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



Don't go to work when sick, 'peculiar' Brits told

Britons should stop “soldiering on” by going to work when sick and making others ill, the health secretary has said. Apparently oblivious to a mountain of evidence from the TUC, unions and others that poor or entirely absent sick pay (Risks 964) and fear of disciplinary action stopped people taking sick leave, Matt Hancock said people in the UK were “peculiarly unusual and outliers” for still going to work when unwell. He made the comments about presenteeism in a joint session of the Health and Social Care and the Science and Technology committees. He also told MPs he would like to see the diagnostic capacity built for Covid used to test for other illnesses like flu once the pandemic had passed. “I want to have a change in the British way of doing things where 'if in doubt, get a test' doesn't just refer to coronavirus but refers to any illness that you might have. Why in Britain do we think it's acceptable to soldier on and go into work if you have flu symptoms or a runny nose, thus making your colleagues ill? I think that's something that is going to have to change.” The health secretary continued: “We are peculiarly unusual and outliers in soldiering on and still going to work, and it kind of being the culture that 'as long as you can get out of bed you still should get into work'. That should change.” A TUC survey report in September warned that over two-fifths (43 per cent) of workers would be unable to pay their bills if they have to survive on £95.85 a week – the current rate of statutory sick pay (SSP). For low income workers (those earning below £15,000) the number unable to survive for two weeks on SSP rises to 5 in 10 (50 per cent). And for those earning below £29,000 it rises to a similar proportion (47 per cent). Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of those surveyed said they receive only the basic SSP if they are off work sick.
Joint committee inquiry. BBC News Online. The Guardian. Sick pay and debt, TUC, 9 September 2020.

Guarantee decent sick pay for every worker

The TUC is spearheading a #SickPayForAll campaign. The union body says that as we move into winter, cases of coronavirus are surging rapidly. It adds that no one should be faced with both illness and the fear of being plunged into debt. The TUC says however that 2 million people do not even qualify for sick pay. Its petition demands the government scrap the minimum earnings threshold for statutory sick pay, increase the weekly level of sick pay to at least £330 per week, and give employers the resources to afford sick pay for their workers. The TUC argues that even for those who do qualify, the current payment of £95.85 a week is not enough to pay the bills. Four in 10 workers would be forced into financial hardship. “At a time of skyrocketing cases, fixing statutory sick pay can prevent the spread of the virus and ensure millions can get paid to quarantine safely at home,” the TUC #SickPayForAll petition notes. It adds: “No one who self-isolates should worry about putting food on the table. No one should feel forced to go to work instead of recovering from the virus. Everyone has the right to decent sick pay.”
Sign the #SickPayForAll petition. See the video featuring TUC safety specialist Shelly Asquith.


Union safety win sees food workers get organised

Covid fears have spurred hundreds of essential workers at the poultry division of Noble Foods Ltd to get organised, winning a Unite recognition agreement. In March of this year, workers at the Lincolnshire plant became concerned that factory equipment was blowing cold air along a line of production workers, which staff feared had the potential to spread coronavirus. As soon as the issue was raised and the union intervened, the management quickly resolved the problem. There were no infections. From that point, a workplace campaign, conducted with the support of Unite's organising department and the union's lead negotiators, saw hundreds of workers joining up. Management, though, was reluctant to voluntarily reach a union recognition agreement. Unite was forced to use statutory employment legislation to seek recognition. The government's Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) has now ruled that the workers have a right to be represented by Unite. Noble Foods Ltd has until 2 December to reach an agreement or the CAC will impose terms on the employer. Unite regional officer Steve Syson said: “The safety of essential workers is paramount during these difficult times. The workforce saw just how quickly and effectively Unite resolved their safety concerns about Covid-19 at the factory. Once the workers and the union demanded action the management quickly fixed the equipment. This spurred hundreds of workers to join Unite the Union.” Unite East Midlands regional secretary Paresh Patel said: “The excellent team effort from the regional officer and the organisers alongside the workforce shows the importance and relevance of Unite during the current pandemic, ensuring that workers’ safety, welfare and job protection are at the heart of our fight for our members.”
Unite news release.

