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



Too little too late from the government

The UK government’s failure to act sooner on rising infection risks and to offer proper income protection for all workers affected by the pandemic has left families facing a ‘grim winter’, the TUC has said. Responding to the prime ministers’ announcement on 31 October of a new four week lockdown for England to take effect from 5 November, the TUC called for the Treasury to provide additional support to protect jobs and income. The union body is also pressing for a publicly run and accountable test and trace system, decent sick pay and tougher safety standards at work - including a legal duty to publish risk assessments. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government should have acted decisively much sooner and now families face a grim winter. The extension of the furlough scheme is long overdue and necessary, but ministers must do more to protect jobs and prevent poverty.” The TUC leader added: “Furlough pay must never fall below the national minimum wage. We need a boost to Universal Credit and government should not abandon the self-employed. And we will not control the virus unless the government fixes the test and trace system and the scandal of workers asked to self-isolate without decent sick pay.”
TUC news release. Prime minister’s statement and news release, 31 October 2020. UNISON news release. Usdaw news release. BBC News Online.

Factory outbreak takes town’s infection to national high

Coronavirus cases in a small Norfolk town due to an outbreak at a food factory have caused its infection rate to soar to the highest in England. There were 125 new cases in Watton in the seven days to 27 October, taking the infection rate to 1,515.5 cases per 100,000 people. In the seven days prior, 99 new cases were confirmed, giving the town an infection rate of 1,200 cases per 100,000 people. This figure has been heavily impacted by the outbreak at Cranswick Country Foods, which has reported hundreds of confirmed cases. All 1,416 workers at the Norfolk meat factory are being swabbed and mobile testing units have been set up in Watton as public health officials battle to prevent the outbreak from spreading further afield. The latest figures, released on 30 October, revealed out of 767 workers tested at that time, 248 proved to be positive for coronavirus, with 519 negative, an infection rate of 32.3 per cent. The outbreak is centred on the factory’s butchery where more than half the workers have tested positive. The factory has remained open but with a skeleton staff. Around 20 per cent of all pork products in the country go through the Watton plant. Norfolk County Council said it is working with Public Health England and Cranswick Foods to tackle the outbreak. Some local shops have posted signs forbidding entry by Cranswick workers.
Norfolk County Council news updates. Eastern Daily Press and related story. BBC News Online.

Work contribution to virus spread going ignored

Workplace outbreaks are an increasingly large contributor to coronavirus spread, but are being largely ignored in the UK government’s prevention strategy, a top academic has warned. Stirling University occupational health professor Andrew Watterson said despite varying degrees of lockdown restrictions due to the pandemic, many people in the UK are still going in to work with inevitable consequences - hundreds of coronavirus clusters each week. The latest weekly surveillance report from Public Health England revealed 397 suspected outbreaks in care homes and 334 incidents in workplaces in the week from 19-25 October. Care homes are workplaces too, said Watterson. Writing in The Conversation, he criticises the UK’s inspection and prevention response at work. “Investigations of Covid-19 workplace clusters in Britain are led by public health staff at a national and local level and not by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), although joint inspections and investigations may occur. This could mean some investigators lack the powers and possibly the knowledge and skills to enforce measures to stop the spread of the virus,” he said. “The HSE has powers to close a workplace hazardous to health. Local authority inspectors have the power to shut workplaces on environmental health grounds. Directors of Public Health do not have such powers.” Professor Watterson concluded: “With winter looming, making workplaces Covid-safe rather than simply Covid-secure is therefore proving a challenge for governments, employers, regulators, and workers. It can be done – and has been elsewhere in the world – by applying the science available, adopting best practice in occupational health and safety, and resolving organisational and policy conflicts and confusion.”
The Conversation.

