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



BME women over-represented in insecure, risky jobs

Black and minority ethnic (BME) women are around twice as likely as white workers to be employed in insecure jobs, according to a new TUC study. The analysis shows that around 1 in 8 (12.1 per cent) BME women working in the UK are employed in insecure jobs compared to 1 in 16 (6.4 per cent) white women and 1 in 18 (5.5 per cent) white men. The TUC says that many of these roles are in vital frontline services like health and social care. It adds that during the pandemic BME staff have been at higher risk of Covid-19 exposure and job loss. The union body argues that insecure contracts make it harder for workers to assert their rights for a safe workplace, to shield if they – or someone they live with – has a health condition that puts them at higher risk, or to take time off for childcare responsibilities if schools or childcare providers close. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity at work and to be paid a fair wage. But coronavirus has exposed huge inequalities in our labour market. BME women are far more likely to be stuck in low-paid and high-risk frontline jobs. And all too often they are on contracts with few rights and no sick pay.” The TUC leader added: “Being trapped in insecure work has exposed BME women to extra risk during this crisis, with many losing their lives. That is not right. Ministers must step up and take bold action to tackle structural racism and sexism in our economy – and in wider society.” The TUC has published a new briefing paper BME women and work, to prompt discussion and urgent action from employers, trade unions and government.
TUC news release, blog and briefing paper, Black women and work, 28 October 2020.

Bad jobs and circumstances cause Covid race risks

A scientist advising the government on ethnicity and Covid has said the jobs Black and south Asian people do are a major reason they are at greater risk of illness and death. Dr Raghib Ali said a new concentration on risk arising from jobs and housing would help prevent everyone at risk. Dr Ali made his comments during a briefing on the first quarterly report on Covid disparities, led by the government's Race Disparity Unit and the minister for equalities, Kemi Badenoch. The report is a stocktake of the actions taken and evidence gathered since previous analyses by Public Health England, which set out the greater risks faced by black, Asian and other ethnic minority groups. To find out more about why these risks exist, the authors reviewed recent studies, including figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Public Health England (PHE). As well as larger households and living in densely populated urban areas, the study highlighted ‘occupational exposure’ as a key risk factor for Covid-19. In the briefing, Dr Ali said: “The problem with focusing on ethnicity as a risk factor is that it misses the very large number of non-ethnic minority groups, so whites basically, who also live in deprived areas and overcrowded housing and with high risk occupations.” Prof Naveed Sattar, at the University of Glasgow, said: “This report reminds us that there has been 'uneven spread' of the virus dependent on where and in what kind of environments people live and the jobs they have and that these factors explain a substantial part of the ethnic differences in risk of severe Covid, but not all.” The report noted: “Some occupations carry a higher risk of getting infected with Covid-19 as the job cannot be undertaken at home; people still need to commute to work in order to provide essential services for the community. 1.4 million key workers were from ethnic minorities, making up 14 per cent of all key workers (5 per cent of the total workforce) and 20 per cent of those in high risk occupations compared to their 11 per cent involvement in the total workforce.”
Quarterly report on progress to address COVID-19 health inequalities, Race Disparity Unit, October 2020. Minister for Equalities Kemi Badenoch’s letter to the Prime Minister and Health Secretary on the first COVID-19 disparities report. BBC News Online.

Black staff need infection protection at work

Employers must do more to reduce the elevated risk from coronavirus faced by Black workers, public sector union has said. Responding to new government measures to address race disparities in the impact of Covid-19, UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “The heightened risks to Black staff are now well-known, even if some causes remain unexplained.” She added: “NHS trusts have been carrying out the individual risk assessments, taking account of key factors including underlying health conditions, job role, ethnicity and home circumstances. As infections continue to rise, all employers must do the same. They should ensure the findings are put into effect by doing everything possible to protect more vulnerable staff, including redeployment or working from home where necessary.”
UNISON news release.

