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



Union call for secondary school ‘circuit breaker’

Teaching union NEU is calling for an urgent ‘circuit breaker’ to suppress Covid cases. In the face of rapidly rising infection levels amongst secondary pupils, the union says alongside other nationwide measures to suppress coronavirus, schools and colleges should be closed for two weeks at half term for secondary and post-16 students. NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “The latest infection survey report from the ONS shows infection rates rising sharply amongst secondary age pupils - much more sharply than in any section of the population apart from university students.” He added: “This should be no surprise to either the prime minister or the Department for Education - scientists have consistently told them that secondary students transmit the virus as much as adults, and we have warned them that because we have amongst the biggest class sizes in Europe we have overcrowded classrooms and corridors without effective social distancing. Our classrooms often have poor ventilation leading to airborne transmissions, and in many areas we have also have overcrowded school transport where children are mixing across year group bubbles.” Warning about the risks of asymptomatic transmission from pupils to school staff, he added: “Such a circuit breaker could allow the government to get in control of the test, track and trace system, and get cases lower to allow the system to work better… The government must not just turn a blind eye and pretend all is going to be ok. They must not pretend that the only change needed is a delay of three weeks to next year’s exams. Urgent action is needed now.” The circuit breaker idea has received broad support from doctor and health experts. Lecturers’ union UCU has called for universities to also introduce a two-week circuit breaker.
NEU news release. UCU news release. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey pilot: England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, 16 October 2020, ONS, 16 October 2020. Union News. The Mirror. The Guardian.

Civil servants in safety call as Covid cases soar

With coronavirus infection rates rapidly increasing, civil service union PCS has called on the Cabinet Office to introduce greater safeguards for staff and the public, including closing jobcentres and suspending driving tests in higher risk areas. In letters to Mervyn Thomas, Cabinet Office executive director for employee and trade union relations, and permanent secretaries Peter Schofield (DWP) and Bernadette Kelly (DfT), PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka called for urgent action to protect staff and the public. The letters urge the Cabinet Office to issue an unequivocal statement instructing office workers who can work effectively from home to do so over the winter to help contain the virus. The letters stress that vulnerable workers should not be required to attend a workplace under any circumstances. The union has also warned the Department for Transport that if it “continues to disregard our members’ health, safety and wellbeing it is highly likely to lead to a trade dispute between PCS and the department. We will act to ensure that our members are safe.” The union said it had “reminded the DfT of its legal duty to consult health and safety reps and unions, which it is not doing, on the increased risks and tiering, and to adjust its risk assessments accordingly.”
PCS news release.

Racial bias in access to PPE, GMB survey finds

More than 1 in 4 Black, Asian and ethnic minority workers has not been given the personal protective equipment their jobs require, a GMB survey has found, with their health and safety concerns around Covid-19 frequently going unaddressed. The union’s ‘shocking’ findings, based on responses from 761 workers, come as updated ONS estimates revealed that black men are up to 3.8 times more likely to die from coronavirus than white men, with their jobs one of the key factors believed responsible. Of the 516 respondents to the GMB survey who were advised by their employer they needed PPE, a ‘massive’ 141 did not have it fully provided, the union said. Two in three who raised health and safety concerns with their employer didn’t have them fully addressed, the survey found. More than half of respondents said social distancing measures were not being adhered to in their workplaces. And over half (54 per cent) said they had not had an individual risk assessment. GMB is calling on the government to take additional steps to protect Black, Asian and ethnic minority workers - including underwriting sick pay for vulnerable workers and making individual risk assessments mandatory. Rehana Azam, GMB national secretary, said: “Employers must do more to protect Black, Asian and ethnic minority workers from harm. Inaction costs lives.” She added: “Nobody can deny hospital cleaners are doing one of the most important jobs right now, yet many of them are migrant workers on outsourced contracts with no sick pay. We need to be respecting and thanking these people, not ignoring their existence. Employers need to listen when concerns are raised.”
GMB news release.