Air conditioning victory for bus drivers

The announcement that London buses have been fitted with an improved, safer air conditioning system has been greeted by Unite as a ‘major victory’. All London buses have had changes made to their air conditioning systems so that the air entering the driver’s sealed cab comes directly from the outside and does not pass through the passenger area of the bus. The union says the change will greatly reduce the risk of bus drivers being exposed to the coronavirus while driving. Unite first raised concerns about the air conditioning system with Transport for London (TfL) and bus operators in February, before the initial national lockdown. Unite lead officer for London buses John Murphy said: “This is a major victory in Unite’s continuing campaign to improve the safety of London buses during the pandemic. Unite highlighted its concerns about the air conditioning system when the first cases of Covid-19 began to emerge and it was instrumental in ensuring the air conditioning was turned off and a replacement system introduced.” He added: “While this was a positive development, Unite will not rest on its laurels and is continuously ensuring that drivers’ safety is maintained and improved throughout the second wave of the pandemic. London bus drivers have continued to work throughout the pandemic and have kept London moving, with too many paying a tragic price, it is incumbent on everyone involved with buses that no stone is left unturned in ensuring their safety.”
Unite news release.

Covid outbreaks in 6 out of 10 schools

Almost six in every ten school staff say Covid outbreaks have taken place in their workplace since the start of the pandemic, according to a mass survey by the GMB. More than 57 per cent of the 7,100 school staff who responded to the poll said there had been confirmed cases at their school. Meanwhile two-thirds (67 per cent) said there was no testing available for staff or pupils who were displaying symptoms and more than 60 per cent said they had been asked to work across bubbles. Workers responding to the survey – which was sent to teaching assistants, administrators, catering workers and other members of school support staff across the country – reported they felt ‘scared’ and ‘anxious’. GMB national officer Karen Leonard said: “Our members in schools are scared. Covid outbreaks are rife and the safety of school staff appears to come second to political point scoring by ministers. We all agree it’s vitally important not to disrupt children’s education - but we shouldn’t have to put the people who work in schools lives at risk to do so.” She added: “The government’s Winter Plan has scant detail on the testing in schools urgently need. We urge the Department for Education to sit down with the unions to come up with a constructive solution.” Even workers in the lowest tier 1 in England “should now work from home wherever possible,” prime minister Boris Johnson indicated. Announcing the Winter Plan on 23 November, he added: “Care workers looking after people in their own homes will be offered weekly tests from today. And from next month, weekly tests will also be available to staff in prisons, food manufacturing, and those delivering and administering Covid vaccines.”
GMB news release. Prime minister’s statement on the Winter Plan, 23 November 2020.

Government must let schools go online

School support staff union UNISON is urging ministers to let schools move all lessons online from next month to stop rising infections and ‘save Christmas’. The union believes a switch to full online teaching two weeks before Christmas would cut the risk of families being forced to self-isolate over the festive break. UNISON wants the government to allow schools and councils to decide the mix of classroom and home-based learning that would be the most effective in stemming increasing transmission rates locally. UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “Schools in Covid-hit areas are struggling to stay open. High numbers of children and staff are sick or self-isolating – and it’s only going to get worse. Schools and local authorities know what’s happening on their doorsteps and what’s best for pupils, staff and local residents. The government must step back and let headteachers, mayors and council leaders make their own decisions.” He added: “Measures such as increased social distancing and virtual learning are vital in the run up to the festive season. It’s the only way to stop infections spiralling out of control and save Christmas. Employers should be encouraged to support working parents so children can learn from home properly. The government must also provide the funds for laptops and other home-learning kit so disadvantaged children don’t lose out.”
UNISON news release.

Scottish teachers don’t feel safe in school

Fewer than one-third of teachers currently feel safe from Covid-19 in Scotland’s schools, a major survey by the teaching union EIS has revealed. The union surveyed teachers across Scotland last week, and says the results lay bare the depth of the concern held by teachers over potential risk to their and their pupils' health. Almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of teachers either ‘supported’ (48 per cent) or ‘fully supported’ (16 per cent) the Scottish government decision to prioritise keeping schools open, where possible. However, despite this support, fewer than one-third of teachers (31 per cent) indicated that they feel ‘safe’ (26 per cent) or ‘very safe’ (5 per cent) in schools under the current Covid-19 safety measures. Despite the support for keeping schools open where safe to do so, two-thirds of respondents (66 per cent) also indicated a willingness to support industrial action, including strike action, in protest at failure to move to blended or remoted learning in higher risk - Level 4 - areas of the country where staff deemed it necessary. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The EIS has repeatedly said that schools remaining operational cannot come at the expense of teacher and pupil wellbeing. Just as importantly blended and remote learning models are increasingly being adopted to stem increases in Covid community infection levels. For Level 4 restrictions to be as effective as we would wish them to be, short term closure or part closure of schools need to be considered.”
EIS news release.