More than a third 'fear catching Covid at work'

More than one-in-three (35 per cent) workers have an active concern about the transmission of Covid-19 in their workplace – with low-paid workers most likely to be worried, but least likely to raise concerns or see their complaints resolved. ‘Failed Safe?’, a Resolution Foundation report, draws on an online YouGov survey of 6,061 adults across the UK. It found that nearly half (47 per cent) of workers that spend time in the workplace rate the risk of Covid-19 transmission at work as fairly or very high. And despite 90 per cent of employers taking multiple steps to mitigate risks – such as providing hand sanitiser or enforcing social distancing – over a third (35 per cent) of workers are still worried about catching Covid on the job. Those most worried about Covid in the workplace are often the least likely to raise concerns about it, the study found.  For example, the workers in the lowest weekly pay quintile (the lowest fifth) are far less likely to raise Covid-related safety complaints as those in the highest pay quintile (52 per cent, compared to 72 per cent). The lowest paid workers are around half as likely to report their Covid complaint was fully resolved as the highest paid workers (15 per cent, compared to 29 per cent). The report notes that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) entered the pandemic severely under-resourced, with its budget per premise under its inspection remit more than halving over the past decade, from £224 in 2010/11 to just £100 in 2020/21. Lindsay Judge, research director at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Given many workers’ limited ability to get employers to address Covid concerns, the UK needs a strong enforcement regime to ensure that workplaces are as safe as can be. But instead health and safety resources have been cut, inspections have been slow, and Covid-related enforcement notices are few and far between.” The report recommends: “More weight should be placed on the employee voice as a source of intelligence to inform enforcement targeting.” The report found workers were twice as likely to seek advice on workplace Covid-19 concerns from their union as from HSE, far higher than for any other source of information.
Resolution Foundation news release and Failed Safe? briefing note. BBC News Online.
REGISTER A COVID CONCERN:  The online link provided by on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website for union reps to register a Covid-19 concern is broken. After an intervention by the TUC, the HSE is now asking union reps to register their Covid-19 concerns directly by email to until the HSE online glitch is resolved.

Work hazards group warns ‘don’t waste this lockdown’

A month-long lockdown in England must be used to sort out test and trace, and enforce health and safety in the workplace, the national Hazards Campaign has said. As Whitehall imposes new restrictions, the campaign has argued that the time must be used to rebuild the failing test and trace system, and to ensure those workplaces remaining open are Covid-safe. The campaign said that only a zero-Covid strategy, with greater testing and financial support for those self-isolating, will be enough to stop the spread of the virus. It adds all non-essential workplaces should close. With implementing these measures, the campaign argued, the lockdown will cause hardship for “little benefit”. It pointed to communities in the north of England that have been living under almost continual restrictions, yet transmission rates have continued to rise. Hazards Campaign coordinator and chair Janet Newsham said the lockdown plan “leaves many unsafe workplaces open without adequate enforcement of the controls of risks.” She added: “Any Covid circuit breaker must be part of a zero-Covid strategy, which includes high numbers of people tested, a high percentage of those positive cases traced, contacted, and people supported financially to isolate. Anything less would be an abdication of government responsibility and a waste of valuable time to get the virus under control. A Covid circuit breaker must also ensure that all essential workplaces remaining open are Covid-safe.”
Hazards Campaign news release. Environmental Health News.

NASUWT calls for beefed-up Covid safety enforcement

The government’s lockdown will not work unless there is more effective enforcement of workplace safety standards, teaching union NASUWT has said. Patrick Roach, the union’s general secretary, said: “The government’s plans to extend national restrictions to tackle the coronavirus will be seriously undermined if it fails to ensure that schools and other workplaces are Covid-safe. The government must do whatever it takes to ensure that school and college employers act swiftly and urgently to ensure that workplaces are safe for staff and students.” The union leader accused the government of being “reckless” in expecting guidance alone “to ensure that schools and colleges remain safe whilst the rates of coronavirus transmission in the wider community continue to escalate rapidly. Whilst the government has belatedly increased funding for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), stronger inspection and enforcement is also needed to ensure that all schools and colleges are as safe as possible. There is widespread evidence of rising Covid-19 transmissions within schools and colleges which need to be tackled as part of a credible national plan from the government to ensure the safety of staff and pupils.” The NASUWT leader warned: “Fewer than one in five education settings have been contacted by telephone by the HSE and fewer than 300 of 23,000 schools have been visited by the HSE since the start of September. This is simply not good enough and will do little to inspire public confidence or to give reassurance to those who are working in schools at this critically important time.”
NASUWT news release.

