Toggle high contrast
Issue date

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



Government admits Covid airborne transmission risk

A UK government Covid-19 prevention strategy based on an assumption the disease was transmitted by close contact with viral-loaded droplets was wrong, latest Public Health England (PHE) guidance suggests. The 2m and 1m+ social distancing rules and recommendations limited the best respirators to those in the immediate vicinity of infected individuals or using ‘aerosol generating procedures’ meant only a small proportion of workers were provided the more effective respirators and other stringent protective measures. But revised guidance on ‘SARS-CoV-2’ issued by PHE on 30 September notes Covid-19 “is primarily transmitted between people through respiratory (droplet and aerosol) and contact routes. Transmission risk is highest where people are in close proximity (within 2 metres). Airborne transmission can occur in health and care settings in which procedures or support treatments that generate aerosols are performed.” Crucially, though, the guidance now adds: “Airborne transmission may also occur in poorly ventilated indoor spaces, particularly if individuals are in the same room together for an extended period of time.” The recognition of airborne transmission indicates a much wider group of workers could be at risk, and helps explain the higher Covid-19 death rates in some non-medical service sector jobs and in construction identified by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in a 22 September report. It could also explain the high number of outbreaks now hitting a wide range of UK workplaces. In July, over 200 scientists backed a letter to the World Health Organisation (WHO) urging it to recognise the risks posed by airborne transmission. The UK government had until this revision of its guidance followed the WHO’s controversial line (Risks 962) downplaying the risks of airborne transmission (Risks 955).
COVID-19: epidemiology, virology and clinical features, PHE guidance, updated 30 September 2020.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) related deaths by occupation, before and during lockdown, England and Wales: deaths registered between 9 March and 30 June 2020, 22 September 2020.
Lidia Morawska, Donald K Milton. It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19, Clinical Infectious Diseases, ciaa939, 6 July 2020. 
WHO knew? WHO’s complacency over work virus risks a world class disaster, Hazards special report, July 2020.

We’ll be ‘policed all the way to the factory gates’

Larger penalties and £60m new money to enforce social distancing rules will mean ‘we’ll be policed all the way to the factory gates’, while workplace scrutiny remains threadbare. The warning from the national Hazards Campaign came after the UK government announced fines of up to £10,000 for individuals flouting Covid-19 rules, together with new enforcement cash and ‘Covid Marshals’ to police the rules (Risks 967). Campaign chair Janet Newsham said: “At a time when money should be spent preventing the spread of infections in schools, care homes, hospitals, meat processing plants and offices, the government has chosen to set aside £60m for police and local authorities to enforce the new laws. However, when workers are inside their factories, offices and other premises, there is little money being spent on enforcing safe control of the transmission risks and ensuring their health, safety and welfare. Again, it seems like workers health is being regarded as different to public health.” The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was given just a one-off £14m cash boost, which allowed for a ‘sticking plaster’ fix of out-sourced call centre services and a tender for a short-term privatised ‘inspection-lite’ system (Risks 962). According to Newsham: “If the transmission rates are to be reduced then we need health and safety law enforced and a Covid-19 safe workplace strategy in place, alongside a zero-Covid-19 strategy that includes a high functioning and supportive test, track, trace, and isolate. If workplaces aren’t recognised as a source for transmission, then the UK transmission rates will continue to rise. Policing of Covid-19 prevention, must not stop at the factory gates.”
Hazards Campaign news release and ‘where are the sirens?’ zoom recording.

