Toggle high contrast
Issue date

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



Massive under-reporting of Covid cases at food firms

The number of Covid-19 infections at food factories could be more than 30 times higher than reported, according to research that concludes employers have too much influence over official data. A report from the ethical investments consultancy Pirc comes on the heels of academic research showing ‘many thousands’ of UK work-related cases and hundreds of deaths were being missed by the RIDDOR occupational accident and disease reporting system (Risks 966) and a June warning from Hazards magazine of an “intelligence failure” at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), with the regulator “having little idea what was going on” (Risks 958). Food manufacturing has been at the heart of several major local outbreaks, with workers reporting cramped conditions and pressure not to miss work even when displaying symptoms. The Pirc investigation found just 47 notifications of Covid-19 workplace infections – and no deaths – had been reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) by food manufacturing companies, who employ 430,000 people in the UK. Pirc calculated there have been at least 1,461 infections and six deaths in the sector, with the true toll likely to be even higher. The research consultancy said the discrepancy was partly due to a loophole that allows companies to determine whether employees were infected on the job, or elsewhere, when they submit RIDDOR reports to HSE. It also criticised ‘the myth of community transmission’ of what are really work-related cases. Pirc’s labour specialist, Alice Martin, said the findings showed that figures submitted to HSE by companies, who can be fined for lax workplace safety conditions, “lack credibility.” She added: “We urge companies across all sectors to put as much information as possible on testing, cases and fatalities into the public domain.” Pirc based its findings on one-to-one worker interviews, trade union surveys and media reports about food processing companies. Unite national officer Bev Clarkson confirmed to the Observer the official figures were “drastically at odds” with the reality faced by food processing workers, particularly in the meat industry. She added in many workplaces risks “have been exacerbated by employers neglecting to implement proper coronavirus health and safety measures, as well as refusing to provide adequate sick pay to those who need to self-isolate.”
Unreported deaths. A PIRC sector briefing: Food production, September 2020.
RM Agius. COVID-19: statutory means of scrutinizing workers' deaths and disease, Occupational Medicine, 21 September 2020.
Abdication: HSE has been missing in action throughout the Covid-19 crisis, Hazards, June 2020.  The Observer.

Strict government Covid enforcement – except at work

A sharp disparity between enforcement resources directed at public and workplace breaches of Covid-19 rules has emerged. From 28 September, refusing to self-isolate when told became illegal in England, with fines of up to £10,000. The measures, introduced without any parliamentary scrutiny, mean anyone who tests positive for Covid-19, or has been told they have been in contact with someone who has, now has a legal duty to quarantine. A funding pot of £60m is to be made available for police and local authorities in England to assist them in enforcing Covid-19 rules, and includes the introduction of Covid ‘marshals’. By contrast, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was provided with a boost to its coffers of just £14m and has not to date prosecuted any firms for breaching criminal safety laws over Covid, despite thousands of firms breaching ‘Covid-Secure’ work rules (Risks 965) and failing in their legal responsibility to report work-related cases. Unions have warned repeatedly that the chronic under-funding of HSE is undermining Covid prevention at work (Risks 962). As the new funds for HSE are non-recurring, much went into an increase in out-sourced call centre capacity. The TUC revealed two weeks ago that HSE was also tendering for a private contractor to take on an inspection-lite role, as HSE cannot recruit and train new inspectors without an increase in its base budget. “Big outsourcing companies have failed the UK on test and trace – and now this government is going to give them more money to fail again, on workplace safety,” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said at the time. “This is a risky strategy that could undermine the respect employers and unions have for trained HSE inspectors.”
DHSC news release. CIEH news report. UCL Constitution Unit blog. BBC News Online.
TUC crowdsourced database of companies that have published their Covid-secure risk assessment, in compliance with government guidelines. You can view the risk assessments identified so far at Prospect campaign for a fully funded HSE.

