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



Tell the TUC what makes you sick at work

What health and safety problems are affecting union members in your workplace? In the middle of a pandemic, of course, Covid-19 is a major and real concern for many workers. But none of the other everyday workplace risks have gone away. Is stress still a top concern? Or long working hours and fatigue? Or is it chemicals, the pace of work, the exhausting scramble to earn sufficient pay, a lack of PPE, bullying and harassment or unhealthy workplace temperatures? Whatever gets your members hot and bothered, the TUC wants to know. The union body has just launched its biennial Safety Reps’ Survey. TUC head of safety Shelly Asquith commented: “The findings are important – they inform the TUC’s safety strategy and provide the evidence unions can use to negotiate improvements to the law and in workplaces.” She added that safety reps taking a few minutes to complete the online survey are automatically entered into a prize draw. The first prize is a £150 Tesco e-gift card and a year’s subscription to Hazards magazine and the second prize a year’s subscription to Hazards magazine.
TUC health and safety reps’ survey 2020/21. Share the survey on Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp.


BEIS contract staff to ballot on Covid strike action

Up to 100 contracted-out support staff at the Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) could walk out in December over a lack of Covid safety, civil service union PCS has warned. The union is balloting facilities management members who work in security cleaning, porterage and postal services at 1 Victoria street of the Brexit department, for strike action next month because contractor ISS is refusing to wind down support services sufficiently to enable members to shield safely. The action would fall during pivotal EU exit negotiations. PCS says the overwhelming majority of support staff are from the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) communities that have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Most civil servants are working from home, however BEIS, which as is a key Brexit department, is forcing some workers to go into the office. PCS says this is unnecessarily endangering their health. The union believes BEIS should put further restrictions on the numbers of people coming into Victoria Street. The ballot will open on 24 November and close on 8 December. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “BEIS and ISS are continuing to put our members at unnecessary risk by not allowing support staff to stay at home. Most civil servants are working well from home and there should be no need for our support staff to continue to put themselves in harm's way at BEIS.” He added: “We have already seen Alok Sharma court controversy with his trip abroad after one of his team contracted Covid [Risks 972]. It is understandable that our contracted-out members have no faith in the minister or this government's handling of the corona pandemic.”
PCS news release.

Bus strike warning as services ‘near normal’ levels

A return to near pre-Covid passenger numbers on West Yorkshire’s buses is leaving transport workers at risk as they struggle with reduced schedules and absent staff, Unite has warned. Nearly 400 bus drivers in Bradford, employed by First West Yorkshire, will be balloted for strike action from 23 November in a dispute over the company’s refusal to restore the bus schedule to pre-pandemic levels. The union says traffic and passenger movements have returned to ‘near normal’ - but members are still working on ‘lockdown’ conditions. Unite said that its 389 members at the Bowling Back Lane site were under a great deal of stress as they are made to work long shifts, covering for absent colleagues. Unite deputy regional secretary Tas Sangha: “As passenger numbers rise to almost pre-Covid levels, the company needs to restore the agreements for First in Bradford.” He added: “As more and more people return to their place of work, you will need more buses on the road to enable proper social distancing for passengers and we want to avoid a situation where queues of bus users are lined up in the cold weather waiting for a reduced number of buses to appear.” The Unite official concluded: “Our members, classed as essential workers, have been under a lot of stress covering for sick and absent colleagues during the pandemic, so we believe that the swift restoration of a full service will reduce health and safety risks for drivers and passengers. There also needs to be an analysis of workforce requirements during the winter months… We would like to hold urgent talks to resolve this issue as soon as possible and avert the need for industrial action.”
Unite news release.

STUC survey uncovers Covid concerns at work

An STUC survey had exposed widespread Covid-19 related concerns in Scottish workplaces, including a looming mental health crisis. The research by Scotland’s national union body found the pandemic “has exacerbated a pre-existing lack of trust in employers when it comes to disclosing mental health conditions”.  STUC says workers’ mental health has been significantly affected throughout the current public health crisis, with most workers saying they do not trust their employers to supporting their mental health. Most indicated they do not feel supported by their employer when disclosing that there are battling with poor mental health, and almost half (47 per cent) do not feel comfortable disclosing their concerns to their employer. Two-thirds (67 per cent) of people who have disclosed they have a mental health issue or illness have been offered no form of reasonable adjustment for their mental health. The survey also found approaching half (43 per cent) of workers had not been offered any form of risk assessment for working at home. STUC general secretary Roz Foyer said: “Despite the fact that poor mental health has become more honestly and openly discussed as a public issue, it appears that many workplaces have a long way to go in enabling people to be confident in disclosing mental health conditions or for supporting those who do.” She added: “Employers should take heed of this. A crisis of trust between workers and managers could result in long term damaging impacts to a workplace and its workers. Employers need to understand that workers’ mental health is as important as their physical health, and must be treated as such.”
STUC news release and STUC worker safety website.