Higher ethnic death risk linked to jobs

Ethnic minorities’ higher risk of dying from Covid-19 is linked to where they live and the jobs they do, rather than their health, figures for England and Wales suggest. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysis found almost all ethnic minority groups are more likely to die than white people. The ONS looked at the total number of people in each community in England and Wales whose death involved Covid-19, factoring in underlying health conditions. It concluded: “These findings show that ethnic differences in mortality involving Covid-19 are most strongly associated with demographic and socio-economic factors, such as place of residence and occupational exposures, and cannot be explained by pre-existing health conditions using hospital data or self-reported health status.” Ben Humberstone, deputy director of health analysis and life events at the ONS, commented: “Our statistical modelling shows that a large proportion of the difference in the risk of Covid-19 mortality between ethnic groups can be explained by demographic, geographical and socioeconomic factors, such as where you live or the occupation you’re in. It also found that although specific pre-existing conditions place people at greater risk of Covid-19 mortality generally, it does not explain the remaining ethnic background differences in mortality.” GMB national secretary Rehana Azam said the figures were “yet more proof that fundamental change is needed. As an employer itself, the government should be taking its public sector equality duty seriously and publishing equality impact assessments of Covid-19 policies. Instead, they have hidden such reports from the public and ignored their legal duty to keep vulnerable ethnic minority workers safe.”
Updating ethnic contrasts in deaths involving the coronavirus (COVID-19), England and Wales: deaths occurring 2 March to 28 July 2020, ONS, 16 October 2020.  BBC News Online. The Guardian.

Parliament restaurants breaking test-and-trace rules

MPs and peers are unable to utilise the NHS test-and-trace app at restaurants and cafes in the Palace of Westminster, union officials have said. The civil service union PCS said the parliamentary authorities were putting their members at risk by ignoring government advice to display QR codes around hospitality venues in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. This is despite threats of heavy fines for the UK’s restaurants, cafes and canteens that fail to display a QR code. A PCS spokesperson told the Guardian the lack of use of the app at food venues on the estate was increasing risks for union members. “We are appalled that there are no QR codes on restaurants and bars in parliament. The lack of care for our members’ health and safety increases the likelihood that we will have further absences and a serious outbreak of Covid in parliament,” he said. “The government has once again shown scant regard for staff safety and we urge them to address our members’ health and safety concerns as a matter of urgency.” The Guardian reports parliamentary sources are claiming dozens of police are off work because they had been diagnosed with or were suspected to have Covid-19. One official said that around 10 per cent of security guards – roughly 30 – were off work with suspected or diagnosed Covid.
The Guardian.

Parliamentary unions demand return to hybrid sitting

Parliamentary trade unions have written to authorities in the Commons demanding that the UK parliament return to hybrid sitting. The four unions - Prospect, FDA, PCS and GMB -  warn that with London in Tier 2 and MPs being asked to travel to Westminster from all over the country including areas in tier 3, there is a real threat to our ability to function as democracy. The letter notes: “In order to prevent the very real risk of a worsening crisis forcing parliament to close, it is surely sensible that parliament returns to remote working to protect staff and MPs and ensure that the important work of parliament can continue… holding the government to account.” Garry Graham, Prospect deputy general secretary, said “we the parliamentary unions are calling for a planned and urgent return to hybrid working, with full remote participation in debates and votes. This is the only way to ensure both the safety of staff and members, and ongoing democratic scrutiny.” Amy Leversidge, FDA assistant general secretary, added “it is crucial that the government changes course and gives its support to a return to hybrid working. MPs proved earlier this year that it was possible to participate in the proceedings of the House remotely, ensuring continued scrutiny of government decisions, whilst protecting staff. As infections continue to rise and areas across the country face tightening restrictions, I would urge the Leader of the House to put the health and safety of all those who work in parliament first.”
Prospect news release.

Public grounded but deadly firms still at large

The government’s new three tier system for England risks penalising the general public while leaving schools, colleges and workplaces packed to the gills without the necessary support and oversight to maintain Covid safety, a campaign group has warned. The national Hazards Campaign said there is a ‘recurring narrative’ by politicians and the media that the transmission of Covid-19 is fuelled by misbehaving families and students shirking their responsibilities to our communities. However, the campaign says this ignores the evidence that workplaces are the major sites of infection and transmission. The campaign said inspections are rare and there is scant evidence of any Health and Safety Executive (HSE) enforcement action for criminal breaches of safety law that have placed tens of thousands of workers at a preventable risk from Covid-19. Janet Newsham, the chair of the Hazards Campaign, commented: “The local authority and HSE enforcement teams have failed to ensure our workplaces are Covid-Safe, which means they have also failed to control the risks for workers and the public. We need Covid-Safe workplaces. We need a Zero-Covid strategy in place and we need no return to workplaces until this happens.” She added the workplace regulators need more resources and “a government who are determined to stop the transmission of the virus.”
Hazards Campaign news release.