TUC welcomes new short-term working scheme

The TUC has said the government’s announcement of a short-time working scheme ‘is a significant step forward’. The union body was commenting after a 24 September statement from chancellor Riski Sunak announcing a new Jobs Support Scheme. This will replace the furlough scheme at end of October and will see workers in ‘viable’ jobs get up to 77 per cent of their normal salaries for six months. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Unions have been pushing hard for continued jobs support for working people. We are pleased the chancellor has listened and done the right thing. This scheme will provide a lifeline for many firms with a viable future beyond the pandemic.” She added: “The government should target help at industries facing a tough winter, and provide more support for families most at risk of hardship and debt.” The TUC leader added: “We must use this period of protection to make the economy more resilient and to plan a strong recovery. Ministers must quickly get Test and Trace working properly, so it’s fast and reliable through the UK. And enforcement bodies must get more resources to make sure all workplaces safe.” O’Grady said: “A National Recovery Council should now be convened, bringing together government, business and unions. We can use the winter months to plan an economic spring, with fair rewards for key workers and good new jobs in green industry. Let's get moving on a national plan to build that together.” The chancellor’s speech came two days after the prime minister told the House of Commons Covid-related work restrictions would be tightened, in a reversal of his 1 August ‘go to work’ call (Risks 966).
TUC news release. Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s speech, 24 September 2020. Prime minister’s statement, 22 September 2020. BBC News Online.

UCU says university teaching must go online

Face-to-face teaching at universities should be halted until the government fixes test-and-trace failures and curbs the spread of Covid-19, the lecturers’ union UCU has said. The warning comes as institutions increasingly take matters into their own hands by switching to majority online-only teaching. Others are spending millions of pounds instituting their own test-and-trace systems to identify outbreaks on campus. Strict disciplinary measures for students who flout social distancing rules are also being brought in. By 28 September, outbreaks had hit about 40 universities, forcing thousands of students into self-isolation. Hundreds of coronavirus cases were confirmed on campuses. UCU general secretary Jo Grady, who has written to prime minister Boris Johnson urging him to make online learning the default position for universities, said: “Given the rapidly changing situation and the increasing Covid outbreaks, now is the time for swift action and to move the majority of universities’ work online. We are not prepared to take chances with the health and safety of students, staff or local communities.” She added: 'We now understand that pandemic modelling identified halls and in-person teaching as areas of risk, yet the government insisted universities continued to welcome students. We want the prime minster to explain why that modelling was ignored. We believe a summer spent selling a university experience to prospective students that couldn't be delivered would have been better spent following the science and preparing properly for this inevitable crisis.”
UCU news release, update and letter to the prime minister and news releases on Manchester Metropolitan University and University of Liverpool outbreaks and Scottish university restrictions. The Guardian. BBC News Online and update.

Government must do more to keep schools open and safe

Giving all education staff priority testing, reducing the size of pupil ‘bubbles’ and making face coverings compulsory on school buses would help ensure schools can continue to stay open in the coming weeks, education unions have said. In a joint letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson, UNISON, GMB and Unite outline proposals to reduce the risk of infection for children and staff, and reduce the likelihood of entire schools closing. The letter stresses that all school employees should have priority access to testing – not just teachers – and full pay must be given to lower paid workers who need to isolate. It also calls for more information to be shared with staff about suspected Covid-19 cases at their schools. The three unions – representing school support staff across the UK including teaching assistants, technicians, catering workers, cleaning staff, caretakers, and receptionists – say the government must introduce additional measures to halt rising infections. Unite national officer Ian Woodland said: “The key to this is a comprehensive ‘test and trace’ system for staff and schoolchildren – something, in the eight months of the pandemic, the government has conspicuously failed to provide.” UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “It takes just one infection at a school to disrupt learning, potentially for dozens of children, as well as putting the health of staff and families in the community at risk.” He added: “With the virus taking hold again, the government must use all options to reduce the spread. School closures will create further childcare difficulties for key workers, who the country will be depending upon in the coming months.” And GMB national officer Karen Leonard said: “GMB and other unions have worked hard throughout the summer to ensure schools stayed safe for pupils, staff and parents – despite vilification from the Conservative establishment. With Covid cases increasing throughout the whole of the UK, we have written to the government setting out constructive suggestions for our schools – including full contractual sick pay for all those working in our schools.” Headteachers have warned class sizes in the UK may rise to 60 as schools struggle to cover for self-isolating teachers. The National Association of Head Teachers said a lack of coronavirus tests forces staff to stay home longer than necessary.
Unite news release. GMB news release. The Observer.