Scottish government failing on school safety

An NASUWT survey of over 700 teachers across Scotland has found serious concerns over the adequacy of the health and safety measures in place in schools and the level of protection currently being afforded to pupils and staff. Two-thirds (67 per cent) reported that pupils in their school have displayed symptoms of Covid-19, with just over half (51 per cent) saying that classes or year groups had been sent home because of suspected or confirmed cases of the virus. Nearly six in ten (57 per cent) said staff in their school have displayed Covid symptoms. However, only a quarter (25 per cent) of teachers reported that the control measures introduced in their school are adequate, with just a third (34 per cent) saying they feel confident in the way their school is dealing with suspected or confirmed cases of Covid. Half (49 per cent) of teachers say they feel unsafe or very unsafe in their school, versus 16 per cent who say they feel safe or very safe. The survey also highlights the impact of the pandemic on teachers’ workloads, with nearly four in five (79 per cent) saying their workload has increased or substantially increased compared to the same point last year. Patrick Roach, NASUWT general secretary, said: “The NASUWT wants schools to remain open, but to remain open safely, with additional measures which prioritise the safety and welfare of pupils and staff.” He added: “We believe that a move to blended learning with smaller class sizes in areas with the highest rates of Covid should be part of the strategy to managing and suppressing the virus, along with greater protections for clinically vulnerable staff and enhanced safety mitigations.”
NASUWT news release.

Educators warn of Covid safety risks in prisons

Nearly half of prison education staff do not feel safe at work, according to responses to a UCU survey. The union study found over a third (37 per cent) of respondents reported no regular cleaning on site, with 15 per cent reporting they had been asked to undertake cleaning themselves. Almost half (45 per cent) said they did not feel safe on site. Reasons given included not enough cleaning, poor social distancing, too many people on site, lack of risk assessments, and a desire by the prison and providers to return to business as usual. UCU general secretary Jo Grady commented: “These findings show that many of our members do not feel safe and more needs to be done if staff and learners are going to be protected from the virus. There needs to be rapid investment at the very least in basic resources such as telephones if learners in prison are to safely access learning opportunities and our members’ safety is to be protected during the on-going Covid-crisis.” She added: “Longer term the government has to invest properly in prison education to allow learners, especially those in youth custody and the women's estate, access to virtual learning platforms using in-cell technology. However, any moves to increase the use of in-cell technology, must be guided by the principle of maximising public benefit not private profit and not seen as a wholesale replacement of in person teaching provision.”
UCU news release.

Urgent action needed on site Covid risks

The government and construction employers must take urgent action to tackle rising Covid-19 transmission rates in the industry, Unite has said. The union call came after Professor Calum Semple told Sky’s Sophie Ridge programme on 22 November: “You would have thought working outside wouldn’t be a risk but many people in construction are actually working inside before buildings are made Covid-safe. So the construction industry has turned out to be a risk that I was surprised to see.” Jerry Swain, Unite national officer for construction, commented: “The professor is right that a great deal of construction work is undertaken inside, often in poorly ventilated areas. The risk of transmission is further increased in poor weather as workers seek protection indoors from the elements. This situation has been made worse by the inadequacy of the site operating procedures published by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC).” He said CLC’s failure “is likely to have contributed to the high transmission rate and has seriously undermined the social distancing messages vital to the protection of workers.” The Unite officer added: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, Unite has argued that construction employers need to ensure that workers are protected from when they leave home until when they return home at night. The increased level of transmission in the sector demonstrates this is simply not happening.” Unite said it will be writing to the CLC and the government to call for the creation of separate site operating procedures to cover both indoor and outdoor construction work. Jerry Swain added: “Unless the government and construction employers ensure that there are strict rules on mask wearing, that social distancing and cleaning regimes are being followed, and workers can afford to self-isolate, transmission rates will continue to climb. Unite remains fully committed to working with employers and the government to address these issues and improve Covid safety for construction workers.” An October 2020 report in the occupational health journal New Solutions  warned: “Construction workers frequently work in close proximity, in areas with poor air movement like trenches or directly above or below other workers… substantial travel to work requirements, long periods of work away from home and inadequate welfare facilities, particularly washing facilities, can make adopting safe practices especially difficult or impossible in agriculture, construction, and other outdoor work groups.”
Unite news release.
Rory O’Neill WHO Knew. How the World Health Organization (WHO) Became a Dangerous Interloper on Workplace Health and Safety and COVID-19, New Solutions, Volume: 30 issue: 3, pages 237-248  First Published 8 October 2020.
Pasco RF, Fox SJ, Johnston SC, Pignone M, Meyers LA. Estimated Association of Construction Work With Risks of COVID-19 Infection and Hospitalization in Texas, JAMA Network Open. 2020;3(10):e2026373. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.26373