UK vaccine allocation plan bypasses most key workers

UK government plans for the distribution of a Covid-19 vaccine bypass many workers in high risk professions, in a stark contrast with the French approach, according to Oxford University researchers. Health economics researchers Laurence Roope and Philip Clark and their colleague Raymond Duch, the director of the Nuffield Centre for Experimental Social Sciences, note the government has adopted the advice from its Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation (JCVI) on who should get the vaccine first. In the event of the vaccine being approved, the JCVI has proposed a strategy of prioritising mainly according to age, starting with the oldest first. Writing in The Conversation, the Oxford scientists note that health and social care workers are the only occupations to make the priority list. They observe that a challenge with the UK’s strategy will be to find ways to make it easier for disadvantaged groups to access the vaccine, or risk increasing health inequalities. “This is where we come to France’s approach of targeting higher-risk occupations,” they write. “During the first wave, Covid-19 deaths were particularly high among certain occupations… some occupations, such as chauffeurs and taxi drivers (which are priority occupations in the proposed French allocation system), had higher rates of death than healthcare workers. Notably, many such workers below the age of 50 are not explicitly mentioned in the UK vaccine allocation plans.” They note that under the French system, some jobs will qualify “as high priority due to their contact with the general public – for instance shop workers, school staff, transport staff and hospitality workers, as well as those working in confined spaces such as abattoir staff, taxi drivers, migrant workers and construction teams.” The Oxford academics conclude: “While it appears that we have an effective Covid-19 vaccine, it will be a far better thing if we allocate it fairly and efficiently.”
The Conversation. Priority groups for coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination: advice from the JCVI, 25 September 2020.

Black and Asian people at greater risk from Covid

Black people are twice as likely as white people to catch the coronavirus, a study of 18 million people suggests, with higher exposures at work one of the contributory factors needing attention. Researchers at the Universities of Leicester and Nottingham say their findings, based on an analysis of US and UK studies, are of “urgent public health importance” and raise questions about how vaccines will be prioritised within at-risk groups. The authors, whose study is published online in the journal EClinical Medicine, note: “Our findings should inform public health strategies to minimise exposure risk of SARS-CoV-2 in ethnic minority groups, by facilitating timely access to healthcare resources, and targeting the social determinants, structural racism, and occupational risk underlying inequities.” The research examined data from 50 studies - 42 from the United States and eight from the UK. Lead researcher Dr Manish Pareek said there are many explanations behind the heightened risk, including people from ethnic minority groups being more likely to be employed in frontline roles and more likely to live as large households with several generations. He added that so far he had seen little evidence to suggest the risks were driven by genetic factors. He said he hoped the findings would be taken into account in discussions about prioritising vaccines for people already considered to be at high risk.
Shirley Sze, Daniel Pan, Clareece R Nevill and others. Ethnicity and clinical outcomes in COVID-19: A systematic review and meta-analysis, EClinical Medicine, Open Access. Published: 12 November 2020. DOI: BBC News Online.

Vaccine rollout must not repeat PPE ‘fiasco’

The prime minister must appoint a cabinet minister to bring urgently needed coordination to the production and supply of vaccines in the battle to defeat Covid-19, the manufacturing union Unite has said. The union is also urging the government to issue a second 'call to arms' to UK manufacturing to produce the vaccine. But Unite said it fears that without senior ministerial leadership put in place urgently the UK will see a repeat of the PPE 'fiasco', when the country was forced to compete with other nations to purchase core equipment once manufactured domestically. Unite is also calling on the government to place medicine manufacturing on a par with energy, water supply and defence as a matter of national security. It highlights the production of the borosilicate glass needed to contain the virus and the deep freeze storage capacity that may be needed to store the vaccine. According to Unite, UK manufacturing has the expertise to deliver both, but says there needs to be ministerial leadership and a national ‘call to arms’ in order to coordinate to necessary work plan.  Steve Turner, Unite assistant general secretary, said: “We must not repeat the earlier fiasco with PPE that saw the UK government chasing around the world looking for kit.” He added: “Medicines and the health of our people should be seen in the same way as energy, water supply and defence – as a matter of national security requiring sovereign UK capabilities… There must be a call to arms. The country needs a vaccine supply and distribution plan and a senior minister to deliver it. Manufacturing workers and businesses will rally and stand ready as we did before, so we appeal to Boris Johnson, don't miss this moment.”
Unite news release.