Bus passenger face covering fines ‘vanishingly rare’

Over three months after the requirement for face coverings to be worn on public transport was first made compulsory, fines for those not complying with the order are 'vanishingly rare', the union Unite has said. The transport union – whose public transport members have been hit hard by Covid-19 - is warning that the government’s latest announcement of increased fines for not wearing face coverings could make little difference unless accompanied by properly resourced and consistent enforcement. The union was commenting after prime minister Boris Johnson announced last week that fines for not wearing in a mask on public transport and in shops would increase from £100 to £200 for a first offence. But Unite says the government’s own figures reveal that just 368 fines or fixed penalty notices were issued in London over a three month period. Outside of London, for the period until the end of August for England and Wales, that figure falls to just 38, according to data obtained from the National Police Chiefs Council. Under the regulations only a police officer can enforce a fine or a penalty notice but the union has been pressing bus companies to utilise their own enforcement officers or work with government-appointed Covid marshals to prevent passengers without face coverings from boarding buses. Unite national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton said: “Penalties for those who refuse to comply with the law on face coverings on public transport are vanishingly rare. So increasing the fines for not wearing a face covering will make little difference unless they are alongside stricter and more rigorous enforcement.” He said a ‘significant minority’ were ignoring the rules, adding: “The bus operators have to be proactive in protecting their workforce and passengers and not pass the buck on this vitally important matter of public health. What needs to be totally understood is that bus drivers cannot and will not enforce the wearing of masks. Their job is to get passengers to their destination safely, not to police public health.”
Unite news release.

Shop workers need respect as Covid rules tighten

Retail trade union Usdaw has called on the shopping public to respect shop workers and follow the necessary in-store safety measures to keep us all safe. The union comments came in its response to new workplace and other Covid-19 rules announced by the prime minister on 22 September. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “The increase in Covid-19 cases is alarming and we urge the government to ensure key workers are protected. We are deeply worried about safety measures not being followed and the impact that has on the safety of staff.” He added: “We note that face coverings are going to become mandatory for shop workers in England, as they currently are in Scotland for staff who are not behind screens. We are urging employers to ensure staff get regular breaks where they can take the face covering off and change it for a fresh one. We also encourage managers to be sympathetic to workers who are exempt from wearing masks. Any Usdaw member with concerns should contact their rep for advice. To help keep the number of infections as low as possible, we are calling on all shoppers to follow key government advice on washing hands, covering your face and making space. We are also urging everyone to respect shop workers.” Usdaw warned that shop workers may now be a greater risk of violence, verbal abuse and coronavirus infection as a result of the government’s decision that pubs must shut at 10pm. The union said stores remaining open until later in England were likely to become “very busy” with people buying alcohol, “triggering” antisocial behaviour.
Usdaw news release. BBC News Online.

Covid-19 is biggest violence flashpoint for shopworkers

Enforcing social distancing measures and the wearing of face coverings are now the biggest triggers for abuse of shopworkers, a survey by Usdaw has found. The union said earlier similar surveys had found consistently that theft from shops and age identification were the major flashpoints, but these had now been overtaken by Covid-related abuse. The survey of 2,232 shopworkers was conducted online in mid-September and asked the question: ‘What were the main triggers for abuse during the Coronavirus emergency?’, with respondents able to identify more than one issue. Enforcing social distancing topped the list, reported by over two-thirds of shop workers (68 per cent). This was followed by queuing to get in store (50 per cent) and lack of stock (46 per cent). The pre-Covid top picks, shoplifting and age restricted sales, trailed far behind at 25 per cent and 17 per cent respectively. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Yet another Usdaw survey shows that some people have responded to an appalling national pandemic, which has severely impacted everyone’s lives, by abusing shop workers.” He added: “I urge the government to listen to the voices of shop workers and legislate for stiffer penalties for those who assault workers.”
Usdaw news release and petition. Morning Star.

Health and care staff need reassurance about the future

Health and care staff need reassurance about next stage of the pandemic, the public sector union UNISON has said. The union was commenting on the health secretary’s announcement of increased production and supply of personal protective equipment for health and care workers. “We have built robust and resilient supply chains from scratch and thanks to an absolutely phenomenal effort from UK businesses, almost threequarters of demand for PPE will soon be met by UK manufacturers,” said Matt Hancock. “As we take every step to combat this virus we are setting out this plan to reassure our health and social care workers that they will have the PPE they need to carry out their tireless work.” UNISON head of health Sara Gorton commented: “It’s been a terrible time and with infections on the rise, the pandemic is far from over. Health staff and care workers need reassurances there’ll be no repeats of the nightmares with safety kit shortages they faced in the spring.” She added: “It’s good most protective equipment will now be coming from UK firms, so supplies will be guaranteed and won’t have to be shipped as far. Other aspects of staff welfare must also be tackled to increase safety and reduce the pressures. They all need proper breaks and the chance to take leave.” Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, said: “The devil will be in the detail but health leaders will welcome that there is a national strategy for protecting their staff, one which hopefully avoids the chaotic and anxiety causing scenes experienced in the spring. Putting this strategy in place now therefore allows the system to be in a stronger place to fight the virus without staff worrying that they may be at additional risk.”
DHSC news release and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Strategy: Stabilise and build resilience. UNISON news release. NHS Confederation news release.