NEU calls for school shutdown in lockdown

Teaching union NEU is calling for schools and colleges to be included in the government’s  English lockdown - and for rotas to be introduced at the end of the lockdown period. The union adds that schools should remain open to the children of key workers and vulnerable children during such a general closure period. Commenting ahead of the UK government’s confirmation of the lockdown plan and pointing to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “It is clear from ONS data that schools are an engine for virus transmission. It would be self-defeating for the government to impose a national lockdown, whilst ignoring the role of schools as a major contributor to the spread of the virus. Such a lockdown would impose pain on the whole community - but not be as effective as it could be if schools were included. Ignoring the role of schools and colleges in the spread of the virus is likely to lead to the need for even longer lockdowns in future.” He said the latest figures from the ONS estimate that 1 per cent of primary pupils and 2 per cent of secondary pupils have the virus and that these levels have increased dramatically since wider opening in September. NEU’s analysis of ONS figures shows that virus levels are now nine times higher amongst primary pupils and an ‘astonishing’ 50 times higher amongst secondary pupils. Calling for all schools to be included in the lockdown, he added: “It is also vital that the government ensure proper financial support for all those affected by lockdown including crucial supply teachers and other staff.” Number 10’s lockdown plan calls for all schools and universities to remain open.
NEU news release. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey, UK: 30 October 2020, ONS, 30 October 2020.

Reduce school opening and support remote learning - UNISON

The government should restrict school and nursery opening in England as in the first lockdown to help bring the national rate of infection down and ensure the safety of pupils, staff and the wider community, UNISON has said. The union has also called on the government to stump up the funding necessary so children from low income families can have access to tablets or laptops. It has written to the Department for Education calling for an urgent meeting so the government can explain why all schools are to remain open during the second English lockdown. If ministers are determined to keep schools open, they must introduce a range of precautions to reduce the risks, with increased funding to match, says the union. These include priority testing for all school employees, requiring face coverings for all pupils and staff, and allowing many vulnerable workers to do their jobs from home where possible. It adds the government must also share detailed scientific evidence about the risk of infection in schools, colleges and universities to justify their continued opening. UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “Statistics show the return of schools, colleges and universities has played a major role in spreading the virus. Everyone agrees the wellbeing of pupils is vital, but so is the safety of staff.” He added: “Education staff need a detailed and convincing justification about why they’re excluded from lockdown and why closures of schools or rotas of classes aren’t part of the plan. The safety of staff and pupils shouldn’t be compromised. If the government keeps schools open, much tougher measures to reduce the risks are needed. Testing must be readily available to all school workers to keep them safe and stop the virus spread.”
UNISON news release and National Schools Committee Statement.

Lockdown plan will not protect school kids and staff

The “exponentially” rising transmission of the coronavirus has “fatally exposed” the UK government’s failure to respond adequately to the pandemic, according to teaching union NASUWT. Commenting after the government announced a lockdown for England, NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach said: “The second wave of this pandemic is putting even more lives at risk, and it has been clear for some weeks that coordinated and urgent national action would need to be taken to tackle a crisis that is now enveloping the entire country.” He added that the government’s decision to reopen schools fully in September “may have contributed to the increased spread of Covid-19 transmission and rising death rates over recent weeks. There is widespread evidence of rising Covid-19 transmissions within schools and that opening schools fully has acted as a vector for coronavirus transmission in the wider community. It is vital that the government recognises that schools and colleges must be part of a national strategy to tackle the continuing spread of the virus.” Dr Roach criticised the government’s schools guidance. “The government has recklessly given up on the idea that social distancing can be maintained in schools, despite the evidence that this is the best protection against the spread of the coronavirus. The government needs to accept that ensuring smaller classes in schools must also be considered an essential element in the country’s strategy to get control of this worsening situation.” He added that if the virus spread led to more remote learning for pupils, the government must instigate an urgent national plan “which must be backed up by substantially additional resources for schools. Schools will also need urgent additional support if they are to get through to Christmas and remain safe to staff and pupils, including extra funding for cleaning, PPE and for additional supply staff to cover where other teachers are absent.”
NASUWT news release. Union News.