Safety regulator had 'political' pressure to approve PPE

Britain's workplace safety watchdog felt leaned on by the government to make factually incorrect statements about lower standard PPE suits bought for NHS staff earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic, the BBC has found. Emails reveal how the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said protective suits, bought by the government in April, had not been tested to the correct standard. The emails describe “political” pressure to approve them for use. Early on in the pandemic, the NHS experienced severe shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). It sparked a scramble to secure gloves, overalls and masks for NHS staff. The shortage was so drastic that some hospital staff were even pictured at the time wearing bin bags. One of the new providers identified was small pest control firm Crisp Websites Ltd, trading as PestFix, which secured a contract in April with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for a £32m batch of isolation suits. Three months after it was signed, the suits from PestFix had still not been released for use in the NHS, and were instead stored at an NHS supply chain warehouse in Daventry, waiting for safety assessments. HSE had concluded they had not been specified to the correct standard for use in hospitals when they were bought. Emails from the HSE - given to the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) - reveal how its officials came under pressure from government over the summer to release the suits to the NHS. A June email from a firm working alongside the HSE describes “political pressure” being applied to get the suits through the quality assurance process. In September, an HSE official noted: “I have been contacted by [name redacted] today requesting a statement to the effect that HSE were provided with the required documentation by Pestfix… This is not factually correct.”  The following day, another email noted “various colleagues in DHSC are contacting those involved in the assessment of the Pestfix products requesting statements to the effect that HSE assessed the products and they were compliant - not factually correct.”
BBC News Online.

Royal Mail workers now wearing masks indoors

The introduction of mandatory facemask wearing in Royal Mail indoor work situations “is not an end in itself” insists postal workers’ union CWU. The move came after the company and the union agreed the measure, but with what CWU described as the “crucially important caveat” that this must not replace other preventive risk control measures. CWU deputy general secretary postal Terry Pullinger said: “In contrast to the first lockdown, the wearing of face masks is now commonplace in any under-the-roof area where people are together – be it on public transport or in shops. So clearly we would support this as part of an holistic approach to the safety of our members to stop the spread of the virus and to save lives, that people who are able to do so, wear masks in the workplace.” He added “the disciplines that were in place during the first lockdown should be rigorously enforced once again, along with the wearing of face masks for those able to do so – ie. two-metre social distancing, all PPE in place, one person to a van and high levels of cleanliness for all equipment and buildings. The CWU supports all of these safety measures being applied so long as they are applied with equal status, and local reps and members should be demanding that all of these safety measures are in place.” CWU national safety officer Dave Joyce said the union is also pressing for the urgent introduction of a workplace weekly testing regime, adding it has “formally put this forward to Royal Mail Group in order to further improve safety, and reduce workplace transmissions and infections – as well as giving a huge reassurance to the workforce at this tough time.”
CWU news report.

DHL must adopt a sick and self-isolation pay scheme

Parcel courier DHL must adopt a “culture of responsibility” during the pandemic and introduce a genuine sick and self-isolation pay scheme for workers, the union CWU has said. The union’s petition is calling on DHL Parcel UK to introduce a proper pay plan for people who are sick with coronavirus or have been forced to self-isolate. It says the key worker status of DHL employees means that the company can keep a highly profitable business running while other businesses are forced to shut down and furlough staff. During the lockdown in spring, DHL Parcel UK workers who were forced to self-isolate were paid the bare minimum statutory sick pay (SSP). Those who were ill got a week’s paid leave before dropping onto SSP at the rate of £95.85 - the worst statutory sick pay scheme in Europe. CWU says DHL’s refusal to implement a Covid-19 sickness policy means workers can be disciplined for following legal requirements and national health guidelines for taking time off work. CWU organiser Alan Smith said: “A culture of responsibility is essential in these troubled times, and this pandemic can only be tackled if we all play our part and do the right thing. DHL is no different, and their policy decisions will impact the spread of the virus amongst employees and customers.”
CWU news release.