Coronavirus may cause 'wave' of neurological disease

Covid-19 can cause worrying neurological symptoms like a loss of smell and taste, but Australian scientists are warning the damage the virus causes to the brain may also lead to more serious conditions such as Parkinson's disease. They say there is a worrying precedent. Five years after the Spanish flu pandemic in the early 1900s, there was up to a three-fold increase in the incidence of Parkinson's disease. Study co-author Kevin Barnham from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health said he believed a similar “silent wave” of neurological illness would follow this pandemic. Findings published in the Journal of Parkinson's Disease describe a “two-hit hypothesis”: The brain gets inflamed from something like a virus, then something else comes along later causing more damage and eventually Parkinson's disease develops. “Evidence is already suggesting the triggers for Parkinson's disease are there with this virus,” Professor Barnham said. “We can't put a number on it, but with 30 million people worldwide affected by this virus, even a small shift in the risk of getting Parkinson's would lead to many more people being diagnosed.” Florey Institute scientist and co-author of the paper, Leah Beauchamp, said there was an opportunity to get ready. “We weren't prepared the last time - more than 100 years ago. We have the tools and we can get ahead of this now,” she said. “The real question is: Are we prepared to take action now to avoid history repeating itself?”
Leah C Beauchamp and others. Parkinsonism as a Third Wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic?, Journal of Parkinson's Disease, published online pre-press, 22 September 2020. ABC News.


Brexit chaos could ‘strand’ HGV drivers at ports

Michael Gove has been accused of being ‘evasive and blame-shifting’ on Britain’s border readiness with 100 days to go before full Brexit. Transport union Unite was responding to the Cabinet office minister’s comments to the House of Commons on 23 September on the UK’s preparations for the end of the EU transition period on 31 December, after the government published its scenario document on the implications for the UK’s port trade hubs (Risks 965). Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “I welcome the government’s publication of its reasonable worst-case scenario, which Unite called for last week. However, the publication of the document and Mr Gove’s speech to MPs today, will not have provided any reassurance for Unite’s HGV driver members, industry or the communities who stand to be impacted by looming traffic and trade chaos at our borders.” He added: “The end of the transition period is rapidly approaching, and the country cannot afford another repeat of Mr Gove’s evasive answers and blame-shifting. Unless there is significant change of direction from ministers, Unite’s HGV driver members face being stranded for days, more than likely without clean toilets, showers or decent food, with the knock-on consequences causing gridlock and doing untold damage to the economy.”
Unite news release.

Uber decision ‘a sad day for the travelling public’

The news that Uber has won its appeal against Transport for London's (TfL) decision not to renew its licence has been met with concern by Unite. The union, which represents nearly 1,000 taxi cab drivers in the capital, was reacting to the ruling by Westminster magistrates court that Uber was now ‘fit and proper’ to hold an operator’s licence. Uber operates in more than 60 countries across the globe. Chair of the Unite London taxi section Jim Kelly said: “It is our view that Uber has a ruthless business model that undermines safety and long-established regulations and now they have got the green light to continue operating in London which is very disappointing. Our members have high standards of training and knowledge. They are trusted by the travelling public – but all that apparently counts for nothing in the pursuit of corporate profit.” He added: “We will need to study the court ruling in detail before commenting further. We will be discussing this with Transport for London (TfL) and with London’s mayor Sadiq Khan to explore what can be done to mitigate this decision. This is devastating news for our nearly 1,000 taxi drivers in London and further threatens their income which has already been badly hit by Covid-19 which has seen tourists shy away from the UK and many office staff continuing to work from home. I genuinely fear for the future of taxis in London, whose history stretches back to hackney coaches in the 1630s.” In a statement, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “I can assure Londoners that TfL will continue to closely monitor Uber and will not hesitate to take swift action should they fail to meet the strict standards required to protect passengers.”
Unite news release. London mayor statement. BBC News Online.