Poor consultation and confusion hampers enforcement

New Covid-secure rules are being announced to the public before local authorities are informed or consulted, environmental health practitioners have warned. Mirroring the concerns mounting among MPs at the lack of parliamentary scrutiny of Covid-secure rules, the Association of London Environmental Health Managers (ALEHM) urged Whitehall to at least sense check with the people who are doing the work. ALEHM secretary Janine Avery, commenting after the latest tranche of Covid rules were introduced, said: “They came in at midnight. They were enforceable from 5pm, and the regulations arrived about 2am for that day. And you're supposed to have people authorised, know what they're doing, read the regulations, train everybody. I mean, it's nonsense.” The new rules are intended to address social distancing breaches by members of the public. In England, however, there is no clarity on the legal powers to enforce them. Enforcement officers say they have to rely on existing legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work Act to enforce COVID-secure rules. While Whitehall is instructing councils to use workplace safety law, officers report that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is advising against using it, saying as workplace legislation it is inappropriate to be used in a community acquired infection situation. Avery said HSE “gave us the example that the only time you would use a prohibition notice under the Health and Safety at Work Act was if you were in a hospital ward, or something like that, with Covid positive patients and you were putting at-risk people in with no PPE. It doesn't get any worse than that. And that was the only example they could give.”
ALEHM statement. Environmental Health News.

Teachers don’t trust PM on school safety

Few teachers trust Boris Johnson’s government on schools safety, a teaching union survey has found. NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted told the union’s special conference: “Schools have moved mountains to get their buildings ready for the full reopening in September. They played their part. Government has not.” Commenting on the union’s research, she said “84 per cent of NEU members in our latest survey have said they do not trust Boris Johnson’s government to keep schools safe, to protect workers, to listen to the profession, to support vulnerable or disadvantaged children, or to ensure exams and assessment are fit for purpose during Covid. This should be a warning to government and a clear indication that enough is enough.” She said schools were now facing the ‘predictable and predicted’ consequences of a dysfunctional test track and trace system, noting “70 per cent of respondents said there are staff shortages in their school as a result of self-isolation and/or access to testing, with 11 per cent of leadership members describing those shortages as ‘significant’.” She added pupils with special needs had been ‘forgotten’, noting: “Educating children who often do not understand social distancing and who may have initiate personal care needs requires additional financial and staffing resource. This has been sadly lacking.” Schools and colleges needed a “Plan B outlining contingency plans for possible local or national lockdowns,” she said.
NEU news release and survey findings.

Government failing on Covid secure schools promise

Overcrowded classrooms are a major barrier to maintaining school distancing in schools, NASUWT has found. The union said its survey findings show the UK government is failing on its promise that schools would be ‘Covid-secure’. Just 1 per cent of teachers told the union pupils are always practising social distancing from adults in their school, with over half (56 per cent) saying pupils are rarely or never doing so. The survey of nearly 7,000 teachers in England found low levels of compliance with many of the Covid-secure measures schools are expected to have in place to help protect pupils and staff. Only 15 per cent said managers are always modelling and reinforcing social distancing measures and just 30 per cent said parents were respecting social distancing rules when picking up and dropping off their children. Only 56 per cent were able to confirm their school has clear and adequate arrangements in place for enhanced cleaning of the school premises and 45 per cent said cleaning arrangements in their school rely on staff not employed as cleaners. Seven per cent of teachers said they were expected to clean toilets. Significant numbers of teachers reported inadequate supplies of PPE and a failure to ensure classrooms are sufficiently ventilated to reduce the risk of virus transmission. Four in five said they were concerned about getting access to Covid tests, if needed. NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “At a time when the government has raised the Covid-threat level and introduced stricter curbs designed to limit social interactions it is worrying that many schools do not appear to be implementing Covid-secure working practices or reviewing their risk assessments in light of the increased threat levels.” He added: “The failure of government to provide schools with additional funding is leading to schools cutting corners on safety. As increased numbers of staff are forced to self-isolate, serious operational difficulties are emerging for schools in maintaining safe working practices. The government promised teachers, pupils and parents schools would be safe to return to. So far, they are failing on that promise.”
NASUWT news release.