Pictures expose Covid chaos at Amazon site

Shocking images have emerged showing workers crammed onto buses at an Amazon warehouse in the West Midlands where two more workers have contracted Covid-19. A total of ten workers have now tested positive for coronavirus at Amazon’s facility in Coventry. The influx of new temporary workers, thought to be as many as 1,000, to handle orders on Amazon Prime Day – 15 October – is thought to have led to a spectacular breakdown in social distancing. Workers reported mask bins overflowing and spilling onto the floor as workers exited the warehouse and gathered close-by to board National Express coaches. Seats onboard the coaches were not marked for distancing, with the transport provided reported to be ‘threequarters full’ by workers at the site. GMB senior organiser Amanda Gearing said Amazon had accused the union of “scaremongering”, but she said the pictures showed the company is “sacrificing their terrified workers on the altar of profit, forcing people to work in unsafe conditions and refusing to use the NHS Test and Trace system.” She added: “How many more outbreaks until Amazon takes responsibility for its actions and starts protecting its workers?” The TUC last week called on the UK government to use its purchasing power to stand up to Amazon on workers’ rights (Risks 969).
GMB news release. Sign the petition. TUC blog and news release.

‘Monstrous’ ASOS profits as workers put at risk

‘Monstrous’ profits posted by fast fashion giant ASOS were possible because the firm put workers at risk during the Covid-19 pandemic, the union GMB has said. The union was commenting after the online retailer announced profits had risen a ‘whopping’ 329 per cent, in a ‘bumper’ £141 million payday for its shareholders. GMB said ASOS continued trading throughout lockdown – when many competitors shut warehouses to keep workers – and the public – safe.  A GMB survey of 500 ASOS workers in March revealed 98 per cent of them felt unsafe at work – saying they felt like ‘rats’ in a ‘cradle of disease’.  Then in May there was a suspected outbreak of coronavirus in the same warehouse. Neil Derrick, GMB regional secretary, said: “Let’s be clear - the way these monstrous profits have been made is immoral. These shareholders’ dividends come from risking the health of workers in the worst pandemic this country has seen since the Spanish Flu. It’s an almost Victorian work practice, where workers face real risk to their health or they don’t get paid.” He added: “ASOS should immediately use these profits to help implement a safer working environment and better PPE for their petrified staff. They should also reward their workers who have needlessly put their lives at risk by pumping this money into a pay rise, it is the very least they deserve.”  
GMB news release. ASOS news release.

STUC welcomes workplace face coverings rule

Scottish union body STUC has welcomed a new requirement for mandatory face coverings in communal spaces including workplace canteens and corridors in Scotland. Commenting on the 15 October announcement by first minister Nicola Sturgeon, STUC deputy general secretary Dave Moxham said: “We support the extension of face mask wearing in workplaces, as outlined by the first minister. Indeed, we argue for the use of face coverings in all enclosed spaces for everyone who is able to wear them. It is important to remember that face coverings are an additional precaution and not a substitute for other measures such as social distancing, sanitising and the use of screens.” The rapidly introduced measures, which took effect in full on 19 October, made it “a matter of urgency that the new rules are communicated to unions and all employees, that employees should be consulted on the implementation of the new regulations and that the new rules be incorporated into Covid risk assessments for which the employer has legal responsibility.” Moxham added: “Canteens and corridors are part of the workplace. We would be highly concerned if the first minister’s statement that these additional measures are the individual employee’s responsibility were to lead to employers abrogating their responsibility for workplace health and safety and the updating of Covid-19 risk assessments.”
Scottish government news release. STUC news release.