Unite warns school support must be fully protected

School support staff and school nurses across the UK must be protected through the lockdown and their ‘safety must not be compromised’, Unite has said. The union says if serious safety concerns are identified and immediate action is not taken to remedy them, “then Unite will instruct staff to exercise their legal right to withdraw their work until safety measures are fully instigated.” It says their must be funding for PPE and cleaning, regularly updated and published ‘rigorous’ risk assessments produced in consultation with staff, and social distancing “at all times,” even if this means smaller class sizes. Vulnerable workers must be fully protected, it adds. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “School staff are feeling incredibly vulnerable and believe their legitimate concerns are being ignored as the country faces the full impact of the second wave of Covid-19 and England prepares for a second national lockdown. It is vitally important that children are able to access education but if schools are to stay open then all workers including support staff and nurses must be fully protected at all times.” She added: “Unite will not tolerate the health of our members being compromised and if there is an immediate threat to their wellbeing we will instruct them to withdraw from work. As an immediate first step schools must update full and rigorous risk assessments taking into account any health concerns. Many support staff who have serious health concerns are feeling incredibly exposed as the government has removed the shielding protections that the vulnerable could previously utilise. The bottom line is that the safety of the whole school community, children, their families and staff must not be compromised.”
Unite news release.

Universities urged to move learning online

Lecturers’ union UCU has written to vice-chancellors of universities in England calling on them to move learning online immediately. UCU’s move follows updated government guidance for England around the four week lockdown that said universities should ‘consider moving to increased levels of online learning where possible and - after repeated calls from UCU and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) - for a move away from in-person teaching. UCU said it has collated a running total of over 35,000 cases of Covid on campuses across the UK. It has also launched a legal challenge to the government's decision to ignore advice from Sage to move learning at universities online (Risks 971). UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Following updated guidance from the Westminster government, we are calling on vice-chancellors in England to exercise their autonomy and move all non-essential activities online now.” She added: “Universities must not risk the health and safety of staff and students by allowing non-essential in-person activities to continue. Reducing the amount of in-person teaching and travel to and from campus will minimise the spread of Covid-19 and keep people as safe as possible.”
UCU news release.

STUC slams ‘complacency’ on workplace transmission

Scotland’s national union federation STUC has reiterated its concerns with the Scottish government over a lack of safety restrictions covering schools and non-essential workplaces in areas under the country’s highest ‘Tier 4’ restrictions (Risks 971). Accusing the authorities of ‘complacency’ around workplace transmission, the union body said workers should not be required to cross local authority boundaries to undertake non-essential work. Commenting ahead of the new rules taking effect on 2 November, the STUC said it wants Tier 4 rules to include the potential for temporary school closures or a move to blended learning and the temporary closure of non-essential workplaces in sectors such as construction and manufacturing. STUC general secretary Roz Foyer said: “We continue to be supportive of a comprehensive framework and the tiered approach to control the virus without a nationwide full lockdown. But this is only possible if the Tier 4 regulations are sufficient to reduce infection rates. We fear that a degree of complacency had set in around the risk of workplace transmission, including in schools, along with an underestimation of the infection risks of travelling to work in areas with high rates of the virus. It is not good enough to assume that workplace transmission will stay low, particularly if much of the data comes from a period before we saw the current spike in infection rates.”
STUC news release. BBC News Online.

