON members, who want to be safe delivering vital services to the public. It’s great that so many women and Black members have come forward to get involved.” The UNISON officer continued: “As we progress through this pandemic, the importance of health and safety in our workplaces has been a high priority. Without health and safety reps, our workplaces are less safe and less healthy. By signing up to become a safety rep you become part of a wider community of activists that keeps everyone safe.” UNISON said it will hold introductory webinars for potential new safety reps on 29 September and 13 October.
UNISON news release and safety reps’ campaign page.

Improved coronavirus safety enforcement call

A warning last week that curfews could be imposed in London to fight a second Covid-19 wave, has prompted a union call for stricter enforcement of safety rules to protect workers. Commenting on an interview in the Evening Standard with Public Health England director Professor Kevin Fenton, Unite secretary for the London and Eastern region, Pete Kavanagh, said: “Professor Fenton was right to say that everyone has their part to play in this and Londoners have already gone to extraordinary lengths to quell the virus’ spread. However, not everyone will obey the rules, and for the safety of the public and for workers who have frontline roles, there needs to be a far greater emphasis on enforcing key measures. This is especially true for transport, hospitality and shop workers who cannot be expected to enforce the rules.” The Unite regional secretary added: “As we head into winter and the risk of a second wave increases, the government must ensure that the so-called Covid ‘marshals’ have the resources behind them to do their jobs properly. In workplaces, we need more inspections and fines on employers who are not safeguarding their employees, coupled with firms and the authorities working with trade union health and safety reps to keep outbreaks at bay. We must ensure that everything possible is done to keep the virus under control before implementing curfews and other severe infection control measures that will further hurt people’s living standards and the economy.”
Unite news release. Evening Standard.

Hospitals told not to test staff or patients

NHS hospitals have been told they should not run their own coronavirus testing for staff and patients who have symptoms – despite a nationwide shortage in tests. Leaked NHS documents, passed to The Independent, show the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has now capped funding for Covid-19 testing in the health service, even though the lack of tests has left hospital doctors, nurses, teachers and other key workers forced to stay at home [Risks 965]. Hospitals are warned that, if they did choose to go ahead, the six figure costs would have to come from their own budgets. Despite a pledge from Chancellor Rishi Sunak that the NHS would be given what it needed, hospital bosses have been sent new guidance on funding which makes clear the levels of cash for testing has been capped. The imposition of a cap means NHS England has been forced to tell hospitals not to spend money on testing unless they get formal approval. In the guidance sent to trusts, NHS England said: “NHS providers who have not been commissioned to deliver the service should not establish testing without formal approval and will not be able to access funding to reimburse costs incurred from establishing testing unapproved by the DHSC NHS Test and Trace service.” While some NHS pathology labs have been formally commissioned to carry out Covid-19 testing, other hospitals have turned to their own testing to make sure staff and patients are not left waiting too long.
The Independent.

NEU demands urgent action on testing in schools

Teaching union NEU is urging the UK urging government to take emergency measures if schools and colleges are to keep safe and open. It says as the testing regime buckles under the strain of demand, staff and pupils cannot get tested, or get results, and schools cannot deal with outbreaks or sustain full opening if people are unnecessarily isolating. A letter from NEU joint general secretaries, Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, to Boris Johnson calls for the testing regime to be significantly and urgently increased for schools. It also warns the prime minister he must not take the continued support of schools for granted. The letter notes: “Time is running out and the government must act now,” and calls for a ‘Plan B’ for education “that is sustainable in the mid to long term, not just for tomorrow.” The NEU’s letter also proposes ‘Nightingale Schools’ to reduce transmission networks. The number of schools in England sending home groups of pupils because of Covid-19 incidents has quadrupled in a week, according to the latest official figures. Based on attendance on 17 September, they show 4 per cent of schools not fully open because of confirmed or suspected cases - up from 1 per cent the previous week. This could mean about 900 schools sending home pupils.
NEU news release. BBC News Online.