Union concern on van sharing sick pay

Postal union CWU is calling on Royal Mail to be “honest” over whether workers sharing vans will receive full sick pay if they are forced to self-isolate. CWU acting assistant secretary Carl Maden has demanded a clarification from management after Royal Mail reinstated van sharing (Risks 969). The practice, which management insists is purely voluntary and limited to those workers who feel comfortable sharing vehicles, was opposed by the CWU. “At a time when Covid-19 cases are increasing and further lockdowns are in the pipeline, the CWU did not agree with van sharing. However, Royal Mail have gone ahead with it,” Maden said. He pointed out a recent Royal Mail document sent to managers stated the provision of enhanced sick pay is “dependent on the absence not being caused by or aggravated by the employee.” The document added: “Where, in the reasonable view of the company, there is evidence of an employee’s disregard for public health guidance which then leads to them needing to self-isolate, Royal Mail Sick Pay will not be paid.” CWU’s Maden said “all Royal Mail have to do is publish a document which states clearly: If you have to self-isolate due to van sharing, full sick pay will be paid and the absence will not count against you within the attendance agreement or stipulate when sick pay will not be paid. This would be an honest position.” He reminded workers they are entitled to read risk assessments and safe systems of work, and managers are obliged to provide copies.
CWU news release.

Action call on airborne virus transmission

Following a statement this month from top US scientists that ‘airborne’ transmission is a major cause of Covid-19 spread (Risks 969), the opposing position taken by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has come in for further criticism. The recognition of airborne transmission risks has been discounted by WHO throughout the pandemic (Risks 962). Acceptance of this mode of transmission would signal that a much wider range of workers in health care and other occupations should have been provided much higher levels of protection. In recent weeks, both US and UK authorities have changed their guidance to acknowledge this airborne mode of transmission (Risks 968), and their positions are now closer to the long-established guidance from the global trade union body ITUC. Now a paper published in the journal New Solutions, analysing WHO’s workplace safety guidelines on Covid-19 and comparing it to ITUC’s position, notes: “The WHO’s health and safety guidelines on Covid-19 at work are unacceptably complacent in parts, patently dangerous in others and contain serious gaps. Omissions include no mention of the essential role of labour inspection and enforcement, and a lack of recognition of potential interactions with other workplace hazards, and of the necessity for wider employment protections to make safety and safe behaviour a realistic prospect.” Highlighting ITUC’s call for greater precaution to protect workers, it adds: “Potential risks in outdoor work and the need to address the impact of job segregation related to inequalities in health outcomes are also absent. The advice on physical distancing, requirements for protective equipment, and the estimations of risk by occupation is also error strewn and potentially dangerous.”
Rory O’Neill. WHO Knew. How the World Health Organization (WHO) Became a Dangerous Interloper on Workplace Health and Safety and COVID-19, New Solutions, first published 8 October 2020.

Coronavirus testing lab 'chaotic and dangerous'

A scientist who processed coronavirus swab samples at one of the UK's largest labs has alleged working practices were “chaotic and dangerous.” He told the BBC there were problems with overcrowded biosecure workspaces, poor safety protocols and a lack of suitable PPE. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has confirmed several safety breaches at the lighthouse lab in Milton Keynes. The UK Biocentre, which runs the lab, said strict safety measures were in place and improvements were being made. However a joint investigation by the BBC and the Independent has learnt that an experienced virologist Dr Julian Harris, within one week of working at the Milton Keynes facility - which processes up to 30,000 tests a day - was so troubled by what he saw he contacted the HSE. Dr Harris said coronavirus swabs had to be processed in “containment level 2” labs, with tight safety procedures to protect staff. But he said fellow workers had limited laboratory experience and were not given proper safety induction. “I found they've got no experience with this sort of facility or handling bio-hazardous, and then they're just launched into this facility,” Dr Harris said. He called the working practices “chaotic and dangerous.” adding the lab set out to recruit young people from the local area to work long shifts, often of 12 hours. “They just want people to do the gruelling labour of handling these biohazardous things.” HSE visited the Milton Keynes lab and found five material breaches of health and safety legislation, included inadequate health and safety training for staff, and employees working too closely together. Managers at the Milton Keynes lab told the BBC no improvement notice had been issued by HSE. However, when asked by the trade union workers’ health journal Hazards if it intended to take enforcement action against the lab, HSE said its investigations were “ongoing.”
BBC News Online. The Independent.