Alok Sharma faces office Covid safety questions

Business secretary, Alok Sharma, is facing questions after a union health and safety inspection identified concerns over social distancing in his private office days before a member of his inner circle tested positive for Covid-19. The Guardian reports that an employee in Sharma’s private office tested positive on 26 October after reporting Covid symptoms a day earlier, with other members of staff in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) forced to isolate. Unions representing civil servants have written to the BEIS permanent secretary, Sarah Munby, to express “extreme concern” following confirmed cases. The Guardian notes there are understood to have been two other recent Covid cases among BEIS staff. The letter from the unions PCS, FDA and Prospect, warns: “Health and safety rules apply to everyone irrespective of grade or role. The recent confirmed case of the virus in the private office has now recklessly put a number of people at risk who could otherwise have been working from home. This is unacceptable.” It references a union health and safety inspection carried out on Thursday 22 October – the same day Alok Sharma attended a meeting in his private office that including the individual who days later tested positive for Covid – which found concerns, including an apparent ‘dispensation’ from social distancing guidance applied elsewhere in the building.  A PCS spokesperson told the Guardian: “These revelations are extremely shocking and Alok Sharma has some serious questions to answer. Our members will be extremely worried at potentially being exposed to Covid-19 and will rightly want to know if proper safety processes were followed.”
The Guardian. Daily Mail. The New European.

Parliamentary unions demand return to hybrid parliament

Parliamentary unions have written to the leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg calling for a return to the hybrid operation of parliament, including remote voting. The letter was prompted by the UK government’s announcement of a new lockdown for England, and highlights what the unions see as the success of such arrangements during the previous lockdown. The letter says figures “show that the number of staff with Covid sickness absence are rising and staff – having seen the government taking prompt action in response to rising cases nationally – will expect parliament to respond similarly.” The unions have been calling for hybrid proceedings to be put back in place for several weeks. Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect, said: “Thanks to the hard work of parliamentary staff, the functioning of our democracy has been maintained throughout this crisis and will be in future. But requiring MPs to travel to Westminster just so they can vote in person is ludicrous. Not only is it encouraging unnecessary travel across the country, it means more staff are required to commute into the parliamentary estate every working day.” He added: “Thanks to the hard work and expertise of our members, hybrid proceedings worked well during the last lockdown and there is no reason they can’t again. Refusing to do so risks infections getting so high that parliament has to shut altogether. It’s time for Jacob Rees-Mogg to put the safety of parliamentary staff first and return to hybrid operations, including remote voting, while it is still an option.”
Prospect news release.

Cabinet Office must send clear work from home message

Civil service union PCS has said it is ‘completely unacceptable’ that the Cabinet Office has failed to provide a clear statement that civil servants who can work from home should do so. The union is calling for jobcentres and courts to close and driving tests to be suspended. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka has written to Mervyn Thomas, Cabinet Office executive director for employee and trade union relations, noting: “The single most important action we can all take, in fighting coronavirus, is to stay at home, to protect the NHS and save lives.” The union leader said that the government guidance is clear – if you can work from home, you must do so.” The union is also seeking assurances that no worker in the civil service who is over 60, clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable, will be asked to attend a workplace. It says in the event that their current role does not enable them to work from home and if suitable work cannot be found for them that they are able to perform from home, they must be placed on paid special leave. PCS added that the end of financial protection for contractors providing services to government projects could leave workers facing “the prospect of no pay if they self-isolate or take Covid-related sick pay. By ending contractor relief the civil service is essentially condemning workers, many of whom are black and minority ethnic who are already on minimum terms and conditions, to abject poverty if they contract Covid or are told to self-isolate. That is wrong and must be changed.”
PCS news release.

GMB hails full sick pay win for carers in Wales

Social care staff in Wales are to be eligible for full sick pay under a new deal. The Welsh government announcement has been welcomed by the government GMB, which said it had been campaigning since the spring for full sick pay for social care workers. The union said it is essential that the workforce is financially protected when they are putting themselves at risk during the pandemic. Kelly Andrews, GMB’s social care lead, said: “It’s only right that the government look out for brave staff who stepped forward throughout this pandemic. This change will make a real difference for hard pressed families that face a hard choice of putting food on the table or following government self-isolation guidance.” She added: “The sad fact is that carers are still undervalued and underpaid in our society, and this is a vital step forward to ensure reduce the risk to their health and the vulnerable people they look after.”
GMB news release.