Abuse of retail staff far worse during the pandemic

Over threequarters of retail workers say abuse on the job has worsened throughout the pandemic, according to an annual survey by shopworkers’ union Usdaw. Interim results from over 2,000 retail staff show that so far this year, 76 per cent report abuse has been worse than normal during the Covid-19 pandemic. Most (85 per cent) shopworkers have experienced verbal abuse, over half (57 per cent) were threatened by a customer, and almost 1-in-10 (9 per cent) have been assaulted. The findings were released at the start of the union’s annual Respect for Shopworkers Week, which runs from 16-22 November 2020. Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, commented: “At a time when we should all be working together to get through this national crisis, it is a disgrace that staff working to keep food on the shelves are being abused. Action to protect shopworkers is needed and that is why we have launched a petition, which now has over 70,000 signatures. We were deeply disappointed by the government’s response to the petition, offering little more than sympathy, so we continue to campaign for the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a parliamentary debate.” He added: “This is a hugely important issue for our members. Shopworkers are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be just a part of the job. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.”
Usdaw news release and petition.

Covid-19 outbreak at Manchester rail station

Avanti, the train operator running the West Coast Mainline route from Manchester to London, has confirmed an outbreak at Manchester Piccadilly station, which is managed by Network Rail. The Manchester Evening News reported a staff member took a Covid test two weeks ago, a day before arriving for his shift, and receiving a positive test result later during that shift, when he informed his managers. The paper said it is understood 11 members of the Avanti West Coast team based at Manchester Piccadilly had tested positive, with a further 25 self-isolating after having contact with the affected individual. By 11 November a total 42 of the 95 Avanti staff members based at Manchester Piccadilly station were self-isolating. Bosses said they acted as soon as they were made aware of the positive test, retracing the employee's movements to send 'around 10' colleagues home. They said a further 15 workers were contacted via the NHS Track and Trace App and were told to self-isolate. The area where the affected individual worked was closed immediately and underwent a specialist deep clean overnight, they added. Scott Green, Manchester Piccadilly station manager for Network Rail, said: “We have offered support to Avanti West Coast during its staffing issues due to Covid-19.” Commenting on the outbreak, Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the rail union TSSA, said: “Our union view is very clear: rail bosses must have zero tolerance to the propagation of this deadly virus, whatever that takes. Lives must come first.”
TSSA news release. Manchester Evening News.

Unite tribute to NHS safety rep Mark Simons

Unite Wales has paid tribute to Mark Simons, an NHS health care assistant and Unite safety representative who died on 10 November after contracting Covid-19. Mark, who worked at Royal Glamorgan Hospital, was a Unite senior health and safety representative and the lead rep within the Unite branch on health and safety. He was also the vice chair of the staff side health and safety committee. Unite Wales secretary Peter Hughes said: “This is devastating news for Mark’s family, his work colleagues and for our union. Mark worked tirelessly within the Cwm Taf Morgannwg Health Board on behalf of our members. He was an outstanding health and safety rep who used his knowledge and great experience to protect workers within the Health Board, both before and during the current pandemic.” He added: “Mark was an extremely active and influential H&S rep within the Unite Cwm Taf Morgannwg Health Branch. He was tenacious and committed and never afraid to challenge when he encountered failings. Mark always did his best for the workers he represented regarding health and safety at work.” The Unite officer concluded: “Mark’s sad death again displays the potential risks that NHS workers have to contend with, day in day out. In tribute to Mark’s work, Unite will continue to do everything it can to ensure NHS workers are protected from Covid-19 in the workplace. NHS staff are the true heroes of this pandemic and their continued safety is our primary objective.”
Unite news release.