Education staff 'should have priority for tests'

Everyone working in schools in Wales should be prioritised for coronavirus testing, education unions have said. They said staff planning proved difficult without the “ongoing threat” of absences caused because employees cannot find out if they have Covid-19. Dozens of schools across Wales have sent home children after cases of Covid-19. Last week, Public Health Wales said at least 50 schools were affected, although latest figures suggest this has since risen significantly. Education unions GMB, NEU, UCAC and NASUWT, headteachers' unions NAHT and ASCL, UNISON and Unite raised their concerns in a joint letter. “We strongly urge Welsh government to include the whole school workforce as a priority group for tests,” the letter to the first minister Mark Drakeford stated. “Keeping schools open and properly staffed is a key priority for the sake of all school age children across Wales and for broader economic factors. The sooner staff who need a test are able to either definitively self-isolate where they have a positive result or return to work if they have a negative result and are well enough to do so, the better for pupils and staff at those affected schools.” The letter added: “Workforce planning in order to provide safe school settings is proving difficult already without the ongoing threat of increasing members of staff unable to attend work because they can't access a Covid-19 test.”
GMB news release. BBC News Online. Wales Online.

Hundreds sent home in school outbreaks in Wales

Hundreds of children at one of Wales' biggest schools were sent home last week to self-isolate after a pupil tested positive for coronavirus. Olchfa Comprehensive School has sent letters to parents of those affected advising them of what they have to do. A total of 455 sixth formers must stay at home for two weeks. No staff are self-isolating. Headteacher Hugh Davies told parents of other pupils at the Swansea school that they may still attend. Swansea Council said the rest of the school was running normally and the authority was working with Public Health Wales and NHS Wales' Test Trace and Protect service to ensure appropriate measures were in place to protect students, staff and the wider community.  It is believed that more than 50 schools across Wales have reported Covid-19 incidents to date, although additional cases have since emerged including five Cardiff primary schools where staff and pupils are self-isolating. All Year 7 children at two Newport secondary schools were told to self-isolate after pupils tested positive for coronavirus. At Bridgend's Bryntirion Comprehensive School, more than 200 pupils were sent home. In Cardiff, eight children and three staff at Llanishen Fach Primary School were asked to self-isolate, while 57 youngsters and two employees at Whitchurch High School were also sent home. Ystruth Primary School in Blaina, Blaenau Gwent, closed its doors on 22 September for two weeks because so many of its staff were self-isolating.
Swansea Council news release. BBC News Online and related story and update.

SEN pupil transport a 'tragedy waiting to happen'

The UK government’s ‘heartless’ approach to vulnerable special educational needs (SEN) pupils’ transport to school is a tragedy waiting to happen, the GMB has warned. The union said while most school buses have a strict limit of 30 pupils on a double decker bus to stop the virus spreading, across England SEN pupils are being herded on to small mini buses crammed to capacity - meaning that social distancing is impossible. It added many of these children are extremely vulnerable with significant disabilities and respiratory problems, stating: “They are being packed into small buses before being split into different bubbles within their schools means that there is a high chance that they will be spreading the virus, something which can be potentially fatal considering their underlying health conditions. Meanwhile the minibus drivers, many of whom are paid below the Real Living Wage and have no sick pay, are completely unable to socially distance and are often having to deal with children known to spit which places them at high risk.” GMB senior organiser Andy Prendergast commented: “The current working arrangements on many contracts are almost unchanged from before the pandemic. Whilst many councils have at least backed down and allowed them to wear PPE, this is not universal and effectively places those staff and their passengers at high risk.” He added: “If we can limit numbers on other buses then there is no excuse as to why we cannot limit them for those most at risk. We need swift action from the government to resolve this, with extra buses and more money for cleaning and PPE if we are going to prevent a tragedy that is completely avoidable.”
GMB news release.

More Wetherspoon pubs hit by staff infections

Two more pubs run by the JD Wetherspoon chain have been hit by coronavirus outbreaks among staff. Eight workers at a Swansea Wetherspoon’s pub tested positive for coronavirus, the chain said. And on 21 September, it said 30 staff from the Lime Kiln pub in Liverpool were self-isolating. The news came after the JD Wetherspoon admitted this month that staff at over 50 of its pubs had tested positive, but with the firm nevertheless insisting its venues were safe (Risks 965). The first confirmed case at the Swansea pub was on 9 September, with the staff member and contacts asked to self-isolate. A further seven staff members at The Bank Statement also tested positive over the following days, with one admitted to hospital. The first two coronavirus cases among staff at the Lime Kiln in Liverpool were identified on 16 September, leading to the affected employees and 20 others thought to have been in close contact with them being told to self-isolate. A further 10 positive cases among staff were then identified on 18 and 19 September, leading to more employees being told to self-isolate. Both pubs remained open.
BBC News Online. Liverpool Echo. Daily Mail.