Union challenge to ‘unlawful’ reopening of universities

The government is facing a union legal challenge over its “unlawful” decision to reopen universities for face-to-face teaching. Lecturers’ union UCU is seeking a judicial review of the government’s decision to ignore advice from its own Sage committee of experts to move all non-essential university and college teaching online in September. In a pre-action letter sent to the education secretary Gavin Williamson, UCU argues the government’s failure to direct universities to move to online teaching was unlawful, unfair, unjust and irrational. On 21 September, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) advised the government to introduce immediate measures that would require universities and colleges to move all their teaching online “unless face-to-face teaching is absolutely essential”. Minutes of the meeting, which were disclosed publicly on 12 October, show Sage warned that “outbreaks are very likely in universities”, and emphasised that the risk of Covid-19 death and severe disease was higher for university and college workers than for students. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Sage told the government in September that unless teaching at colleges and universities moved online outbreaks were very likely, but ministers ignored its advice. We may never know the full impact of the decision to ignore Sage's warning, but we have seen infection rates up to seven times higher at universities than in surrounding areas, and over 27,000 cases of Covid on campus with reports of students in intensive care. We are now witnessing a second wave that was preventable.” She added: “We are taking this legal action to find out why the government ignored its own scientists' advice, and to pressure it to move all but essential in-person teaching at English universities online, so that we can lower the rate of transmission and help stem the crisis. At the same time we need stronger guidance and better support to minimise and control outbreaks in English colleges.” Figures collated by UCU shows over 27,000 university staff and students have tested positive for Covid since the start of term. Recorded cases have jumped from 10,000 since 10 October, and 20,000 since 16 October, it says. UCU has been calling for university teaching to be moved online since August.
UCU news release. The Observer.

Universities pressuring staff to work on campus

Universities have come under fire for pressuring staff to work on campus. Employees working in administrative roles at both Staffordshire and Birmingham universities told the Guardian that they had been threatened with disciplinary action if they did not come on to campus. An email from Staffordshire university’s vice-chancellor, Liz Barnes, sent on 27 September, said that staff working from home would have a “deleterious effect” on the university. She wrote: “Unlike the ‘national lockdown’ earlier in the year, we do not have the same protections against students seeking financial redress if their experience is reduced. This means, that if we do not provide the full campus experience to students, albeit in a different way, then students potentially could seek refunds from us. I do not need to highlight the significant impact that such a situation would pose to our income.” An email from the University of Birmingham provost, Tim Jones, sent on 28 September sets out categories of staff required to work on campus, and grants directors the power to demand that their teams are present in person. The Guardian’s revelations came as UCU members at Birmingham, Birmingham City University, Edinburgh, Queens University in Belfast, St Andrews and Warwick were threatening industrial action over health and safety concerns. Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU, said: “Universities are transmission hotspots, so it’s disappointing that Staffordshire and Birmingham universities are risking the health of their employees by pressuring them on to campus when there’s no need for them to be there.”
The Guardian.

Rota system call for secondary schools

The government should investigate moving secondary schools to a rota system, to make social distancing more practicable, teaching union NEU has said. Responding to an ‘alarming’ rise in secondary school pupils testing positive for the coronavirus, NEU joint general secretaries Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney have written to education secretary Gavin Williamson asking him to take decisive action to curb this trend, including the possibility of a rota system for secondary schools and colleges in Tier 2 and Tier 3. “We now have a situation where the infection rate in secondary schools is 17 times higher than on the 1 September. This is alarming and it is crucial that government looks at all potential measures to stabilise the situation including the possibility of a rota-based system for secondary schools and colleges as outlined in the government’s August guidelines,” Dr Bousted said. “A rota system will ensure smaller class sizes making social distancing achievable. The strain on public transport in the mornings and afternoons will be less and the social mixing after school will also be reduced.” She concluded: “Our schools need a clear way forward that ensures education can continue in a planned and coherent way. No decisions will be easy, but to just keep ignoring the data and drifting into higher infection rates with the increased erratic closure of schools and colleges is not an option. We look forward to hearing from Gavin Williamson to discuss our proposals further.”
NEU news release.