Government failing self-isolating pupils

New UK government support for distance learning for self-isolating children is not sufficient for the task facing schools, teaching union NEU has said. Commenting on 1 October announcements from the Westminster government on the provision of remote education for children who are having to self-isolate, NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said ministers were “once again trying to cut corners over Covid.” She said: “The legal requirement to provide remote education must be backed by government support for what is, by some distance, not business as usual.” She said despite government promises, disadvantaged pupils were still being let down, with “less than a third of those eligible received the equipment they needed to learn.” The NEU leader added: “Now, the government is creating new barriers for children with its criteria for where schools are not permitted to order equipment, despite the obvious need. Having failed nearly half a million young people by not delivering on their promise, the government is trying to reframe their own failure by once again shifting the problem onto schools. If government facilitates the employment of more teachers - supply teachers and those recently qualified but not yet in work are ready and waiting - then class sizes can be reduced and fewer pupils will be put in situations where they need remote education.”
NEU news release. DfE news release.

School remote learning need extra resources

A switch to provide remote learning in schools will not be sustainable without substantial extra resources, including extra teachers, NASUWT has warned. As disruption increased in schools due to teachers being off sick with coronavirus or isolating, and more and more classes and year groups being sent home, the union said on 30 September that it was “increasingly likely a greater proportion of children’s learning may have to take place remotely.” But in a snapshot survey of 6,445 NASUWT members, 82 per cent said they feel they are not getting the support they need during the coronavirus pandemic to enable them to do their job effectively. Workload has increased for threequarters (74 per cent) of teachers and more than half (56 per cent) say they go without regular breaks. This has been exacerbated by teachers being expected to develop remote learning, with 86 per cent saying there is an expectation they will do this work in addition to their current workload. NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said provision of remote education “is simply not sustainable without substantial additional resources.” He added:  “If the government is serious about children’s education, then it must do whatever it takes to ensure that schools have the extra resources and funding they need to continue to provide education in these extremely challenging circumstances. Ministers must ensure that teachers and pupils have all the resources they need to support teaching and learning whilst schools continue to be disrupted by the pandemic.”
NASUWT news release.

Union launches school Covid-19 tracker

Teaching union NEU has launched an interactive Covid-19 map to give staff and parents up-to-date information on infection rates around their local schools.  The website gives information about the Covid-19 rate in the locality of every school in England and will be updated weekly. NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said there were currently 5,836 schools in areas of intervention. Of those, 3,797 schools were in areas of concern, with 3,400 in Greater London. “This website will support public health messaging everywhere. We hope that it will encourage ongoing conversations about school safety, and how everyone can play their part,” he said. The site draws on government data but presents it in a way that’s more “easily available” to parents and teachers, the union added.
NEU news release and Covid-19 map for schools. BBC News Online. Morning Star.

Skint schools can’t afford to handle Covid-19

Headteachers have warned they do not have enough funding from the government to meet the extra costs of the Covid-19 crisis. The new president of the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT), Ruth Davies, said schools are being expected to implement Covid safety arrangements “without any additional funding at all”, placing pressure on “exhausted” school leaders. She called on the government to provide money for items such as personal protective equipment, extra cleaning, more staff and the physical adaptations made to schools. “It’s all having to be met from existing funds, which already have gaps.” There is a particular problem with staffing costs, said Davies, as the “unreliable” test and trace system means teachers are having to self-isolate unnecessarily, waiting for results. “Headteachers don’t know from one day to the next what level of staffing they are going to have,” she said. Government guidance is “vague at best, and often changes overnight”, with school leaders working 70-hour weeks to try to keep up, Davies added. NAHT said schools inspections should not recommence “until the pandemic is over.” A Department for Education spokesperson told the Guardian: “On average, costs to schools to become Covid-secure will have been a relatively small proportion of their core funding.”
NAHT news release. The Guardian.