Working drivers denied access to toilets

Professional drivers are routinely and illegally denied access to toilets during working hours, a union survey of thousands of professional drivers has found. The research by the Unite involved over 6,000 of its driver members and found that during their normal working day, 70 per cent do not have adequate access to toilets and washing facilities. During the lockdown fewer than one in five drivers (20 per cent) reported that they continued to have adequate access to toilet and washing facilities at all times. Where members reported that they did not have access to adequate toilet and washing facilities, six per cent reported that this always occurred, while well over a third (39 per cent) reported this was a frequent occurrence. A further 35 per cent recorded this was an occasional occurrence. Commercial premises have a legal duty to provide access to toilets and washing facilities for drivers making deliveries or collections, the union said. Several members report developing Covid-type illnesses they attribute to being unable to wash their hands. Others report that a lack of access to toilets has worsened longstanding conditions, such as diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome, or led to illnesses such as bladder infections. Women drivers reported that a lack of toilet access during their period was particularly humiliating and damaged their health. Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “It is simply not good enough that professional drivers such as bus drivers have to rely on visiting takeaways or a supermarket to go to the toilet, because companies are failing to ensure facilities are available.” She added: “Far too many workers are becoming ill or even being forced to leave their jobs because they don’t have access to toilets when they need them. Unite is committed to ensuring that all workers have access to decent toilets and this is increasingly becoming the focus of local campaigns.”
Unite news release.

McDonald's apologises for stopping couriers using loos

Fast food chain McDonald's has apologised to food delivery drivers after they were denied access to its toilets. “We apologise to any courier that has been affected,” McDonald's said. “We are sorry to hear that on some occasions this guidance has not been implemented, and we will be reminding our restaurant teams about the policy.” The move comes after Unite exposed the widespread practice of firms denying delivery drivers access to their facilities, which the union said was particularly unhealthy and dangerous during the pandemic. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has also had to remind restaurants of their legal obligations following complaints from couriers, warning they could be breaching the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations of 1992. Its guidance notes: “Businesses which make or receive deliveries should ensure drivers have easy and safe access to toilets and handwashing facilities.” A joint Department for Transport (DfT) and HSE open letter reinforce the message. Unite has also accused fast food chains KFC, Subway, Nando's and Wagamama of blocking access to their facilities.
BBC News Online. Drivers’ welfare at delivery and collection sites during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, HSE. Joint DfT/HSE open letter on access to hygiene facilities for drivers.

Professional drivers put at greater risk of cancer

Professional drivers are facing a routine and serious health risk from diesel exhaust fume exposures at work. In what they described as “the largest real-world in-vehicle personal exposure study to date”, researchers from the MRC Centre for Environment and Health, Environmental Research Group and Imperial College London, found that professional drivers are regularly exposed to hazardous levels of diesel emissions as part of their work. Other studies have linked diesel fume exposure at work to lung and blood cancer and heart, lung and other diseases (Risks 635). The new study funded by safety professionals’ organisation IOSH found that professional drivers are disproportionately affected by exposure to diesel exhaust fumes, including taxi drivers - the worst hit group - couriers, bus drivers and drivers working for the emergency services. Dr Ian Mudway of Imperial College London, who led the DEMiSt research team, said: “We believe there are around a million people working in jobs like these in the UK alone, so this is a widespread and under-appreciated issue – indeed, it was very noticeable to us just how surprised drivers taking part in the study were at the levels of their exposure to diesel.” In total, 11,500 hours of professional drivers’ exposure data were analysed in the baseline monitoring campaign. The results showed that, on average, professional drivers were exposed to 4.1 micrograms of black carbon per cubic metre of air (µg/m3) while driving, which was around four times higher than their exposure at home (1.1 µg/m3). The levels recorded at home would be similar to levels experienced by office workers at their desks, the researchers said. The study found massive exposure spikes often occurred in congested traffic within Central London, in areas where vehicles congregate, such as in car parks or depots, as well as in tunnels and ‘street canyons’ (between high buildings).
IOSH news release and full report.
See the Hazards magazine feature Fuming, factsheet Diesel out and poster Die diesel die.