Scotland needs ‘enhanced mitigation’ for schools

The Scottish government must introduce ‘enhanced mitigation’ of Covid-19 risks in schools if it is going to reduce the need for a full lockdown, teaching union NASUWT has said. Commenting on the announcement by first minister Nicola Sturgeon of a five tier alert system of coronavirus restrictions due to come into force across Scotland on 2 November, NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach said: “It is alarming that at a time of rising threat of coronavirus transmission, the government’s plans do not include any extension to the safety mitigation measures required in schools, particularly in those schools in the highest tier areas.” Pointing to evidence of increasing numbers of positive tests in pupils, he said: “We all want schools to remain open, but this should not be done by failing to have proper regard for the health and safety of pupils and staff in schools. It is also vital that the government sets out clearly its expectations that school and college employers review and update their Covid-19 risk assessments in light of the increased public health threats. Additional safety mitigation measures in schools must also be a priority if the government is to prevent the virus getting further out of control this winter.” The union’s national officer for Scotland, Jane Peckham, said: “Schools were originally asked to plan for a blended learning approach back in early summer and much work was undertaken by teachers and school leaders to prepare for this for the start of the current academic year, before plans were abruptly changed to the full reopening of schools. If such an approach was considered a sensible and safe approach to the risks posed by Covid at the time it is difficult to understand why this, alongside remote learning, is not being kept under active consideration as part of a menu of enhanced mitigation measures that can be put into action as the situation demands.”
NASUWT news release. Daily Record. BBC News Online.

STUC concerned by non-essential work in high risk areas

Scotland’s national union body STUC has given a cautious welcome of a five tier (zero to four) alert system of coronavirus restrictions due to come into force across Scotland on 2 November, but has said more workers need greater protection in high risk areas. Commenting on the announcement by first minister Nicola Sturgeon, STUC general secretary Roz Foyer said: “The main emerging concern from our members is that even at tier four, the highest category of restriction, schools and a range of non-essential workplaces would automatically remain open. It is difficult to understand that no consideration is being given to a more cautious approach in areas where infection rates rise to such serious levels as to merit tier four status.” She added: “In sectors such as construction and manufacturing, the framework should refer to only ‘essential’ manufacturing / construction remaining open in tier four areas. Employers should not be able to force workers to remain at work when lockdown is effectively in place due to a high level of deaths/infection rate.” The union leader concluded: “We agree that keeping schools open should be a priority, but not at any cost. The default position at Level 4 should be to recognise this fact and for the inclusion of the deployment of blended or remote learning contingencies as advocated by our affiliate the EIS.”
STUC news release. EIS news release.

Major workplace role in Covid spread has been buried

Around four in 10 people testing positive for Covid-19 identified ‘a workplace or education event’ as their activity in the days prior to onset of symptoms, ahead of all other causes, an analysis of official figures has revealed. Public Health England data examined by Hazards magazine reveals a sharp rise in Covid-19 outbreaks in workplaces in England tracked ‘an incubation period behind’ the UK government’s back-to-work messages. The research by Hazards found a correlation between calls by the UK government for a return to work and education and a rapid rise in clusters in both settings. Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show by 13 September, six weeks after prime minister Boris Johnson’s first call to go back, 62 per cent of adults reported commuting to work. A rise in workplace cases tracked just behind the increase, with a record 141 workplace clusters recorded in the week up to 20 September – two days before Boris Johnson’s policy reversal called for office workers to switch back to working from home and a day after the government raised the Covid-19 alert level to 4, meaning transmission is “high or rising exponentially.” The report concludes that while thousands of workers may have died as result of coronavirus exposures on the job, “the Health and Safety Executive’s workplace Covid database records just 152 Covid-19 deaths as related to work, a small fraction of one per cent of the UK’s coronavirus deaths in working age adults.” HSE’s RIDDOR data tables include just three deaths in manufacturing, two in transportation and storage, and one in education. There were, according to the regulator, no work-related Covid-19 deaths in agriculture, forestry and fishing, mining and quarrying, wholesale and retail trades or construction. ‘Human health and social care activities’ dominate the reports to HSE, with 7,746 cases and 120 deaths. The Hazards report said this sits uneasily with Covid death data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which reveal while death rates are high in these caring jobs, they are lower than the combined total for the other workplace sectors with elevated rates.
Laid bare: The scandal of expendable workers before, during and after Covid, Hazards, Number 151, October 2020.