Lecturers and students in joint Covid action call

Lecturers’ union UCU and the National Union of Students (NUS) have called for online working, students to be allowed to return home if they wish and funding guarantees to safeguard universities' finances and protect jobs. A joint statement notes: “We are not prepared to take chances with the health and safety of students, staff or local communities and neither should government or vice chancellors. UCU and NUS are therefore demanding that the Westminster government take urgent action to support and protect staff and students on our campuses and the wider communities that they serve.” UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Ministers need to act now and tell universities to halt in-person teaching where possible and move the majority of work online, in line with other workplaces. They also have to guarantee funding for universities to safeguard institutions' finances and protect jobs.” She added the government got it wrong at the start of this crisis. “They need to act quickly now and not get it wrong a second time.” NUS president Larissa Kennedy said: “It is wholly unforgiveable that students continue to be punished for the government's failure to keep students, staff and communities safe.” She added: “The ongoing uncertainty students face is exacerbating poor mental health, debt and needlessly puts lives at risk. Put simply - students deserve better.” The statement calls for: A national test and trace system for universities; a safe way for students to leave campus if they need or want to; no financial detriment to any student giving up accommodation, or choosing to defer or leave university; a move to online learning wherever possible; and guaranteed funding for universities to help them deal with any shortfall or additional expenses due to Covid-19.
UCU news release. Statement from education secretary Gavin Williamson, 29 September 2002.

Fire alert for Covid lock down universities

Firefighters and education staff have warned universities that it is “dangerous and illegal” to block or lock fire exits, after pictures emerged of a locked fire exit at a student accommodation block. Obstructing fire exits "can, and has, cost lives in the past", the leaders of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and University and College Union (UCU) warned, in a letter to all UK universities, demanding that the safety of students and staff be “absolutely paramount.” An image circulating on social media last week showed cable ties sealing closed the fire exit at a student accommodation block at Leeds Beckett University run by private student housing supplier iQ Student Accommodation. The FBU and UCU have warned universities that any action to fix shut a fire exit is a breach of the law in every part of the UK and that the “pandemic is no excuse, nor mitigating factor for this sort of action”, advising that it is incumbent on universities to ensure outsourced building management and security services understand. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “These worrying fire safety breaches are just another example of why it was so crass of education secretary Gavin Williamson to say universities were well prepared for the developing crisis on our campuses.” FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “We are all taking difficult measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but there is no excuse for dangerous breaches of fire safety legislation as we saw in Leeds. It’s illegal to block, lock or obstruct fire exits for a reason - sealed fire exits kill people when a fire breaks out. End of.”
UCU news release.

Unite wins free buses at Covid-hit Bernard Matthews

Bernard Matthews has suspended fares on company-subsidised buses to all of its sites to help prevent the spread of coronavirus through car sharing, following pressure from Unite. The move came after the company said the Covid-19 outbreak at its site in Holton, Suffolk, could be linked to low paid workers sharing cars on the work commute.  In response Unite said Bernard Matthews had ‘actively encouraged’ the practice by nearly doubling the fare on its company-run buses in August from £3.50 to £6. While welcoming the free fares move, Unite said more clarity was needed from Bernard Matthews on how long the fares waiver will last, after the company said the decision will be ‘continually reviewed’. Minimum wage Bernard Matthews’ workers had said they were unwilling to give up spaces in shared cars to remote sites unless they knew they could rely on affordable transport. The company has also suspended the planned cancellation of a subsidised bus route to Great Witchingham in Norfolk that was due to take effect on 12 October. Unite is now calling for the plans to cancel the service to be scrapped. The union also reiterated its concerns about the company paying self-isolating workers just statutory sick pay. Unite regional officer Mark Jaina said: “Unite welcomes Bernard Matthews’ suspension of fares on worker buses to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. This decision was the result of collective pressure from Holton and Great Witchingham staff standing together in a union.” But he warned: “Without guarantees on the length of the fare suspension or a return to an affordable charge, however, many workers will be unwilling to gamble their place in a car share to sites not accessible by public transport. As part of Ranjit Singh Boparan’s billion-pound food business empire, Bernard Matthews should also be providing low paid staff with enough sick pay to self-isolate. Not to do so increases the risk of further outbreaks at Bernard Matthews and in the community.”
Unite news release and earlier release.