UK not ready for two national emergencies at once

Fire and rescue services won’t be prepared to deal with major threats to the UK without more firefighters, the firefighters’ union has warned. FBU was speaking out as new figures revealed brigades have faced the Covid-19 pandemic with 11,237 fewer firefighters than in 2010. The union said the combined threats of climate change related events, terrorism, and the post-Grenfell building safety crisis will require the immediate funding for at least 5,000 firefighters in the next year, to ensure the fire and rescue service can tackle “the risks of today and tomorrow”. Without additional crews, the public face a “roll of the dice” every time a major incident occurs, FBU warned, with firefighters hoping that it won’t coincide with another serious emergency. If the pandemic had broken out during mass-flooding earlier this year, the FBU said firefighters might not have been able to support the pandemic response. Launching an FBU #FundTheFrontline campaign, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Be it mass flooding and wildfires caused by climate change, huge post-Grenfell building safety challenges, terrorist attacks, or pandemics, firefighters are an all hazards emergency service on the frontline protecting the UK from the vast majority of major threats. But a decade of devastating cuts means that we can only effectively handle one of these crises at a time.” He concluded: “Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak need to recognise the scale of risk faced by the public and fund the frontline firefighters who keep people safe. We need at least 5,000 new firefighters immediately to repair some of the damage austerity has done to our service and prepare for the risks of today and tomorrow.”
FBU news release.

NUJ demands action to protect and safeguard journalists

A survey by the journalists’ union NUJ has uncovered ‘shocking evidence’ of abuse and harassment, with journalists revealing they have been punched, threatened with knives, forcibly detained, kicked and spat at while doing their job. As well as physical assault, NUJ says it members are being threatened online and offline, including death threats, rape threats and other threats to their families and homes. Almost 9 in 10 (89 per cent) respondents said their employer had not provided any training to deal with harassment and abuse and over half (56 per cent) said they did not know if their media employer had any policies in place to deal with safety and protection issues. Commenting on 1 November, the UN day to end impunity for crimes against journalists, NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “It is wholly unacceptable and outrageous that NUJ members are being routinely abused, harassed and intimidated in the course of doing their job. Those in frontline roles, such as reporters, photographers and presenters, are particularly impacted but any media worker should be able to go about their work without fearing for their own safety or that of their family. Such abuse and harassment goes beyond the awful personal impact - it also risks silencing journalists and censoring debates.” She added: “On a day journalists around the world collectively stand up to demand an end to the impunity that allows crimes against media workers to proliferate and stand unpunished, the NUJ is stepping up its campaign to ensure the safety and protection of journalists and journalism.” The NUJ leader concluded: “As part of the newly established National Committee for the Safety of Journalists, we are committed to ensuring the committee’s Action Plan tackles this problem, that employers do more to ensure the safety of journalists facing abuse, providing adequate training and ensuring that freelances are given better support, and that police deal with cases more robustly and consistently.”

NUJ safety report 2020. IFJ news release, end immunity campaign and report, Dirty Hands; Still in Power.

FBU backs investigation call into Beirut chemical blast

The UK Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has joined Amnesty International in calling on the UK government to press for a full international investigation into the devastating explosion in Beirut three months ago. In a new one-minute video, UK firefighter Holly Ferguson, 36, who has been in the fire service for 11 years, says the Beirut explosion was “the stuff of nightmares”. Ferguson says the Lebanese firefighters were “badly let down” by officials who knew that dangerous chemicals were stored at the port but failed to pass on this information. The huge 4 August Beirut blast killed ten emergency responders from the Beirut Fire Brigade (Risks 960). They had been called out by police to respond to a serious fire at the Beirut Dock at 5.55pm. However, the firefighters were not made aware of the large quantities of ammonium nitrate stored at the port, despite several senior Lebanese officials knowing of its existence. At 6.08pm, the warehouse storing the chemicals exploded, killing the nine firefighters and a paramedic, with 190 people in the city killed in all. Three months on from the explosion, Amnesty and the FBU said they believe it is clear that the current Lebanese authorities have no intention of conducting an effective, transparent and impartial investigation into the explosion - denying victims their right to truth, justice and remedy, including the families of the firefighters who died doing their jobs at the port. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Tragically, the brave men and women responding to the fire at the port in Beirut did so without being told that 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were present on the site - they were led to their deaths and unforgivably let down. The families of the firefighters and all those who died in Beirut deserve answers.”
Amnesty International news release and video. Morning Star.