More than 50 isolating after oil rig flights

Fifty-four oil workers have been asked to self-isolate after sharing North Sea rig helicopter flights with colleagues infected with Covid-19. The move last week forms part of oil and gas company TAQA's response to seven people testing positive after working in the Brae field. Eighteen people have been identified as close contacts of the seven and taken off the rigs they were working on. TAQA said 54 may have come into contact with infected workers on flights. The seven workers who have tested positive had left installations in the Brae field between 29 September to 6 October. TAQA said they had developed minor symptoms. Non-essential crew were taken off the two platforms for a period of seven to 10 days to further minimise any risk of transmission of Covid-19. TAQA said: “In addition, a further 54 individuals who may have also come into contact with those infected from shared helicopter flights were contacted as part of TAQA's response and advised to follow Scottish government test and protect public health measures and quarantine at home for 14 days.” Earlier last week it emerged workers had been removed from two North Sea oil and gas platforms after colleagues tested positive for Covid-19. Fourteen people were taken off Shell's Nelson rig after being identified as close contacts of a positive case. BP said one person on its Andrew platform had experienced Covid symptoms and was taken ashore where they later tested positive. Four close contacts were identified, and they have also been taken off the rig.
BBC News Online and earlier story.

Calls for public inquiry into Belly Mujinga's death

The family and union of a rail worker who died from Covid-19 after being complaining she was spat on at a London station have called for “an immediate public inquiry” into her death. The calls came after it emerged there were critical flaws in evidence gathering around the spitting incident prior to Belly Mujinga’s death. The TSSA member was working at Victoria Station in March, when an aggressive passenger confronted her on the station concourse, spat at her, and coughed over her twice. Ms Mujinga had underlying medical conditions and had asked management of Govia Thameslink Railways not to make her work on the concourse. They refused her request. The 47-year-old died of complications linked to Covid-19 in April. TSSA general secretary, Manuel Cortes, has now written to the prime minister calling for an inquest into the death following a 12 October BBC Panorama programme that showed vital evidence could have been missed. The letter from the TSSA leader to Boris Johnson notes a police officer quoted in the film who had reviewed video evidence of the coughing incident, had stated “we are in no doubt something has happened there.” The letter also highlights inconsistencies in the company’s internal investigations and asks why a worker with a pre-existing breathing complaint was required to work on the platform. It notes that transport workers have provided an essential service throughout the pandemic. “Do not let them down, prime minister, they deserve to know what happened to Belly and be assured that they will have the protection they deserve in future as they play their part in fighting this deadly virus.” The TSSA letter concludes: “Please act without delay, and in the national interest, by doing all you can to bring about an inquest into the death of Belly Mujinga.”
BBC Panorama. TSSA news release. Morning Star.


Organisation not resilience tackles stressful work

Resilience, mindfulness or other ‘stress-busting’ initiatives aren’t the answer to stressful work – but organising in your union to tackle that stress is, the TUC has said. While measures to support affected workers are fine, “they ignore that stress is often a result of work itself, requiring a change to work structures, rather than a shift in the behaviours and attitudes of individuals,” points out TUC safety lead Shelly Asquith. In a TUC blog posting, she notes TUC research has established workload, staff cuts, change at work and long hours are the top four causes of stress at work. “Training workers how to deal with stress is not the answer,” she advises. “By focussing on us toughening up, these campaigns deflect attention from the real causes of stress. The truth is, bosses want us to shoulder the responsibility for protecting our mental health so that they don’t have to.” She points out it is not just trade unionists that are concerned by the resilience narrative, but professionals in the field, too. Nick Pahl, CEO of the Society of Occupational Medicine notes: “It is not acceptable for staff to be required to be more ‘resilient’ - services such as occupational health need to be put in place who, with trade union representatives, can contribute to coordinated workplace health and wellbeing programmes.” According to Asquith: “Mental health and wellbeing is a collective concern – and just like pay and pensions, they are concerns we can organise around… The TUC also wants to see mental health assessed in every risk assessment: because every place of work and every worker could be exposed to dangerous levels of stress. Stress risk assessments – which could look at factors such as workload, targets and hours - are something trade unions can request and campaign for at a workplace level.” She concludes: “If we want to combat harmful work-related stress, we need to start by changing work, not ourselves.”
TUC blog. TUC and HSE joint guide to managing stress. Hazards magazine work stress resources.