Law firm closed over links to 18 Covid cases

A solicitors’ firm in Bolton linked to 18 cases of coronavirus has had its office closed by the local council. Accident Injury Solicitors was served a closure notice by environmental health officers on 18 September, with immediate effect. The premises will remain closed until Bolton Council is satisfied improvements have been made. The council said the office of AI Solicitors was shut down after family members related to employees working at the firm raised concerns about its practices. They alleged the firm was not informing staff of cases of Covid-19 in the workforce, and employees were being forced to work alongside others who had tested positive for the virus. Environmental health officers visited the premises and found seating was not far enough apart to manage social distancing, and cleaning arrangements were ‘unsatisfactory’. The council and Public Health England found 18 cases linked to the firm. Bolton Council’s executive cabinet member for environment regulatory services, Cllr Hilary Fairclough, said: “The firm clearly showed a disregard for the health of their staff and the wider community. We are in indebted to members of the public for letting us know about these unsafe practices.” A joint taskforce has been set up between Bolton Council and Greater Manchester Police to make sure businesses and individuals are complying with new regulations, with a barber shop and four takeaways shut down last week.
Bolton News. Manchester Evening News. The Law Gazette.


Unite anger at post-Brexit chaos revelations

Unite has called for the public release of a leaked government document warning of potential queues of up to 7,000 lorries across Kent after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December. The union said the document obtained by the Guardian – as well as information on potential post-Brexit disruptions around other coastal regions housing major ports – should be released to allow impacted industries, workers, councils and communities time to prepare. Unite said it is ‘beyond a joke’ that the report states that national IT systems to handle new border arrangements will not be ready for public testing until 1 November. Unite also expressed concerns that the 29 lorry parks across the UK the government is planning to build will lack proper toilet, washing, food and rest facilities for drivers left waiting for extended periods of time. Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “Drivers are facing huge delays in eleventh-hour lorry parks with no guarantee of a clean toilet, shower or a proper meal. Communities are facing gridlock and businesses are facing supply chains grinding to a halt. The government must now release the leaked document on prospective impacts in Kent, as well as similar documents for other port regions across the UK, so workers, communities, councils and businesses can properly prepare.” He added: “Engagement from the government on this issue with trade unions has so far been minimal, with councils and industry also being kept in the dark. Ministers must now get their house in order and work with all stakeholders to ensure cross border operations don’t come to a complete standstill on 1 January.”   
Unite news release. The Guardian. BBC News Online.

ASLEF dismay at minister’s ‘glib’ train crash comments

Train drivers’ union ASLEF has accused the UK transport secretary of “treading on the feelings” of those bereaved in last month’s Stonehaven rail crash, after the cabinet minister said the site looked “like a Hornby train set thrown up in the air”. Kevin Lindsay, organiser for train drivers’ union ASLEF in Scotland, hit out at Grant Shapps’ comment in the Commons on 18 September, calling the remark “glib”. Driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie and passenger Christopher Stuchbury were killed when a Scotrail service came off the tracks following heavy rain on 12 August. Kevin Lindsay said: “It is unfortunate in the extreme that the Secretary of State for Transport should make such a glib remark. This was a real accident, involving real people – three of whom died, and six of whom were injured – and a real train. It was not a Hornby model train set thrown up in the air in a Tory government minister’s playroom.” Lindsay added: “Mr Shapps really should think more carefully about what he says and how he says it, because he is treading on the feelings of the families and friends and colleagues of those who died.” Grant Shapps told the Commons: “I went to the scene of the tragedy. I was taken over in a helicopter. It was like a Hornby train set thrown up in the air. And our thoughts and prayers are with, not just the three who died, but those who were injured and the emergency workers and the brave people who rescued them.”
ASLEF news release. Press and Journal.