Criminal violence against journalists ‘must be punished’

The journalists’ union NUJ has called on the Scottish authorities to ‘hunt down’ the perpetrators of an attack aimed at silencing Glasgow journalists. On Sunday 1 November, the car belonging to the founder and publisher of The Digger magazine, James Cruickshank, was firebombed in Glasgow and local shops were visited and told to stop selling the publication, according to Press Gazette. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “This is a deliberate attempt to silence journalists and curtail the right to report on crime and corruption. Firebombing premises and threatening shopkeepers are outrageous acts that need urgent investigation. Crime reporters are often at the sharp end when it comes to threats, intimidation, and acts of aggression. More needs to be done to stamp out this unacceptable behaviour, and to tackle the growing climate of hostility that is undermining journalists’ safety.” On 13 November, the Press Gazette reported a woman had been jailed for three years for attacking freelance court reporter Wendy Barlow outside Burnley Magistrates’ Court in September last year. Earlier this month the NUJ published the findings of an all-members survey on the safety of journalists in the UK, which revealed criminals have been responsible for a range of attacks, threats and abuse with the intention of preventing, deterring, or silencing the media. When survey respondents were asked about working in public spaces, 56 per cent of the respondents said the public were the most likely perpetrators involved in attempts to deter journalists from their work.
NUJ news release and NUJ safety report 2020. Hold the Front Page. The Press Gazette.

Court victory on access to PPE for gig workers

A “groundbreaking” court victory on workplace safety protection for gig economy workers has been welcomed by unions and safety organisations. In a judgment delivered in the High Court in London on 13 November, Mr Justice Chamberlain ruled that Britain had failed to properly implement an EU directive on personal protective equipment (PPE) in relation to self-employed workers who provide a service as part of a business. He also found that Britain has failed to properly implement part of another EU directive designed to “encourage improvements in the health and safety of workers at work.” The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) argued successfully that the directives required Britain to provide protection to “workers,” but that hundreds of thousands of gig-economy workers were left unprotected because British law only protected “employees.” IWGB brought its action against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in October. Following the ruling, lawyer Kate Harrison of Old Square Chambers, who acted for IWGB, called on the government to take “urgent steps” to ensure that gig economy workers can exercise their rights to health and safety and PPE. Commenting on the court victory, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Everybody deserves to be treated with dignity at work. But many in low-paid and insecure jobs have been forced to shoulder huge risk during this crisis.” She said the judgment “shows that the government was wrong to exclude gig-economy workers from key health and safety protections. It must now urgently review other key areas where vulnerable workers miss out, including parental rights and redundancy rights. If ministers are serious about levelling up Britain, they must level-up working conditions.” Richard Jones, head of policy at the safety professionals’ organisation IOSH, said: “IOSH welcomes recognition from the High Court that ‘gig’ workers should have the same occupational safety and health protections as employees and emphasises that responsible organisations should already be protecting workers during this pandemic, to support both occupational and public health.”
IWGB news release. Old Square Chambers news release. IOSH news release. Morning Star.

Pilots launch new ‘Most Wanted’ safety strategy

UK pilots’ union BALPA has launched at ‘Most Wanted’ safety strategy that highlights the 11 issues pilots believe are most likely to cause a fatal accident. The union says its strategy aims to ensure flight safety and the health of everyone involved in aviation is not overlooked as the industry tries to deal with the coronavirus crisis. It notes Covid-19 “has arguably raised the stakes in terms of the safety risks associated with new and dramatically different modes of operation during and post-Covid, not the least of which will be the ramping up of commercial pressure like never before as the whole industry struggles to recover. Indeed, we have placed commercial pressure at the heart of all these most wanted improvements as we believe it is a fundamental root cause.” Head of flight safety at BALPA, Dr Rob Hunter said: “Covid-19 has brought huge change to aviation and that must be reflected in our approach to flight safety. This strategy looks at the issues pilots believe could cause a major accident and identifies ways to mitigate the risks. In coming weeks BALPA will build on this base and roll out a number of flight safety actions to help ensure every flight is a safe flight.” He added: “BALPA is leading the way on this and is urging airlines, regulators and government to take note and make the changes that will keep pilots, passengers and the general public safe.”
BALPA news release and BALPA Most Wanted campaign.

Fears for maternity services as staffing shortages hit

The safety of maternity services is under serious threat, according to a new survey by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM). The union survey found that more than eight out of 10 midwives (83 per cent) do not believe their NHS Trust or Board has enough staff to operate a safe service. Services are already stretched almost to breaking point, RCM said, with 42 per cent reporting that half of shifts are understaffed, and a third saying there are very significant gaps in most shifts. Gill Walton, the RCM’s chief executive, said: “These are dedicated professionals caring for women, babies and their families through the enormous pressures of the pandemic. They are being pushed to the edge by the failure of successive governments to invest in maternity services. Maternity staff are exhausted, they’re demoralised and some of them are looking for the door. For the safety of every pregnant woman and every baby, this cannot be allowed to continue.” RCM’s survey found nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of midwives are working beyond their contracted hours for no additional pay. Just two per cent said they felt valued by the UK government.
RCM news release.