Victory for union on bus remote sign on

Unite has scored a victory in its campaign against the introduction of highly controversial remote sign-on operating procedures. Bus operator HCT (Hackney Community Transport) confirmed to the union that it has withdrawn proposals to introduce remote sign on at its Walthamstow garage in North East London. Unite, which represents over 20,000 bus drivers in London, said the decision by HCT to not progress with remote sign on - where a bus driver does not begin work at a depot but meets their bus at an outside location - further isolates bus operator Metroline. The company is trying to force through the introduction of remote sign on for Metroline routes in North and West London. Unite has warned the operator it could face industrial action if it pushes through the ‘reckless’ plan (Risks 965). Unite regional officer John Murphy said: “HCT’s decision to withdraw proposals for remote sign on are very welcome. It shows what is achievable through negotiation when dealing with a responsible employer who is genuinely concerned for the welfare of its drivers.” He added: “HCT was prepared to listen and understood Unite’s concerns, especially around safety and the dangers of drivers being exposed to Covid-19, with infection rates rising rapidly. Metroline has become increasingly isolated in its mania to introduce remote sign on. It is hoped that it now takes a leaf out of HCT’s book and drops these ill-thought out proposals altogether.”
Unite news release.

Weekly testing of NHS staff needed to stop the virus

A call by the Health and Social Care Committee for the weekly testing of NHS staff has been welcomed by health service union UNISON. Commenting on the 1 October Commons select committee report, committee chair Jeremy Hunt said: “Weekly testing of NHS staff has been repeatedly promised in hotspot areas - but is still not being delivered. Failure to do so creates a real risk that the NHS will be forced to retreat into being a largely Covid-only service during a second spike.” UNISON head of health Sara Gorton commented: “Health workers must be tested once a week if the virus is to be stopped in its tracks. The government’s failure to ensure regular testing, and speedy results, risks a repeat of the spring when Covid was allowed to spread freely in hospitals and care homes.” Gorton added: “Health unions came up with a blueprint earlier in the year for how the NHS could safely open up services closed due to Covid. Regular testing topped the list. Yet, almost five months on, the government’s failed to keep its many testing promises. Sorting out the testing mess before winter descends will help reassure staff and patients that their safety is paramount.” Last month the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicated health service workers were more five times more likely to develop Covid-19 than the population as a whole (Risks 966), making up about 1-in-6 cases worldwide.
Commons Health and Social Care committee news release and report, 1 October 2020. UNISON news release.

NHS testing contractor broke safety laws

NHS Covid-19 testing contractor The Doctors Laboratory (TDL) breached several criminal health and safety rules, and official investigation has found. TDL is one of the key providers of tests and courier services for the NHS, including by transporting Covid-19 samples from the Nightingale hospital in London to laboratories. A report from the UK safety regulator the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said TDL had put its courier fleet at a heightened risk of contamination because transport containers had not been sufficiently washed and couriers were not informed on the correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE). The report also found that TDL’s “courier Covid-19 risk assessment is not suitable and sufficient.” TDL did not properly consult couriers or their representatives in the development of its risk assessment, the report said. The findings follow the launch of tribunal proceedings by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) against TDL on the grounds of victimisation and dismissal of trade union activists and whistleblowers who raised health and safety concerns.
Morning Star.

Government figures contradict PM's PPE claim

Despite prime minister Boris Johnson's claim that 70 per cent of personal protective equipment (PPE) is to be made in the UK, his government's own figures suggest the total is likely to be closer to a third. More than 3.5 billion items, including aprons, goggles, facemasks and gloves, have been bought by the government this year to protect NHS and social care staff from the spread of coronavirus. With more than 80 per cent of PPE items initially produced in China, concerns were growing not just about cost but the ability of the UK to be self-sufficient in key equipment. The prime minister sought to provide reassurance over the UK's preparedness for a second wave when he addressed the nation on 30 September. He said that by December “we expect 70 per cent of the demand for PPE to be met by UK manufacturers, compared to just 1 per cent before the pandemic.” But the BBC revealed the government's own PPE strategy, published just the day before, makes clear that this 70 per cent number excludes gloves - which, according to its figures, make up over half of all PPE being distributed. Concerns have previously been raised over contracts that were awarded to some UK companies, particularly during the initial rush. For example, 50 million masks supplied by Ayanda Capital as part of a £252m deal could not be used due to safety concerns.
BBC News Online. Prime minister’s statement, 30 September 2020.