RMT wants Serco thrown off the Caledonian Sleeper

Rail union RMT has launched a petition calling on Transport Scotland to take action to help resolve the union’s ongoing dispute with Caledonian Sleeper operator Serco over staff fatigue and safety. RMT says it has been seeking to reach a fair and reasonable resolution which addresses the main causes of staff fatigue over a period of months, but says Serco has continually refused to take action and rejected the union’s reasonable proposals. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Fatigue is a serious condition which threatens both staff and passenger safety on the Caledonian Sleeper. All RMT members are fighting for is a safe working environment for themselves and their colleagues.” He added: “These keyworkers have kept vital rail services running throughout the pandemic, so it is a kick in the teeth that Serco has failed to take action over the causes of their fatigue. Serco’s operations are being funded by public money, and therefore, Transport Scotland should now be intervening to bring about a resolution. RMT is calling on the public to sign our petition in support of staff and passenger safety on the Caledonian Sleeper.”
RMT news release and petition.

Site firm fined for concrete pour injuries

Construction company Axio (Special Works) Limited has been fined after an employee was struck by the placing boom of a concrete pump, causing serious injuries. Brighton Magistrates Court heard how on 5 March 2019, concrete footings were being poured at a site at Ditchling Common, East Sussex. Due to the soft ground, vehicles could not get close to the work, so a concrete pump with a 52-metre boom was used. During the pour, the ground beneath one of the pump outriggers collapsed, causing the concrete pipe and boom to strike the employee, dislocating and fracturing his hip, fracturing his spine and tearing ligaments and muscles. He was later diagnosed with a brain injury. He is still undergoing regular physiotherapy, and suffering from post-traumatic stress. The long-term effects of the brain and nerve damage are unknown. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the work had not been properly planned, managed or monitored. Axio (Special Works) Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 and was fined £20,000 plus costs of £5,285.70. HSE inspector Stephen Green commented: “The employee’s injuries are life changing and he could have easily been killed. This serious incident and devastation could have been avoided if basic safeguards had been put in place.”
HSE news release. Construction Enquirer.


Covid at work: the rich get richer, the poor get sick, 12 November

In a 12 November Zoom meeting, Hazards Campaign chair Janet Newsham and Open University criminology professor Steve Tombs will discuss the impact of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis on health and safety at work. Professor Tombs will consider the broader and longer-term contexts of the government management of the crisis, with reference to social protection in general and health and safety at work in particular. Janet Newsham will then discuss the detrimental consequences of the government’s eagerness to restore ‘business as usual’. The free session organised jointly by the University of Manchester’s Work and Equalities Institute and Manchester Industrial Relations Society will examine how the government’s mishandling of the pandemic will further exacerbate pre-crisis economic and social inequalities.
Covid at Work: the rich get richer, the poor get sick, Zoom meeting, 6-7.30pm, Thursday 12 November 2020. Free.


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.


Australia: Insecure work could lead to virus third wave

As restaurants and pubs around Australia reopen their doors, workers are coming out in force to demand permanent and secure jobs amid concerns casual work could increase coronavirus risks. Tim Kennedy, secretary of the United Workers Union, said insecure work “does a lot of damage to a lot of people”. He added a lack of sick leave in the hospitality industry could increase the risk of a third coronavirus wave, because workers won’t ask for time off to get tested if they feel sick. “The facts speak for themselves: If you look at the outbreaks captured in Sydney, they’ve occurred in hospitality settings, they’ve occurred in restaurants, in bars,” Kennedy said. “Unless people have the economic security not to turn up to work and get tested and isolate it’ll happen again.” Professor Marylouise McLaws, an infectious diseases expert at the University of New South Wales, has consistently highlighted the link between insecure work and the added risk of a coronavirus outbreak. “This pandemic has taken the lid off the inequality of Australian life,” said Professor McLaws, a member of the WHO’s Covid-19 response team. “Those that have underemployment – or are short of employment hours and have to work across multiple jobs – often share transport to work, and they may all live together. All of that adds to their risk.” She added: “These are the people we need to protect, because by protecting them, we protect the greater community. We need to give them a better level of employment and better income.” A new Harvard University study found customer-facing workers, such as retail workers, were five times more likely to test positive to Covid-19 in the US than their co-workers in other roles.
United Workers Union news release. The New Daily. More on the hazards of insecure work.
Lan F, Suharlim C, Kales SN and others. Association between SARS-CoV-2 infection, exposure risk and mental health among a cohort of essential retail workers in the USA, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Published Online First, 30 October 2020. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2020-106774