Ambulance worker absences linked to poor PPE

‘Second-rate’ PPE supplies are to blame for the ‘rocketing’ Covid-19 absences among ambulance workers, the union GMB has said. Figures obtained by the union show as of this week there were 2,077 Covid-related absences across just six trusts, with an average Covid absence rate of 7 per cent. GMB said if this rate is extrapolated across the eleven ambulance trusts in England and Wales then the number of ambulance workers who are sick or self-isolating could be as high as 3,740. The union said it is clear that poor PPE is to blame, and the union is calling on the government and Public Health England to urgently review PPE guidance for key workers. Ambulance workers report having to attend patients with flimsy gowns instead of proper PPE, the union said. Rachel Harrison, GMB national officer, commented: “Covid-related absence among ambulance staff is rocketing. And it’s no wonder when our paramedics, technicians and practitioners are expected to treat suspected coronavirus patients with nothing but a flimsy mask and a plastic apron. One gust of wind and this second-rate PPE blows away.” She added: “GMB has called for guidance to be reviewed since the start of the pandemic. Our members are professionals working across the NHS and Ambulance Service, they make risk assessments every day and they should be trusted to determine the level of PPE they need in specific situations. Unless ministers and PHE act quickly our ambulance service will grind to a halt.”
GMB news release.

‘Unforgivable’ failures left health care staff at risk

Shockingly bad planning that saw ministers react too slowly when buying protective kit left health and care staff at risk from the coronavirus, UNISON has said. Responding to a National Audit Office (NAO) report issued on 25 November into the government’s attempts to source personal protective equipment as the first Covid wave struck, UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “It’s unforgivable that shockingly poor government planning left care and health staff to fight Covid-19 without the safety kit to protect themselves. They were left exposed and vulnerable to the virus.” She added: “Ministers made the wrong decisions and reacted too slowly to the unfolding tragedy. The lack of foresight to properly prepare for the pandemic undoubtedly cost lives, as well as billions of pounds of public money. The government needs to be held to account to ensure such a monumental failure of our health and care services never happens again.” Commenting on publication of its report, NAO head Gareth Davies said: “Once it recognised the gravity of the situation it worked hard to source PPE, but most of these orders were not received in time for the first wave of the pandemic and many frontline workers reported shortages of PPE during that time. The price of PPE increased dramatically, and that alone has cost the taxpayer around £10 billion.” The report highlighted poor distribution of PPE, with many staff saying they did not have the right equipment. NAO noted: “Employers have reported 126 deaths and 8,152 diagnosed cases of Covid-19 among health and care workers linked to occupational exposure.”
NAO news release and full report, The supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic, 25 November 2020. UNISON news release. BBC News Online.

PPE czar urged to break logjam in supply chain

The government’s PPE ‘czar’ needs to break the logjam in the supply of vital personal protective equipment (PPE) to NHS staff, after media reports that the government is paying a £1 million-a-day to store a PPE ‘mountain’, Unite has said. The union said the government’s PPE supremo Lord Deighton, appointed in the spring, urgently needs to intervene to sort out the supply chain problems. Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “The long-running problems with the delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE) are a national scandal that have shocked the public  – and we are now calling for the government’s PPE czar Lord Deighton to urgently explain why there are continuing logjams in the supply chain.” He added: “The supply and delivery of PPE have been devilled by variable quality with some items having to be sent back; storage issues; and how the contracts were awarded in the first place to those with close links with the Tory establishment, the so-called ‘chumocracy’, which have undermined the public’s trust and confidence in the government’s Covid-19 strategy.” The Unite officer concluded: “All NHS and social care staff must be given PPE, whatever job they have. All this is happening against a background of an estimated more than 600 NHS and social care workers dying from causes linked to Covid-19 – this PPE crisis needs to be resolved urgently out of respect to their memory. Now more than ever these promises need to kept, as the NHS approaches the most challenging of winters.”
Unite news release.