Call for immediate action on deadly silica risks

MPs are being urged to take immediate action to prevent avoidable deaths and illness caused by exposure to respirable crystalline silica. The British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS), the scientific society on workplace health exposures, has written to MPs calling for action on a dust hazard which could put over 2 million workers at risk in the construction industry alone. It warns that hundreds are dying each year from the lung-scarring disease silicosis and that those infected by Covid-19 could be especially vulnerable. Silica is also linked to 4,000 deaths a year from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Unions have also raised concerns about hundreds of preventable silica-related work cancer deaths each year and a link to serious autoimmune and other diseases. BOHS warns: “With a shortage and ramped up costs for respiratory protection equipment (RPE) and pressures to cut costs and an over-stretched HSE [Health and Safety Executive], the Society fears the problem is about to get much worse.” Kevin Bampton, the chief executive of BOHS, said: “Brexit is likely to dominate the parliamentary agenda, but this is literally life and death. Parliamentarians have recognised the urgency of this issue; we are now asking them to follow through on this. Action now can prevent Covid-19 deaths, but also long-term illness and disability.” The union Unite has been at the forefront of the campaign for better controls on silica, which is a risk to its members in construction, foundries, ceramics, quarries and other sectors. Last year Unite launched a silica exposure register for its members (Risks 909) and backed a campaign to cut the current UK legal limit of 0.1 mg/m³ for respirable crystalline silica to no more than 0.05 mg/m³. It said this move would dramatically reduce the incidence of silicosis, lung cancer, autoimmune diseases and other silica-related conditions (Risks 916).
BOHS news release. Unite silica dust campaign and silica exposure register.
Biting the dust: HSE defends a silica standard six times more deadly, Hazards, number 148, December 2019.
ACTION: Send an e-postcard to HSE demanding it introduce a more protective UK silica standard no higher than 0.05mg/m³ and with a phased move to 0.025mg/m³.

HSE inspections to target site dust

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors across Great Britain will be targeting construction firms to check that their health standards are up to scratch during a month-long inspection initiative, starting on 5 October 2020. The safety regulator says it will be looking at the measures businesses have in place to protect their workers’ lungs from potentially deadly hazards including asbestos, silica and wood dust. It adds while the primary focus will be on health during this programme of inspections, if a HSE inspector identifies any other areas of concern, they will take the necessary enforcement action to deal with them. This will include making sure that businesses are doing all they can to protect their workers from the risk of coronavirus and make workplaces Covid-secure, it says. HSE’s chief inspector of construction, Sarah Jardine, said: “Around 100 times as many workers die from diseases caused or made worse by their work than are actually killed in construction accidents. Our inspection initiatives ensure that inspectors are able to speak to dutyholders and visit sites to look at the kind of action businesses in the construction industry are taking right now to protect their workers’ health, particularly when it comes to exposure to dust and damage to lungs.” She added: “We want businesses and their workers to think of the job from start to finish and avoid creating dust by working in different ways to keep dust down and wear the right mask and clothing.”
HSE news release.

RMT members to strike for safety on Caledonian Sleeper

RMT members on the Caledonian Sleeper have voted in favour of strike action and action short of a strike in a safety dispute. The union said this showed the clear desire to take industrial action against private operator SERCO's lack of concern for members’ safety and wellbeing and the company's refusal to negotiate with their union. Unite said SERCO Caledonian Sleeper continues to provide insufficient berths for workers’ rest periods. It condemned “the company's inability to address the fatigue experienced by RMT members as a result.” RMT added that” safety on the railway is paramount and the company are showing a clear lack of regard for the welfare of its staff. There is no question that RMT members are essential for the safe running of the railway and it is vital that staff are able to carry out their duties responsively and quickly. This can only happen when staff are free from the danger of fatigue.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Our vote shows that members on SERCO Caledonian Sleeper are absolutely determined to seek justice in this dispute and I am sure this will be displayed by full support across the service for this industrial action.” He added: “A clear message has been sent to management by the vote and now by this call to action. It is now time for the SERCO management to respond in a meaningful and positive way to the serious safety issues at the heart of this dispute.”
RMT news release and strike talks update.