Concern at Sumburgh helicopter crash inquiry findings

Offshore union RMT has said a ‘narrow’ inquiry had wrongly laid the blame for a helicopter crash on ‘pilot error’ when a critical safety system in the craft had not been enabled. In his Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) determination, sheriff principal Derek Pyle said the Super Puma had not maintained the correct speed as it approached its landing in Shetland in 2013. He said the reason for the error remained unknown - but that there had been “no wilful neglect” by the pilot. A total of 18 people were on board when the helicopter hit the sea on its approach to Sumburgh. Sarah Darnley, 45, Duncan Munro, 46, and George Allison, 57, drowned in the accident. Gary McCrossan, 59, from Inverness, who had cardiac disease, died from heart failure following the crash. The inquiry also heard that one survivor, Sam Bull, took his own life four years later aged 28 after suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Commenting on the findings, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT is disappointed that the FAI predictably kept the scope of the inquiry very narrow, looking at the events at the precise moment of the tragedy. There was no consideration of the wider aspects of what led to the tragedy and the loss of four lives, including RMT member Sarah Darnley.” He added: “The fact remains that the tragedy would have been avoided if the safety systems in the helicopter had been enabled. Those systems were inhibited because the pilots hadn’t been trained how to use them.” The union leader concluded: “RMT continues to call for a full public inquiry into the impact of commercial pressures on the helicopter industry in line with the findings of the Transport Select Committee findings in 2014, which looked at the Sumburgh accident.”
Fatal Accident Inquiry determination. RMT news release. BBC News Online. The Guardian. Press and Journal.

Footballer’s dementia death ‘an industrial disease’

A former Wales international footballer died from dementia linked to repeatedly heading the ball, an inquest has heard. Alan Jarvis played for Everton and Hull City in the 1960s and 1970s, winning three caps for his country. The 76-year-old, who had dementia, died at a nursing home in Mold, Flintshire, in December 2019. Coroner John Gittins concluded the former midfielder died from Alzheimer's “caused by his occupation.” His family had arranged to have his brain donated to researchers at the University of Glasgow after his death after fears that repeatedly heading the ball had caused his speech to deteriorate and his behaviour to change. The inquest heard how Mr Jarvis’ wife Dilys said he had been a “very kind man,” but in 2006 his behaviour started to change, and in 2012 he went into full-time care. “He was easy-going but because of his condition would shout and hit me,” the statement read. “I think the head injuries coupled with heading those heavy leather balls constantly contributed greatly to his death.” Dr William Stuart, a consultant neuropathologist who studied Mr Jarvis' brain, said mortality with Alzheimer's disease was five times higher in former professional footballers than the general population. “The complex pathologies in Mr Jarvis’ case is consistent with observations of neurodegenerative disease in former contact sport athletes,” he said in a report. Mr Gittins reached a conclusion of death from an industrial disease. He said: “I am not saying playing football always causes dementia but, on the balance of probabilities in Mr Jarvis’ case, his previous occupational history has been a factor in his neurogenerative functioning and had led to Alzheimer's disease. It is a result of his occupation.”
BBC News Online. PFA dementia support.

Council fined after assault on teacher by pupil

Luton Borough Council has been fined after a teacher in one of its schools was violently attacked and left disabled. Assistant headteacher Gillian Stephens was left brain damaged after she was hit repeatedly over the head by a female pupil in Putteridge High School on 17 June 2016. At Luton Crown Court, Judge Barbara Mensah fined the council £104,000, with prosecution costs of £60,000. The judge took into account the ‘devastating’ financial losses of Covid-19 on the local authority and the defendant’s guilty plea, as well as the inevitable impact the fine would pose on public services. Judge Mensah said: “This was a properly brought prosecution... There is no doubt Luton Borough Council was correctly indicted. It was the employer and as such, it had a duty under the health and safety legislation. However, on a day-to-day basis, running the school was the responsibility of the headteacher and board of governors.” Pascal Bates, prosecuting on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said Gillian Stephens had been assessed as 98 per cent and later 114 per cent disabled by the Department for Work and Pensions. An HSE investigation found that there were significant shortcomings in relation to the measures at the school, regarding violence and aggression posed by pupils to others. No effective consideration was given to the risk of injury or death posed by the pupils and measures were not taken to reduce that threat to as low as reasonably practicable. A civil case is also proceeding against the council.
HSE news release. Luton Today.


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.