Health workers linked to 1 in 6 hospital Covid-19 cases

Healthcare workers and their families account for a sixth (17 per cent) of hospital admissions for Covid-19 in the working age population (18-65 years), a study from Scotland has found. Although hospital admission with Covid-19 in this age group was very low overall, the risk for healthcare workers and their families was higher compared with other working age adults, especially for those in “front door” patient facing roles such as paramedics and A&E department staff, say the researchers. They say these findings have implications for the safety and wellbeing of healthcare workers, and their households. Their findings are based on Scottish workforce data for 158,445 healthcare workers (aged 18-65 years), 229,905 household members, and other members of the general population during the peak period for Covid-19 infection in Scotland, from 1 March to 6 June 2020. The researchers found that admission to hospital with Covid-19 was uncommon, with an overall risk of less than 0.5 per cent. However compared with other adults of working age, healthcare workers and their households accounted for 17 per cent of all Covid-19 related hospital admissions, even though they represent only 11 per cent of the working age population. Patient-facing healthcare workers were three times more likely to be admitted to hospital for Covid-19, while members of their households were nearly twice as likely to be admitted to hospital for Covid-19 than other working age adults. Those working in “front door” roles, such as paramedics and A&E department staff, were at the highest risk of hospital admission for Covid-19. The researchers say these findings from the “first wave” in Scotland show that healthcare workers in patient facing roles - especially those in “front door” roles - are, along with their households, at particular risk.  And they call on governments, healthcare managers and occupational health specialists to consider how best to protect healthcare workers and their families in the event of a resurgent pandemic.
Anoop SV Shah and others. Risk of hospital admission with coronavirus disease 2019 in healthcare workers and their households: nationwide linkage cohort study, BMJ, 2020; 371: m3582. Published online 28 October 2020.

Scottish study highlight health care worker plight

The study published this week in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) showing health care workers in Scotland are at greater danger from Covid-19 should inform decisions about the organisation of health services, the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and redeployment, according to a related editorial. The researchers at Skane University Hospital in Sweden note: “Superspreading events, a hallmark of previous coronavirus outbreaks, contribute substantially to community transmission of Covid-19 and to work related clusters… Increasing experience now suggests that every suspected healthcare associated infection should trigger a bundle of immediate infection control measures, including extensive screening for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), quarantining of all patients on the affected ward, physical distancing between personnel, and use of reinforced PPE during all contact with patients on the affected ward, in order to prevent larger outbreaks.” They add that the reasons for the observed increase in risk in health workers “need to be explored to help to guide safety improvements in healthcare settings.” They call for high quality studies evaluating new prevention and control practices “to guide improvements in our approach to protecting health care workers and their families, including those from ethnic minority communities who have the highest risks of infection and poor outcomes, widening workplace inequality.” The editorial’s authors add that, in accordance with United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, “we must ensure the protection and security of all health workers in all settings.”

Ulf Karlsson and Carl-Johan Fraenkel. Editorial: Covid-19: risks to healthcare workers and their families, BMJ, 2020; 371: m3944. Published online 28 October 2020.

Covid-hit jobcentre should close, says PCS

Civil service union PCS has called for the closure of Oldham jobcentre after a tenth case of coronavirus in a little over three weeks.  Staff who have come into close contact with those affected have been self-isolating and deep cleans have been carried out. PCS said its local union reps believe the quick succession of cases constitutes a Covid outbreak and that the office should be subject to a 14-day “circuit break” closure to stem the tide of cases. However, the union says Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) management last week “outright refused to shut the office” and has not been involving PCS’s health and safety reps in dealing with the outbreak. PCS industrial officer Ian Bartholomew said: “It is astonishing that DWP management are refusing to close the office despite 10 confirmed cases. Management need to heed what our local reps are saying and close the office to the public and allow our staff to continue to deliver a first-class service, working from home, while we contain the virus.” 
PCS news release.