Welcome move on spitting, no move on protection

Retail trade union Usdaw has welcomed official recognition that deliberately spitting or coughing at a worker is ‘assault’, but is concerned workers in the sector will continue to lack the necessary legal protection. The union was responding on 15 September to a Sentencing Council consultation on assault offences, which proposes the introduction of ‘intention to cause fear of serious harm, including disease transmission’ as a high culpability factor, with ‘spitting or coughing’ as an aggravating factor. Paddy Lillis, the Usdaw general secretary, said: “Spitting and coughing at someone with the intent of causing harm is a vile assault, so we welcome that the Sentencing Council are looking at this. Spitting has long been a feature of assaults on shop workers, as well as the threat of spitting. Sometimes it is deliberate, when spit is used as a weapon; other times it occurs when customers are extremely angry and end up spitting when shouting.” He added: “We are appalled that violence, threats and abuse have doubled during this national emergency, as compared to 2019, with many shop workers saying spitting and coughing increased during the pandemic. At a time when we should all be working together to get through this crisis, it is a disgrace that people working to keep food on the shelves for their local communities are being abused and assaulted.” He said the union’s petition highlights the urgent need for legal protection for retail staff. “Our message is clear, abuse is not just a part of the job. Life on the frontline of retail is normally pretty tough for many shopworkers and has become much worse during the coronavirus emergency. Shopworkers are on the frontline of feeding the country, providing an essential service in difficult circumstances. They have an essential role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.”
Usdaw news release and petition. Sentencing Council assault offences consultation, closed 15 September 2020.

Government refuses to protect shop workers

Retail trade union Usdaw has said it is ‘disappointed but not surprised’ by the UK government’s 15 September response to a parliamentary petition calling for a law to protect retail staff from violence, threats and abuse. The petition launched by Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis became the fastest growing petition on the parliamentary website when it passed 10,000 signatures in one day. By 22 September over 63,000 had signed. When a petition hits 100,000 signatures, it triggers a parliamentary debate. The petition 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. However, the government response noted: “The government is not persuaded that a specific offence is needed as a wide range of offences already exist which cover assaults against any worker, including shop workers.” Paddy Lillis commented: “We deeply disappointed by the government’s response to the petition. This is a hugely important issue for our members and their local communities, with incidents of abuse doubling during the Covid-19 crisis. Shop workers are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be just a part of the job.” He added: “We now continue to campaign for the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a parliamentary debate and we hope that, as the government has failed to listen, MPs will hear the voices of shop workers, their constituents and employers and back legislating for stiffer penalties for those who assault workers. Retail staff play 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. Violence and Abuse Toward Shop Staff – Government Response.  


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.


China: Factory leak spreads animal disease

Thousands of people in northwest China have been diagnosed with a highly infectious bacterial disease after an outbreak caused by a leak at a pharmaceutical company. Authorities in the city of Lanzhou confirmed that 3,245 people had tested positive for brucellosis – a zoonotic disease usually caused by contact with farm animals such as cows, goats and pigs. The contagious illness can cause symptoms including loss of appetite, headaches, muscle pain, fever and tiredness. A minority of those affected may develop endocarditis, a potentially fatal heart condition. The National Health Commission of Lanzhou, in Gansu province, said they had tested 21,847 people so far and had found no deaths from the illness. The commission said the outbreak had been caused by “contaminated exhaust” from a factory in Lanzhou producing vaccines for animals. From late July to late August in 2019, waste gas containing the brucella bacteria seeped out into the air. The Zhongmu Lanzhou factory was found to have used expired disinfectants, so not all of the bacteria were eradicated in the waste gas. The city’s health authority anticipates there will be more positive cases in the coming days. Another 1,401 people in Lanzhou have tested as “preliminarily” positive for brucellosis, according to CNN. In December last year the Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported that 181 people working at a veterinary research facility near the factory had contacted the disease – but the full scale of the outbreak was not reported until now. Global union confederation ITUC has for several years been pressing for a global International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention on biological hazards at work, to cover diseases like brucellosis, MRSA, SARS, MERS, Bird Flu and now Covid-19.
CNN News. The Independent.
Resources: Brucellosis in humans and animals, WHO.