Asthma risk linked to permanent night shift work

Shift workers, especially those working permanent night shift rotas, may be at heightened risk of moderate to severe asthma, new UK research has indicated. Around 1 in 5 employees in the developed world works permanent or rotating night shifts. Shift work causes a person’s internal body clock (circadian rhythm) to be out of step with the external light and dark cycle, the researchers note, adding this misalignment is associated with a heightened risk of various metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. The new findings, published online in the journal Thorax, drew on medical, lifestyle, and employment information supplied between 2007 and 2010 by 286,825 participants in the UK Biobank. The researchers from several UK and US universities compared the effect of working office hours with shift work on asthma diagnosis, lung function, and symptoms of asthma. After taking account of age and sex, and a wide range of other potentially influential risk factors,  there was a 36 per cent increase in the odds of having moderate to severe asthma in permanent night shift workers compared to those working normal office hours. Similarly, the odds of wheeze or airway whistling were 11-18 per cent higher among those working any of the three shift patterns, while the odds of poorer lung function were around 20 per cent higher in shift workers who never or rarely worked nights and in those working permanent night shifts. “The public health implications of our findings are potentially far-reaching, since both shift work and asthma are common in the industrialised world,” the authors warn. Asthma affects 339 million people worldwide and costs health and care services more than £1 billion in the UK alone.
Maidstone R, Turner J, Vetter C and others. Night shift work is associated with an increased risk of asthma, Thorax, Published Online First: 16 November 2020. doi: 10.1136/thoraxjnl-2020-215218



Covid killer workplaces seminar, 6-7.30pm, 19 November

A Hazards Campaign ‘Covid transmission and killer workplaces’ seminar will be held on Zoom from 6m to 7.30pm on Thursday 19 November. Speakers including trade union health and safety officers, reps and activists. The free event will discuss how to end the lockdown using a Zero-Covid strategy and keep people safe in ‘Covid-safe’ workplaces.
Hazards campaign event alert, Covid transmission and killer workplaces seminar, 6-7.30pm, 19 November. Book a place and receive the link to the meeting via  Eventbrite.
Covid transmission and killer workplaces, a Reel News/Hazards Campaign film.

Face coverings in the workplace

The TUC’s guide explains why face coverings are used, the difference between face coverings and masks, exemptions from their use and the recommended standards for masks. The guide also spells out what union reps can do to support members.
Face coverings in the workplace, TUC guide. TUC coronavirus safety updates and guides for union reps.

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: Gig worker deaths highlights need for rights

The deaths last month of three fast food delivery drivers illustrates the urgent need to provide these workers legal protection, the national secretary of Australia’s Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) has said. Michael Kaine, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, said the dead workers had “hustled for one-off jobs from digital platforms, where pay is dictated by opaque algorithms.” The workers were denied the usual employment protections, including sick leave, workers’ compensation, the right to challenge an unfair sacking, training or proper protective gear. Delivery drivers Dede Fredy and Xiaojun Chen died in crashes on Sydney streets, Chow Khai Shien in Melbourne. Their companies were not required to provide insurance for their riders. Like many engaged in the gig economy, Dede, Xiaojun and Chow were temporary migrants. “This is not morally sustainable. Australia cannot abide the existence of a secondary labour market, without rights, minimum pay rates, superannuation or injury insurance. Soon enough the wrecking ball of gig work will crash into other industries, turning fully fledged jobs into cut-price parcels of work,” Kaine noted. “The simple truth is that gig workers do not need labels or a new type of classification. They need rights. We should ensure that our system is flexible enough to allow them to demand rights, that can’t be worked around by powerful, cashed-up tech giants. We need to put in place an independent tribunal system which can listen to the demands of gig workers and make orders giving them the benefits and protections they need… We owe it to Dede Fredy, Xiaojun Chen and Chow Khai Shien and the thousands of workers like them to put in place the right type of regulation in Australia.” The food delivery company Hungry Panda was criticised this week after it failed to appear before a New South Wales parliamentary inquiry that is looking into the death of Xiaojun Chen. SafeWork NSW was notified by TWU of Chen’s death on 1 October, two days after he died. The regulator said the question of why Hungry Panda had not notified SafeWork NSW was the subject of an investigation.
Sydney Morning Herald and related story on risking injury rates. The Guardian. More on health and safety and insecure work.