‘Nonsensical’ rail contract changes ‘jeopardise track safety’

Railway track safety standards and jobs in Nottinghamshire, South Yorkshire and Scotland are being put in jeopardy by ‘nonsensical’ Network Rail plans to switch its track component suppliers, Unite has warned. The long-time holder of the contracts, Progress Rail Services, has been informed that the work will be carried out elsewhere when the current contracts come to an end. Network Rail intends to split the new contracts, worth £500 million over eight years, between three other firms that Unite says lack Progress Rail’s comprehensive and specialist UK manufacturing capabilities. It will mean a significant amount of parts will in future have to be sourced from abroad. The firm, which is owned by Caterpillar, has accused Network Rail of prioritising cost over quality. In a letter to the union, the firm stated there is a “very real risk to the integrity and security of the UK rail network arising from Network Rail’s decision”. Unite said the firm’s workers have also told the union they believe this to be the case, after having had to reject cheaply made parts from other suppliers on previous occasions. Unite national officer Harish Patel said: “It is completely nonsensical for Network Rail to cut Progress Rail, whose specialist sites have been producing UK railway components for generations, almost completely out of its supply chain.” He added: “The company has stated to Unite that this is about Network Rail prioritising cost over quality and both Progress Rail and our members have genuine concerns that opening the door to cheaply made parts will jeopardise track safety as well as vital UK manufacturing jobs.” While supporting Progress Rail’s bid, Unite branded the firm’s threats to fire its entire workforce if it loses the contracts as ‘disgraceful’ and ‘unwarranted’.
Unite news release.

Epidemic of ill-health revealed at Heathrow

A confidential survey of workers at London’s Heathrow Airport has revealed an ‘epidemic’ of work-related mental and physical ill-health. The findings of the Unite survey comes as Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) is gearing up to use a highly controversial ‘fire and rehire’ strategy to shift staff to worse contracts on lower pay. The workforce is currently being balloted for industrial action, with the ballot closing on 5 November. The Unite survey found that over half of the 574 respondents (55 per cent) did not believe that working at Heathrow Airport was good for their mental health. When workers said their mental health had been affected the biggest issues were anxiety (79 per cent), irritability and anger (53 per cent) and depression (50 per cent). Overall, 15 per cent of respondents had been diagnosed with mental health problems. Several respondents also reported they were suicidal or had suicidal thoughts. Physical health problems were even higher at the airport, with 92 per cent of respondents saying they were affected. The biggest physical health issues affecting over threequarters of respondents were problems with sleep (77 per cent), closely followed by tiredness (67 per cent). Unite regional coordinating officer Wayne King said: “The vast majority of our members believe that Heathrow has no interest in their wellbeing. The health problems at Heathrow Airport have been greatly exacerbated by the cold hearted and callous manner that the employer is trying to force through pay cuts.” He added: “Rather than take stock of the mental and physical health problems affecting its employees, HAL is instead rushing into highly damaging individual consultations as it seeks to ‘fire and rehire its workforce’, and slash their pay. HAL needs to show that its commitments to staff wellbeing are worth more than the paper they are written on, by dropping its pay cut plans and returning to the negotiating table.”
Unite news release.

Recruiters banned after exploiting agricultural workers

A husband and wife have been banned from acting as company directors for a total of 21 years after they exploited and abused agricultural workers. Lincoln-based Simon Melville, 42, has been disqualified for 11 years, and Julie Melville, 41, has been banned for 10 years. Facing financial difficulties, Lincolnshire Recruitment Services Ltd become known to the Insolvency Service which established that Julie and Simon Melville breached regulations intended to protect workers from exploitation. Investigators uncovered that six months prior to the company’s collapse, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) inspected the recruitment firm in February 2018 before revoking the company’s GLAA licence. Inspectors from the GLAA discovered that between July 2017 and September 2018, Simon and Julie Melville failed to make holiday payments to 186 employees, charged employees for safety equipment which should have been supplied free of charge and didn’t provide employees with copies of their contracts. Sue Macleod, chief investigator for the Insolvency Service, said the husband and wife team “clearly were more interested in exploiting their workers and making a profit as opposed to protecting them from harm. Their bans are substantial and removing Simon and Julie from the corporate arena will help protect vulnerable workers from experiencing further harm.” GLAA head of regulation Nicola Ray said: “Flagrant breaches of our licensing standards will not be tolerated under any circumstances and this is why we revoked the licence of Lincolnshire Recruitment Services back in 2018. Our investigators found eight breaches of our licensing standards, four of which were serious enough on their own to cause the company to automatically fail the inspection.” She added: “We are pleased with the disqualification undertakings and hope they send a clear message that we will continue to work in partnership to protect vulnerable and exploited workers.”
Insolvency Service news release. GLAA news release.