Wage support exclusions led to suicides

At least six people excluded from the government’s coronavirus wage support schemes have taken their own lives this month, a campaign group has said. ExcludedUK represents the three million people in Britain who are not eligible for the Job Retention Scheme (JRS) or the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). ExcludedUK blamed Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s policies for driving people to the brink. The group’s Alex Lacey said: “Some ExcludedUK people feel they have no other option after losing all their income, being in debt for the first time in their lives, losing their businesses, homes, families. Meanwhile every time Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson are questioned about it, they say they’re sorry not everyone has been helped ‘in the way they would have liked to be helped’.” Ms Lacey said that ExcludedUK is involved in “talking someone down” from the brink of suicide every day. Two of the six suicides known to have happened during November took place in recent days, the group said.  Philippa Childs, head of the entertainment sector union Bectu, said: “My respect for the determination and dignity of the hard-working people of ExcludedUK knows no bounds… It’s heartbreaking that Rishi Sunak and the government are ignoring these tragedies.” Meanwhile, 31 Labour MPs have called on the chancellor to increase Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from £95.85 per week. In a letter organised by Leeds East MP Richard Burgon, the MPs said that ensuring people can afford to self-isolate is key to tackling the coronavirus. The MPs noted that “nearly two million low-paid workers are entirely excluded” from SSP because they do not earn at least £120 a week. Commenting on the demands, Mr Burgon said that “our pathetically low level of sick pay is undermining the public’s efforts to reduce the spread of the virus.”
Morning Star. More on work-related suicide.
ACTION! Use the Hazards e-postcard to tell the HSE to recognise, record and take action to prevent work-related suicides.


Unions demand end to violence against women

Union bodies representing workers across Great Britain and Ireland have called for urgent interventions to support victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence in work and in society. Speaking out on the eve of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women - 25 November - the TUC, STUC in Scotland, WTUC in Wales and Ireland’s ICTU asserted that “domestic abuse is always a workplace issue and trade unions know that work is often a place of safety for women experiencing domestic abuse.” They call for employers and governments around the UK and Ireland to consider what is required to support victims in the longer term, including signing up to a binding International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention. “That’s why we are calling on our governments to immediately ratify ILO Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work,” the union bodies note. “Article 18 of the accompanying recommendation specifies measures which should be taken to mitigate the impacts of domestic violence at work including leave for the victims of domestic violence, flexible work arrangements and the inclusion of domestic violence in workplace risk assessments.” The union bodies add: “As the trade union federations across the UK and Ireland, we are calling for victims of domestic abuse to be given additional employment rights. Very often people need to take time off to access legal or financial support and during the working day is the only safe time to do this. A day one right to paid time off from work to access this support, as in countries like Australia or New Zealand, would make a real difference to women’s lives.” Global union confederation ITUC also issued a call for “governments to ratify and implement the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 190 and Recommendation 206, to end the scourge of gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work.”
TUC news release. STUC news release. ITUC news release.

Urgent action needed on firefighter cancers

Groundbreaking research has revealed the serious toxic health risks to UK firefighters during a fire. The independent University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) report commissioned by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is described as a ‘UK first’ and the latest in a growing body of international evidence linking a firefighter’s work with cancer and other diseases. Fires produce a cocktail of toxic, irritant and carcinogenic chemicals in the form of aerosols, dusts, fibres, smoke, fumes, gases and vapours. The report includes a summary of UCLan’s testing on-site at 18 fire stations as well as over 10,000 responses to a national firefighter survey run jointly between the FBU and UCLan. More than 10,000 currently-serving firefighters were surveyed. Firefighters were four times as likely to have been diagnosed with cancer compared to the general population (4.1 per cent of survey respondents, compared with less than 1 per cent of the general population). Threequarters had served for at least 10 years before receiving their diagnosis; more than half were under the age of 50 and a fifth were under 40. Of those diagnosed, 26 per cent had been diagnosed with skin cancer, followed by testicular cancer (10 per cent), head and neck cancer (4 per cent) and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (3 per cent). In North America, many jurisdictions have a compensation system that presumes these and several other cancers in firefighters are related to work (Risks 846). Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Sadly we often see serving and former firefighters suffer from cancer and other illnesses. Every firefighter knows the fear that, someday, they and their family could receive the devastating news – but we’re determined to do all we can to reduce the risk of firefighters developing these terrible diseases as a result of their job.” He added: “This research is a crucial first step to definitively proving the link between firefighting, toxic contaminants, and cancer in the UK. The Health and Safety Executive must urgently implement the recommendations to bring lifesaving measures into place as soon as possible.”
FBU news release and full report. Morning Star.
IAFF list of presumptive legislation on cancer in firefighters across North American jurisdictions. TUC occupational cancer guide.