Concern at Unipres Covid site clock in

Unite has said a Sunderland manufacturing firm hit by a Covid-19 cluster has been ‘diligent’ in its efforts to prevent infections but said it has raised concerns about possible problems entering the site safely. The union was commenting on an outbreak at automotive parts manufacturer Unipres, which supplies major car firms including Honda, Nissan and Renault. Unite regional officer Nick Halton said: “Around 15 Unipres workers have tested positive for coronavirus and a number of staff are self-isolating. The health and safety of our members is Unite’s top priority and the union is working with Unipres to ensure everything possible is done to contain the outbreak and keep staff safe.” The Unite officer added: “The company has been diligent in implementing a number of measures to prevent transmission occurring, including installing sanitising stations, requiring the wearing of masks and social distancing and staggering shift start and finish times. However, Unite has identified areas for improvement. We have raised formal concerns with the company over the continued use of a biometric system used for clocking in and the fact staff can only use one entrance to enter the site, both of which we believe present unnecessary risks. Unite will continue to closely monitor the site’s safety regime and impress the importance of it being strictly followed. We will not hesitate to hold Unipres to account if staff safety is being compromised."
Unite news release. Northern Echo. The Chronicle.

Coal mine closed after ‘high rate’ of positive tests

An underground drift coal mine in Wales has been closed after several staff tested positive for coronavirus. A number of cases have been linked to Aberpergwm Mine, near Glynneath, in recent days, Neath Port Talbot Council said. Swansea Bay University Health Board said there had been a “high rate of positive test results among staff.” Dr Keith Reid, executive director for public health for the Swansea Bay area, said: “The high rate of positive test results amongst staff at Aberpergwm Mine indicates a clear need for the immediate suspension of operations at the site.” He added: “It is essential that we reduce the opportunity for the virus to spread further and we will work with our partners to gain a clear understanding of the reasons behind the cluster of cases linked to the mine.” The mine's operators, Energybuild Ltd, agreed to the voluntary closure following talks between the council, Public Health Wales, the Health and Safety Executive and the health board on 1 October. The health board said workers who had tested positive had been told to self-isolate and additional mobile testing capacity was in place for staff to get tested. Dr Robin Howe, in charge of Public Health Wales's response to the pandemic, said: “We're aware of the situation and are working with Neath Port Talbot Council, and the local Test, Trace, Protect service to support the management of this cluster.”
Neath Port Talbot Council news release. BBC News Online.

Unions call for action after MP’s coronavirus breaches

Civil service and rail unions have called for action after a symptomatic MP travelled from Scotland to the House of Commons and completed the return train journey after testing positive for Covid-19. Following the ‘entirely unacceptable’ behaviour of SNP’s Margaret Ferrier, parliamentary union Prospect called on House authorities to suspend the MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West. Garry Graham, Prospect deputy general secretary, said: “Such casual disregard for the Covid rules, the rule of law and for the safety of hardworking staff and colleagues and the travelling public demonstrates a contempt for the safety of others.” He added: “This episode also highlights how fragile the functional operation of the House is when the pandemic is on the surge. Parliamentary unions have concerns about the Covid security of the estate and with cases on the rise perhaps it is time for a return to virtual sittings so any risk can be minimised.” Train drivers’ union ASLEF called on Ferrier to apologise and reveal which services she took after she admitted travelling on a train while suffering from Covid-19. Kevin Lindsay, ASLEF's organiser in Scotland, said: “Margaret Ferrier travelled on a train to London after taking a test for the coronavirus, and then travelled back to Scotland when she knew she had tested positive. So she broke the rules twice, which is unforgiveable, and put passengers and staff at risk, which is outrageous.” He said rail staff had worked hard throughout the pandemic to try and guarantee a safe service. “For an MP to get on a train knowing she has Covid-19 is both dangerous and disgraceful. She should tell people which trains she travelled on, so those she put in danger can take appropriate measures – which is more than she did,” Lindsay said. The Metropolitan Police said it had launched an investigation.
Prospect news release. ASLEF news release. BBC News Online. The Guardian.