Europe: Major reforms signalled on chemicals policy

The European Commission has signalled the biggest reform of chemical regulation in over a decade, saying it will shift the focus of EU legislation away from the safe use of harmful chemicals to avoiding their use in the first place. “The first action we will take is ensure that the most harmful no longer find their way into consumer products,” said executive vice president Frans Timmermans at the strategy launch. “Before, we restricted chemicals one-by-one, but we will flip this logic on its head and instead of reacting, we want to prevent it.” The strategy includes a wide range of policy initiatives, including a phase-out of all the most harmful substances, and measures to better take into account the effect of chemicals in combination. There’s also a commitment to ban the export of hazardous chemicals already banned in the EU. Tatiana Santos, the chemicals policy manager at the European Environmental Bureau, said this was a “watershed moment for the backward-looking chemical companies to embrace rather than continue resisting progress,” adding the new policy reflects public concerns over chemical pollution. The EU “now needs to turn this template, this declaration of intent, into action,” she said, adding that similar pledges “have gone nowhere in the past.” The strategy is only indicative and will need to be followed up by legislative proposals that will then be subject to scrutiny by the European Parliament and Council.
European Commission press notice and associated briefing and action points. EEB news release. ECHA news release. Environmental Health News. ENDS Europe.

Pakistan: Six workers suffocate in factory chemical tank

Six workers have been asphyxiated while trying to clean a chemical tank in a garment factory near Naurus Chowrangi, Pakistan. After receiving information on 17 October that some workers were trapped in the tank, police and rescue workers arrived at the factory and took the six victims to a nearby private hospital, where doctors pronounced them dead on arrival. Their bodies were later taken to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, where a medico-legal officer examined them and confirmed that the six workers had suffocated. Police said the workers were trying to clean the tank when they lost consciousness. Officials said that the tank was approximately 50 feet deep and it was half filled with chemicals, adding that one worker had initially climbed down the tank to clean it, but was overcome. The bereaved families only learned of the tragedy after approaching the factory to inquire why their family members had not returned home. The families held a protest after learning of the fate of the men, blaming the factory management for the incident. They said that a criminal case should be registered against the factory leadership, adding their negligence had caused the deaths. Six people including the factory’s general manager and its administrator were subsequently arrested on suspicion of manslaughter.
The News and follow up story.

USA: Jobs behind Black, Latino virus exposures

Workplace exposures in frontline workers explain the high rates of Covid-19 in Black and Latino communities in the US, researchers have found. The massive study, encompassing data from 100,000 patients, was conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, part of the National Institutes of Health. After running a number of analyses, researchers concluded that their data suggests pre-existing conditions are not key drivers of the disparity in coronavirus deaths. Instead, it indicated Black and Latino workers were more likely to get infected on the job than white workers, and that they typically return home to larger households, magnifying the inequity. “We believe that Covid-19 disparities will ultimately be shown to stem from disparities in exposure, such as the dimensions of employment and household transmission we examined,” the study concludes. The researchers involved in the study, published in the journal Health Affairs, found nearly 26 per cent of white men and nearly 20 per cent of white women who were characterised as ‘essential’ could work remotely, compared with 14 per cent of Black women and 13 per cent of Black men. Since the pandemic began in March, a long list of outbreaks have been traced to employees infected while on the job. Often, these hotspots are in workplaces where employees stand close to one another or touch shared equipment.
New Orleans Advocate.
Thomas M Selden and Terceira A Berdahl. COVID-19 And Racial/Ethnic Disparities In Health Risk, Employment, And Household Composition, Health Affairs, volume 39, number 9, pages 1624-1632, 2020.
Gold JA, Rossen LM, Ahmad FB and others. Race, Ethnicity, and Age Trends in Persons Who Died from COVID-19 — United States, May–August 2020, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, ePub, 16 October 2020. DOI:

USA: Hospital giant cited over airborne Covid

California workplace safety officials have issued a serious citation against a Kaiser Permanente psychiatric facility in Santa Clara, accusing the centre of failing to provide workers with appropriate respirators and other protection against Covid-19. The citation, issued by the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health with a proposed fine of $11,200, is the first in an expected wave of citations against Kaiser Permanente facilities statewide for failing to acknowledge that Covid-19 can be transmitted via aerosol particles, according to a source inside the state safety regulator Cal/OSHA. Kaiser said it plans to appeal. The agency found that Kaiser systematically failed to comply with California health and safety standards for aerosol transmissible diseases (ATD), the source said, even after early studies showed that the virus could survive in the air. California instructed employers in May to assume that was the case, and most California hospitals complied. After a series of evolving statements, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines on 5 October to say that Covid-19 transmission can be, in fact, airborne.
Cal Matters. Scientific Brief: SARS-CoV-2 and Potential Airborne Transmission, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), updated 5 October 2020.


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