Transport firm fined £5,000 for agency driver’s death

A transport company has been fined after a worker was fatally injured when the pallet of stone tiles he was attempting to deliver fell onto him. High Wycombe Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 23 November 2016, an agency driver was carrying out a delivery for Reason Transport UK Limited in High Wycombe. Petru Pop, 52, was delivering a pallet of stone tiles using a tail-lift and a manual pallet truck. He spent several minutes struggling to lift and manoeuvre the pallet onto the truck’s tail-lift. When he eventually succeeded in doing so, he lost control of the pallet, which fell onto him, causing him to suffer fatal crush injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the weight of the pallet was recorded as 1,200 kg but the actual weight was in excess of 1,400 kg. The investigation also found that the driver had worked for the company for two weeks and had not received any training for the safe delivery of pallets using a tail-lift. Reason Transport UK Limited, now in liquidation, pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £5,000. HSE inspector Stephen Faulkner said: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the host company to provide training to this agency worker on the safe delivery of pallets from a vehicle with a tail-lift. Transport companies should be aware of the importance of identifying and managing the risks involved with delivering heavy loads and the need to adequately train new staff before undertaking such deliveries.” There were no costs awarded as the company had ceased trading and the court was told it had no assets.
HSE news release. Motor Transport. Buckinghamshire Free Press.


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: Quebec’s virus battle shifts to workplaces

As the second Covid-19 wave gathers force in Quebec, almost half the active outbreaks in the Canadian province have been traced back to workplaces including factories, construction sites, kitchens and hospitals. That matters because workplace infections can lead to wider community spread, experts say. The provincial public health director, Dr Horacio Arruda, said 46 per cent of all outbreaks involve a workplace. According to Dr Karl Weiss, a microbiologist and infectious disease specialist at the Université de Montréal, the second coronavirus wave is following a familiar autumn pattern, that of influenza. Children spread the virus to each other at school, then to their parents, who take it to work. From there, it spreads into still older, more vulnerable populations. “There is a spillover effect of the younger population into the older one,” Weiss said. “This is what we are witnessing right now and hopefully we will be able to contain it as a society.” In September, Montreal mayor Valérie Plante and the city's Chamber of Commerce issued a joint plea for the provincial government to make it easier for office workers to return to their cubicles. Last week the message changed, with the mayor saying “all those who can work from home must work from home. I know the Montreal Chamber of Commerce isn't going to like hearing me say that... but what I'm telling you is we need even more people to work from home.” The reason is plain. In August and September, social gatherings were one of the pandemic's key drivers. Now, it appears workplaces have supplanted parties. “All workplaces must reinforce their measures,” said Arruda, the province’s public health director. “I think maybe we've forgotten them. And I'm here to tell you that at work, during lunch time, before work, after work, it's very easy to get within two metres.” On 22 October, Arruda met with the province's workplace safety board (CNESST) to discuss “a large operation to raise awareness once again and, if necessary, to use coercive intervention.”
CBC News.

Global: Decades of work virus warnings went ignored

Long before Covid-19, unions made repeat warnings about the need to prepare for ‘emerging’ infectious disease but these were never acted on. A new report in the trade union workplace health magazine Hazards says decades of inaction ‘paved the way for the pandemic and left us without a workplace biohazards law,’ either globally or in the UK. The report says an agreement on binding International Labour Organisation (ILO) rules was made by the world’s governments in 1993, and reiterated at ILO meetings in 1999 and 2007. It adds that meetings of government, union and employer representatives at ILO in 2017 and 2018 also agreed there should be a convention on biological hazards, citing a string of outbreaks including the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak – caused by another coronavirus, SARS-CoV-1 – that killed thousands in 26 countries. The union argument referred explicitly to the need “to prepare for emerging threats.” Over 1-in-5 of all the cases in the 2003 outbreak were in health care workers – the figure was 43 per cent in Canada - although other work groups were also at risk. As Covid-19, also a SARS caused by a coronavirus - SARS-CoV-2 - made horribly apparent, Hazards notes, these emerging threats can affect the entire workforce and the community at large. “Instead, in 2020, ILO again deferred a discussion on a biological hazards rule,” the report notes. “ILO said this was necessary because of the Covid pandemic.”  
Biohazards. They were warned. They knew what to do. They did nothing, Hazards, number 151, October 2020, and related resources: Biological agent related diseases reportable in the UK under RIDDOR; and A-Z of work-related conditions eligible for UK state benefits and caused by biohazards.