Amazon ‘in denial’ over work injury ‘crisis’

Online retail giant Amazon is ‘in denial about its appalling safety record’ after a new report revealed accidents are significantly higher in warehouses with robots, the union GMB has said. The union was commenting after a Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) probe found serious injuries are 50 per cent higher for fulfilment centres that have robots than those without. GMB’s own investigation earlier this year revealed hundreds of UK Amazon workers had suffered serious injury or narrowly avoided an accident (Risks 936). Mick Rix, GMB national officer, said: “GMB has consistently called on Amazon to sit down with us and have a meaningful discussion about improving their appalling health and safety record. Unfortunately, they seem content to have workers breaking bones and suffering injuries that lead to hundreds of ambulance call outs to their warehouses.” He added: “Amazon appears to be in constant denial about what goes in the fulfilment centres, spending millions of pounds on fluffy TV adverts and robot workers rather than addressing the real problem. This 21st Century company’s attitude to worker safety is no different to a Victorian mill owner.” CIR obtained accident data for Amazon workplaces in the US. It noted: “With weekly data from 2016 through 2019 from more than 150 Amazon warehouses, the records definitively expose the brutal cost to workers of Amazon’s vast shipping empire – and the bald misrepresentations the company has deployed to hide its growing safety crisis.” On 1 October, Amazon revealed that nearly 20,000 of its frontline US workers have tested positive or been presumed positive for the virus that causes Covid-19.
How Amazon hid its safety crisis, Center for Investigative Reporting, 29 September 2020. GMB news release. BBC News Online. CBS News.

Workers concerned about remote monitoring

Workers are ‘deeply uncomfortable’ about the introduction of remote monitoring technology by employers, a Prospect poll has found. Two-thirds of workers are uncomfortable with workplace tech like keystroke and camera monitoring and wearables being used when working remotely, the union said. Prospect said with greater remote working likely to now be widespread for at least the next six months, this debate will take on a renewed urgency. The new polling commissioned by Prospect found two-thirds (66 per cent) of workers would be uncomfortable with keystroke monitoring with nearly half (44 per cent) very uncomfortable. Four in five (80 per cent) workers would be uncomfortable with camera monitoring with 64 per cent very uncomfortable. Threequarters (74 per cent) of workers would be uncomfortable with electronic tracking with wearables, with 61 per cent very uncomfortable. The polling also found that around half (48 per cent) of workers thought introducing monitoring software would damage their relationship with their manager, rising to 62 per cent among younger workers. Prospect has been calling for businesses thinking of introducing such technology to consult with their workforce, and for proper regulations on the use of monitoring software, including a ‘right to disconnect’. Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “Having your every keystroke or app usage monitored by your boss while you are working in your own home may sound like a dystopia - but there are precious few controls in place to prevent it becoming a daily reality for millions of workers across Britain.” He added: “If government is going to tell workers to stay home, then it needs to get serious about this issue, by bringing businesses, unions, and tech companies together to discuss what modern workers’ rights should look like in this new world of work.” The negative health and safety impact of intrusive monitoring at work has long been recognised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The UN agency’s workers’ privacy digest warned in 1993 “that the electronic monitoring of employee performance adversely affected employee perceptions of their working conditions”, with the practice linked to higher rates of musculoskeletal disorders, stress and anxiety.
Prospect news release. Hazards workplace privacy webpages.