France: Burned out virus testers strike over conditions

Hundreds of workers at Covid-19 laboratories in France went on strike on 17 September over the poor working conditions in the over-stretched coronavirus testing system. The CGT union said the strike was disrupting testing in some towns and could drag on if laboratory owners failed to deal with staff shortages and increase pay. France has ramped up testing six-fold since the peak of the first wave and carried out 1.2 million tests last week, health minister Olivier Veran told a news conference. But at some testing centres, people queue around the block and results can take days because of the bottleneck in laboratories. Le Figaro reported that in a meeting with senior ministers last week, President Emmanuel Macron said: “One million tests is all well and good, but it’s pointless if the results arrive too late.” The lab workers strike coincided with street protests organised by the CGT and other unions in numerous cities across France.
US News and World Report. The Telegraph.

Global: Health workers hit hard by Covid infections

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said health care workers make up about 1 in 6 cases of coronavirus infection around the world and more than a third of cases in some countries. “While health workers represent less than 3 per cent of the population in the large majority of countries and less than 2 per cent in almost all low- and middle-income countries, around 14 per cent of Covid-19 cases reported to WHO are among health workers,” the UN agency said in a statement. “In some countries, the proportion can be as high as 35 per cent,” WHO said, noting that Covid-19 has exposed health workers and their families to “unprecedented” levels of risk and thousands have lost their lives globally. During a news briefing marking World Patient Safety Day on 17 September, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged governments to address the threats health workers face and announced the launch of a WHO Health Worker Safety Charter. The charter includes steps to better protect workers and improve their mental health. “The Covid-19 pandemic has reminded all of us of the vital role health workers play to relieve suffering and save lives,” Tedros said. “No country, hospital or clinic can keep its patients safe unless it keeps its health workers safe.” Guy Ryder, director general of the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO), said the WHO figures on infections among health workers were a “shocking testimony.” Speaking at the launch of the charter, he said: “Patients’ safety requires guarantees of health worker safety as well - two sides of the same coin. Regrettably too often those guarantees are missing.” WHO guidance on workplace Covid-19 risks, which continues to downplay the aerosol transmission risk facing many health care and other workers (Risks 962), has been criticised previously as complacent and ‘incredibly harmful’ by trade unions.
WHO news release, WHO director-general speech and Health Worker Safety Charter.
Other resources: Caring for those who care: National Programmes for Occupational Health for Health Workers, Policy Brief by WHO and ILO. Protection of health and safety of health workers: Checklist for healthcare facilities, WHO.
OpenWHO online course Occupational health and safety for health workers in the context of COVID-19, short free course aimed at health care workers.
The Hill. US News and World Report.
WHO knew? Complacency over work virus risks a world class disaster, Hazards magazine, number 150, 2020.

USA: Safety regulator has abandoned at risk workers

Estimates based on data from the US government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that more than 150,000 US hospital and nursing home staff have been infected by the coronavirus at work, and more than 700 have died. As the epidemic has spread, many other workers, including emergency responders, corrections officers, transit workers, and workers in meat and poultry factories, farms, grocery stores, and warehouses, also have been infected, with “a devastating effect on communities of colour”, a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has warned. But instead of stepping in to help protect workers, the US workplace safety regulator, OSHA, has failed to act notes the paper. Co-authored by the agency’s former head, David Michaels, the paper notes: “OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued unenforceable recommendations for worker protection. For example, the more than 40,000 infected meat factory workers demonstrate that voluntary recommendations alone do not always motivate employers to implement adequate protections.” It concludes: “Worker protection needs to become a high priority for the federal government, and the White House should create a comprehensive roadmap that focuses on worker protection. Failure to exert leadership and develop effective policy in this area, including involving and engaging all affected groups and constituencies in stopping workplace spread of the virus, has had and will likely continue to have serious repercussions, not just for workers, but for the health and economy of the nation.”
David Michaels and Gregory R Wagner. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Worker Safety During the COVID-19 Pandemic, JAMA, published online 16 September 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.16343


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