RMT says unfilled vacancies are causing safety hazards

Safety on Scotland’s rail network is being jeopardised by the ‘double whammy’ of 200 unfilled job vacancies at Network Rail and private contractors planning redundancies, rail union RMT has warned. A motion tabled in the Scottish parliament calls on the Scottish government to ensure safety on the network by employing sufficient workers to maintain the rail infrastructure. It says that MSPs are “alarmed that reported rail infrastructure redundancies and unfilled vacancies will adversely impact on the quality of the rail network and passenger safety.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash commented: “RMT is concerned that this double whammy of significant vacant posts in Network Rail Scotland while private contractors make vital railway workers redundant is putting huge pressure on an already stretched workforce.” He added: “We’d like to thank those MSPs who have shone a light on this and we now need cast iron guarantees from the Scottish government that they will ensure those vacant posts are filled as quickly as possible and that there will be no more redundancies by private contractors and ensure there is a proper strategy to protect and increase vital rail jobs in Scotland.”
RMT news release. Morning Star.

Progress on law to protect Scottish shopworkers

Retail trade union Usdaw has welcomed the Scottish parliament’s stage one unanimous vote for a new law to protect shop workers from abuse. The vote on 24 September allows the Bill to go forward for detailed scrutiny in committee. The Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill is promoted by Daniel Johnson MSP. Stewart Forrest, Usdaw’s Scottish divisional officer, said: “We are delighted that MSPs have recognised that retail workers are subjected to unacceptable violence, threats and aggression every working day. We welcome the support of MSPs across the parties and of the Scottish government. We congratulate Daniel Johnson MSP for the work he has done on behalf of our members and retail workers across Scotland by introducing this Bill and driving it forwards.” Paddy Lillis, Usdaw’s general secretary, added: “The Scottish parliament is leading the way on protection of shopworkers by passing this Bill onto the next stage. 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 are being abused and assaulted. Action is required. Our message is clear, abuse is not part of the job.” The Usdaw leader added: “Retail staff are key workers delivering essential services and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law. Shops are the cornerstone of our communities and we continue to work with the employers to improve health and safety for staff. We also call on customers to stay calm and respect shopworkers.”
Usdaw news release. Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill.

Firm fined £2m after water jetting fatality

A company has been fined £2 million after a worker suffered a fatal injury while cleaning waste water pipes. Birmingham Magistrates Court heard how, on 18 June 2017, Joseph McDonald was using high pressure water jetting equipment to clear paint residue from pipes in the paint shop at a car manufacturing site in Solihull. The 38-year-old employee of specialist industrial services company Leadec Limited was struck by an attachment at the end of a hose causing a fatal injury. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company recognised the risks of operating high pressure water jetting equipment but had not put in place appropriate measures to mitigate the risks. They had not implemented or enforced the use of various control measures such as a pressure regulator or an anti-ejection device, which were missing at the time of the incident, and training and supervision were not up to standard. Leadec Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of safety law and was fined £2 million and ordered to pay £30,000 in costs. HSE inspector Richard Littlefair commented: “Companies must understand that high risk activities require a thorough risk assessment process and robust management systems to protect their employees from risk of serious or fatal injuries.” He added: “It is not good enough for companies to assume they are doing all they can to control the risk just because there have been no previous incidents. Joseph McDonald’s death could have been prevented had Leadec Limited had the necessary control measures and management systems in place to protect its employees.”
HSE news release. Leamington Observer.


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.


Canada: Anger as ‘non-profit’ pushes asbestos globally

A lobby group promoting asbestos sales in developing nations and listed in Quebec as a public interest ‘non-profit’ should be deregistered by the provincial government, health campaigners have said. In a letter to Quebec Premier François Legault, Kathleen Ruff of RightOnCanada and Dr Jean Zigby, past president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, call for the International Chrysotile Association (ICA) to be stripped of its non-profit status under the Quebec Companies Act. The Quebec government states that non-profit organisations incorporated in the province must undertake moral or altruistic activities. Ruff and Zigby say legal precedents have established the courts have the authority to remove ICA’s non-profit status because of its ‘immoral, deadly activities’. The August 2020 findings of a Quebec government commissioned independent commission into chrysotile asbestos “rejected the misinformation disseminated by the ICA and called on the Quebec government to take action to protect the people of Quebec from asbestos,” Ruff and Zigby say. Calling for ICA to be denied non-profit status, they note: “For the past 23 years the ICA, operating out of Quebec, has played a leading role in obstructing bans on asbestos in developing countries and in sabotaging protections against asbestos harm under the UN Rotterdam Convention. At the moment Quebec is employing a double standard and is treating the lives of people overseas as having less value than the people of Quebec. This is bringing dishonour on Quebec and is against the public interest.”
RightOnCanada blog and 21 September letter to the Quebec Premier.