Sleeper staff in ‘rock solid’ strike for safety

Rail union RMT has said the first of two 48 hour strikes on SERCO Caledonian Sleeper that commenced on 4 October was ‘rock solid’, as its members continued their fight for safe working conditions (Risks 967). The RMT general secretary Mick Cash said “it remains a scandal that SERCO appear to have deliberately provoked this dispute and have never had any intention of entering serious talks. Instead of working with the union on a solution to the very real issues of safety and fatigue they have declared war on their staff. That is a disgrace.” The RMT leader added: “It is also wholly unacceptable that the political leadership in Scotland, distracted by the scandal of one of their own travelling on trains while Covid positive, have not lifted a finger to help us settle this dispute. They should get off their backsides and haul SERCO into line. Their lack of action is grossly irresponsible.” Cash concluded: “Our members on the Caledonian Sleeper, demanding nothing more than a safe working environment, deserve better than this shocking treatment. We are grateful for the huge level of support that has flooded in and its now down to the company to get serious and negotiate a settlement.”
RMT news release.

Usdaw and retailers want shop violence inquiry

A retail industry coalition has written to Yvette Cooper, the chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, calling for an inquiry into violence and abuse against shop workers. The coalition includes retail union Usdaw and trade bodies the British Retail Consortium (BRC), the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NRFN). Their joint letter follows the government’s rejection of a protection of workers bill, promoted by Alex Norris MP (Risks 966). The joint letter to Yvette Cooper notes the groups “write to you as chair of the Home Affairs Committee to ask if the Committee would consider holding an inquiry which investigates this growing problem of violence and abuse against retail workers and the measures the government should be taking to address it. The inquiry might also focus on the government’s response to the Call for Evidence on violence and abuse toward shop staff, which we feel does not go far enough to keep our colleagues safe and protected.” The union has also criticised the government for offering ‘little more than sympathy’ in response to a petition launched by Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis and calling for legislation to protect shop workers. Usdaw is asked the public to sign the petition, which has so far attracted over 67,000 signatures. A parliamentary debate is triggered when a petition hits the 100,000 signatures mark.
 Usdaw news release and petition.

Second censure for MoD over diving death

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. The censure followed an incident on 14 November 2018, where 26-year-old Marine Benjamin McQueen was brought back to surface after he became separated from other divers. He was pronounced dead after CPR was performed. It was the second Crown Censure in a month issued against the MoD after the death of a military diver during a training exercise. Lance Corporal George Partridge, 27, died on 26 March 2018. He was brought back to surface after he stopped responding to lifeline signals while he was underwater. He had run out of air (Risks 963). In relation to Benjamin McQueen’s death, HSE served two Crown improvement notices on 25 February 2019 relating to the failure to conduct suitable and sufficient risk assessments for the exercise. HSE said MoD rectified these issues by 12 March 2019. Nick Deppe, 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 becoming separated is a very real risk that needs to be managed.” By accepting the Crown Censure, the MoD has acknowledged that but for crown immunity, there was sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction for a criminal breach of safety law. Crown bodies cannot be prosecuted.
HSE news release.


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.


Zimbabwe: Teachers refuse unsafe return to work

Teachers in Zimbabwe are refusing to return to work after the resumption of some classes, accusing the government of failing to adequately prepare for the opening of schools. Schools reopened last week for pupils due to sit exams in early December, six months after they were closed because of a rise in Covid-19 cases in the country. But teachers say the government is ill-prepared to deal with a possible outbreak of the virus in schools. Only a limited amount of hand sanitiser has been made available to schools, according to the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), and acute water shortages make handwashing impossible. “Government is not serious. There is no sanitation, there are not enough toilets and sanitisers. Each school in urban areas was given 20 litres of sanitisers and this is expected to cover 800 schoolchildren. It is simply not enough. How then will you sanitise the kids enough when they are coming to school every day,” PTUZ president, Raymond Majongwe said. According to the union, 98 per cent of teachers did not report for work last week across the country. The teachers also want regular testing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and risk allowances before resuming work. “Teachers should now be regarded as frontline staff, so we need allowances, PPE and other things that come with frontline workers. We must be tested because nobody was tested. We risk taking Covid-19 home, so the government should be serious here,” Majongwe said.
The Guardian. VOA News. AllAfrica News.


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