Global: Systemic failures on seafarers’ hours

New research has identified “systemic failures” in the implementation of the regulatory regime protecting seafarers’ hours of work and rest, undermining the credibility of international regulations relating to working hours. ‘A culture of adjustment’, a report from a team at the World Maritime University (WMU), confirms previous research that suggested recording malpractices are widespread, which seriously undermines the capacity of the current regulatory framework to prevent fatigue and mitigate its effects. The analysis indicates that insufficient staffing is the root cause of violations, especially during peak workload conditions. The fear of the negative consequences of failing inspections and creating problems for shipping companies was found to outweigh the obligation to genuinely comply with international regulations. The research found requirements for reporting work and rest hours are seen by seafarers as a paper exercise. Additionally, software intended to support recordkeeping seems ‘gamed’ for compliance. Instead of improving accuracy, the system effectively incentivises crew to adjust their records. According to Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, president of the WMU: “It is well known that fatigue leads to adverse impacts on health and wellbeing as well as increasing the risks of maritime accidents. This report is a wake-up call to regulators, industry and seafarers themselves. The system is flawed with respect to implementation and needs serious attention!” Dave Heindel, chair of the ITF Seafarers’ Trust, which financed the research, commented: “The findings are devastatingly comprehensive. Now the onus in on flags states, ports states, industry and unions to come together for the benefit of the seafarers to facilitate cultural change and restore the credibility of international maritime regulations.”
ITF Seafarers’ Trust news release. WMU report.

Southern Africa: Site unions seek greater involvement

Construction unions across Southern Africa are calling for greater involvement in workplace safety. Global building workers’ union BWI said its training on labour inspections for trade union educators from Mauritius (CMWEU), Mozambique (SINTICIM), Namibia (MANWU), South Africa (BCAWU and NUM), Zambia (NUBEGW) and Zimbabwe (CLAWUZ and ZCATWU) “aimed to create greater union involvement in the monitoring and inspection of worksites and develop new indices to counter-check the usual occupational health and safety (OHS) descriptors of companies.” The training was organised after BWI launched a Covid-19 Declaration, with the theme ‘Organising for Resilience in a Time of Adversity.’ The declaration included a call on all stakeholders to prioritise occupational safety and health. BWI general secretary Ambet Yuson commented: “There is need for good practices and innovations on how construction workers can promote further occupational health and safety and the need for trade unions to intensify their engagements with governments and employers in developing better policies to secure workers’ health and safety, income and employment.”
BWI news report.

USA: Meat giant fined over Covid crimes

A California meatpacking plant owned by the multinational Smithfield company and where hundreds of workers developed Covid-19 has been fined for putting its employees and temporary staff at risk. The state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) issued the largest US citation at a meatpacking plant to the Farmer John facility for a set of serious violations of health and safety regulations related to Covid-19 risks. The fines at the plant amount to more than $100,000 for the company and its subcontractor, CitiStaff Solutions. More than 315 workers out of 1,800 at the Farmer John plant in Vernon have contracted the coronavirus since March, with at least three people hospitalised. A spike in infections in May prompted the union UFCW Local 770 to call for an immediate closure of the plant and an investigation from Cal/OSHA. Workers at Farmer John have been pressing the company for increased safety measures, workplace protections and information about infections at the plant for months, the union said. Cal/OSHA found that most of the workforce as well as temporary employees were exposed to Covid-19. Farmer John was handed over $100,000 in penalties. Cal/OSHA also cited Smithfield for $58,000 in fines and its subcontractor, CitiStaff Solutions, Inc for $47,000. “Nothing Smithfield, nor local Farmer John management, has done has been in the interest of workers,” said John Grant, president of UFCW Local 770. “Even back in May when cases spiked to 135 workers sickened with Covid-19, one of the worst outbreaks in Los Angeles county, they did not address safety concerns and they ignored recommendations and concerns from their own employees, instead the number has now risen to over 315. The working conditions there have been horrific, and these citations show exactly what workers were exposed to every day they were on the job.” The union has criticised the federal safety regulator OSHA, which recently fined a Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota just $13,494 after 1,294 workers contracting Covid-19, with four fatalities.
UFCW news release.

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