Europe: Industry tries to stall hazardous chemicals database

A coalition of 40 manufacturing industry organisations has urged the European Commission to put the brakes on a new EU chemicals database requiring suppliers selling products containing hazardous substances to provide extra information about their chemical constituents. The trade bodies, which represent business across wide sections of the economy from aerospace to battery manufacturers, wrote to commission president Ursula von der Leyen on 21 September urging her to postpone by at least one year the European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA) new Substances of Concern in Products (SCIP) database. The lobbyists also want ECHA to carry out a “usefulness study” to test the “feasibility, proportionality and impact” of the database on business, which they argue is unworkable and of little value. Suppliers of products containing substances of very high concern (SVHC) are being asked to list extra information on the safe use of “complex objects” - such as electronic equipment or furniture - and “articles as such” containing SVHCs above 0.1 per cent weight for weight. However, the trade bodies want the SCIP database revised according to the outcome of the requested ECHA feasibility study. “A proper impact study should help shape the way forward to deliver on the EU ambition for a circular European economy,” states the letter, which was signed by organisations including BusinessEurope, auto industry body ACEA and batteries group Eurobat. The letter is supported by international trade bodies including the US National Association of Manufacturers.
Ends Europe. Industries letter to EC president Ursula von der Leyen.

Europe: Work cancer action welcome, but not enough

Trade unions have welcomed action by the European Commission they say will protect over 1.1 million people from work-related cancer by putting binding exposure limits on three dangerous substances. The Commission has proposed Binding Occupational Exposure Limit Values (BOELs) on acrylonitrile, nickel compounds and benzene as part of an update to its Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (CMD). It means new or updated limits have now been placed on 27 carcinogens since 2014. However, the Europe-wide trade union body ETUC expressed concern that “no action has been taken to limit exposure levels to 20 more cancer-causing substances, while existing exposure limits for common workplace carcinogens like crystalline silica, diesel emissions and asbestos do not offer sufficient protection and urgently need to be updated.” ETUC said its objective is to have at least 50 priority carcinogens with BOELs under the CMD by 2024. ETUC deputy general secretary Per Hilmersson said: “No one should be placed at risk of cancer when they go to work. New EU limits on three cancer-causing substances is a step in the right direction, but too little at a time when 100,000 people die of work-related cancer every year.” He added: “It is clearly unacceptable that workers still have no protections from 20 high risk substances, so the Commission must continue updating the legislation to ensure there are exposure limits on all of the most dangerous cancer-causing substances.”
EC news release and Commission Proposal for the fourth revision of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive. ETUC news release.

USA: Fast line speeds linked to high Covid rates

Forty per cent of the poultry plants participating in the US agricultural department’s (USDA) controversial line speed waiver programme have had Covid-19 outbreaks, according to a new analysis by the Food and Environment Reporting Network. Unions and workers’ rights groups have warned continually that faster speeds on crowded processing lines could expose slaughterhouse workers to a greater risk of Covid-19. A regulatory waiver programme at the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service permits participating poultry plants to run their processing lines at 175 birds per minute (bpm), 25 per cent faster than the long-time industry standard of 140 bpm. According to FSIS data, 54 chicken or turkey plants have received waivers. Twenty-two of those plants, or 40 per cent, have had Covid-19 outbreaks, according to FERN’s outbreaks database. That represents a higher proportion of outbreaks than in the overall meatpacking sector. Since April, FERN has counted Covid-19 outbreaks at nearly 500 US meatpacking plants, about 14 per cent of the estimated 3,500 meatpacking plants nationwide. Debbie Berkowitz, worker safety programme director at the National Employment Law Project (NELP) and a former chief of staff at the US work safety regulator OSHA, said there is a “definite connection between the risk of Covid-19 spreading in the plants and the speed of the lines.” Workers at plants with higher line speeds could be at greater risk of contracting the virus, she said, because faster processing rates generally require workers to stand closer together. Between April and September, FERN has recorded about 100 Covid-19 outbreaks at chicken or turkey plants, where nearly 8,000 workers have been infected and 37 have died.
FERN report. Covid-19 demands from the global food union IUF.


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