USA: Virus cases in public transport workers missed

More New York public transport workers were sick with Covid-19 than previously believed, according to a study by New York University (NYU) researchers. About 24 per cent of transport authority (MTA) workers who responded to a survey said they had been infected with Covid-19, according to the pilot study. That rate is higher than the 14.2 per cent positivity rate for antibodies found by state officials under a preliminary review in May. Nearly 7.4 per cent of workers under NYC Transit and the MTA Bus have tested positive for the virus throughout the pandemic, or 3,921 out of about 53,000 workers, according to the MTA's figures. “We had more markers - including whether or not a doctor had told them [they had coronavirus],” NYU epidemiologist Robyn Gershon said. “Some people may not report to MTA, to their occupational health clinics. They may never tell them what their doctor found.” She said the MTA's statistics “just don’t jive with what we know about how many people were on quarantine, how many people were isolated, and even in some respects how many people we know have died.” About 70 per cent of respondents were also afraid for their safety - particularly from transit users who have lashed out at workers for asking riders to wear masks. “Here we have people who come to work every day, they don't know if the will be attacked either verbally or physically or racially attacked and somehow denigrated just for coming to do their essential worker jobs,” Gershon said. “It's compounding.” To conduct the pilot study, researchers sent an anonymous survey link to about 3,000 Transit Workers Union Local 100 members in August. About 700 responded within three weeks, of which 645 were complete. “We put the city on our shoulders when the pandemic hit, and we are still carrying it forward,” TWU Local 100 president Tony Utano said in a statement. “There are now more protective measures against the virus in place than when the crisis erupted, but we can't let up.” The union is calling for systemic, regular testing of transit employees - mirroring requirements for nursing home staff.
Robyn Gershon. Impact of Covid-19 on NYC Transit workers: Pilot study findings, NYU School of Global Public Health, October 2020. TWU Local 100 news release. The Gothamist.

USA: Minorities in food jobs hard hit by Covid-19

Racial and ethnic minority workers have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 in food manufacturing and agriculture workplaces, according to a new study. Researchers from the US government’s public health agency CDC and its state partners looked at state health department data for workers in food manufacturing and agricultural workplaces from 1 March through to the end of May, finding 8,978 Covid-19 cases and 55 deaths. High contact jobs, high density workplaces, and shared housing and transportation all increased risks. Of the 5,957 cases that included information on symptoms, 4,957 (83.2 per cent) of patients reported symptoms, while 1,000 (16.8 per cent) were asymptomatic or presymptomatic. “Reducing workplace exposures is critical for protecting workers in US food processing, food manufacturing, and agriculture workplaces and might help reduce health disparities among disproportionately affected populations,” the authors note. “Adherence to workplace-specific intervention and prevention efforts, including engineered controls, such as physical distancing; administrative controls, such as proper sanitation, cleaning, and disinfection; and providing personal protective equipment likely would protect both workers and surrounding communities.” The paper concludes: “These findings should be considered when implementing workplace interventions to ensure communication and training are culturally and linguistically tailored for each workforce.” Better testing strategies, contact tracing, and symptom screening are needed, it says. Other research published in October confirmed workplace exposures in frontline workers explain the high rates of Covid-19 in Black and Latino communities in the US (Risks 970).
CIDRAP report. Coronavirus Disease among Workers in Food Processing, Food Manufacturing, and Agriculture Workplaces, Emerging Infectious Diseases, volume 27, number 1, January 2021, early release 19 October 2020.


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