Global: Deadly failure to act on airborne virus risks

A precautionary approach to the spread of Covid-19 advocated by global unions has been validated by the emerging scientific consensus on the aerosol spread of the disease, the food and farmworkers international union federation has said. IUF said the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) line has been that Covid-19 is spread primarily via 'droplets' produced when an infected person's coughs and sneezes and through contamination of hard surfaces. This formed the basis for WHO’s one metre physical distancing guidance for the workplace. IUF said it has advocated consistently for 2 metre physical distancing as one of many precautions to be adopted, because of the uncertainty over the possibility of transmission by smaller particles travelling further through the air. In July, an open letter from 239 scientists called on the WHO to revise its description to say that ‘aerosols’ - smaller particles that came remain suspended in the air – were a significant source of risk (Risk 962). In recent weeks, public health authorities in the UK (Risks 968) and the US became the latest to recognise what IUF describes as “the now overwhelming evidence that aerosols represent a major transmission route for Covid-19.” WHO was described by the workers’ health and safety magazine Hazards last month as “an outlier, criticised by leading experts and unable to explain why industries outside of caring occupations have been hit by major outbreaks and high death rates” (Risks 971). It said the WHO’s failure had led to worker protections at the national level frequently being dangerously lax. According to IUF assistant general secretary James Ritchie: “By failing to adopt the precautionary principle with regard to the spread of Covid-19, governments and employers have exposed workers to unnecessary harm. When it comes to public health and occupational safety and health measures, the precautionary principle should always prevail.” Global health workers’ union PSI said the WHO approach has allowed “corporations’ wealth to be prioritised over people’s health” (Risks 956).
IUF news release. Laid bare, Hazards magazine report outlining the overwhelming evidence on airborne transmission.
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.

USA: Unions sue over shelved infection standard

US teaching and health care unions started legal proceedings against Donald Trump’s labour secretary Eugene Scalia and the safety regulator OSHA for unlawfully delaying rulemaking on an occupational standard to protect healthcare workers from infectious diseases transmitted by contact, droplets, or air - like influenza, Covid-19, and Ebola. The move comes in response to the Trump administration shelving a ready-to-go Infectious Diseases Standard in 2017. The four unions, under a joint Democracy Forward banner, charge that the administration’s unreasonable delay violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The unions are suing to compel OSHA to advance rulemaking on the standard, which would require healthcare employers who run hospitals, clinics, school nurse offices, drug treatment programmes, and similar workplaces to protect their employees from exposure to harmful infectious diseases. “In times of national crisis, the government’s job is to protect people — and in the case of protecting workers on the front line of this pandemic, the federal government has failed,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the four unions behind the legal action. “OSHA has failed to regulate employers, which in turn have failed to protect the people caring for Covid-19 patients. As a result, healthcare worker infection rates remain troublingly high. This immoral treatment of the healthcare heroes carrying us through this crisis must end, and both OSHA and employers must be held accountable to make hospitals safe for the people who work there.” A September study in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, published by the US government public health agency CDC, found health care workers who reported being short of PPE were more likely to test positive than those with sufficient supplies.
AFT news release and the 29 October 2020 petition for mandamus (the court filing) and the full appendix.
JAMA news report. Wesley H Self and others. Seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 Among Frontline Health Care Personnel in a Multistate Hospital Network — 13 Academic Medical Centers, April–June 2020, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), volume  69, number 35, pages 1221-1226, 4 September 2020.


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