Union outrage at Priti Patel bullying inaction

Civil service unions have said it is ‘outrageous’ and ‘frankly unbelievable’ that home secretary Priti Patel escaped being sacked after a highly critical report into her behaviour. The report by the prime minister’s adviser on ministerial standards said originally that the home secretary had “not consistently met the high standards expected of her.” However, Boris Johnson decided that the ministerial code was not breached by the minister. Mr Johnson’s adviser Sir Alex Allan subsequently resigned in response. Ms Patel apologised saying she was sorry her “behaviour in the past upset people.”  PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka commented: “It is outrageous that Priti Patel has not been sacked despite the prime minister's own adviser on the ministerial code found her in breach, following serious accusations of bullying in the department.” He added: “Civil servants do an incredibly difficult job keeping public services running and impartially advising ministers. There should be no circumstances where bullying is acceptable and this should be a warning to other ministers that our union will not tolerate any bullying, harassment or intimidation in the workplace.” Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect, said: “This decision by the prime minister is a kick in the teeth for those civil servants who have been bullied by the home secretary, and indeed for anyone who has experienced unacceptable behaviour from their boss. For the person in charge of law and order in this country to be found to have bullied people, and get away with a slap on the wrist, is frankly unbelievable and she should consider her position.”
PCS news release. Prospect news release. Ministerial Code. UK Constitutional Law Association blog.

Usdaw violence campaign gives debate hopes a boost

A parliamentary petition that seeks to protect retail staff from violence, threats and abuse has passed 80,000 signatures following the annual Respect for Shopworkers Week, with ran from 16-22 November (Risks 974). The union is looking to hit 100,000 signatures to trigger a parliamentary debate. The petition is backed by 23 major retailers and the industry’s leading trade bodies, with the union saying separate research by the Co-op shows its aims have public support as well. Paddy Lillis, the Usdaw general secretary, said: “I am grateful to our reps and activists who added over 10,000 signatures to the petition during the week. This is a hugely important issue for our members. With incidents of abuse doubling during the Covid-19 crisis, they are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be just a part of the job.” He added: “We welcome employer support for the petition and it is clear that the public are also on board, with a Co-op survey finding that over 80 per cent say abuse of shopworkers is unacceptable and want greater sentencing for offenders. When the shopping public, retailers and the trade union for shopworkers unite in a call for action, it should be time for the government to sit up, listen to our concerns and deliver much needed protection for staff.”
Usdaw news release and petition. Co-op respect for shopworkers survey.

Recycling company fined after employee dies

Enva Scotland Limited has been fined for criminal safety offences after employee Martin Kane was fatally injured whilst cleaning a mobile shredder. Paisley Sheriff Court heard that on, 28 March 2018, Mr Kane and another employee at the company’s Paisley site were trying to remove waste that was trapped between a heavy magnet and a hopper on the shredder machine. Mr Kane was struck by the magnet, which fell after he manually removed the locking pins that were keeping the magnet in place. The 28-year-old sustained extensive head injuries and died as a result. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Enva Scotland Limited failed to provide employees engaged in cleaning and using the shredder with adequate training, information and instruction on the deployment of the magnet fitted to the shredder. Enva Scotland Limited pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £264,000. HSE inspector Russell Berry said “the employer failed to ensure Mr Kane had received adequate information, instruction and training regarding the safe operation and methods of cleaning the machine. It led to Mr Kane adopting an unsafe method for moving the magnet whilst trying to clean the machine manually, resulting in this tragic but entirely preventable incident.”
HSE news release.


ReWORKing safety virtual conference, 30 Nov-3 December

Leading global safety standards group Electronics Watch is running a four-day occupational health and safety virtual summit, kicking off on Monday 30 November. The theme is ‘ReWORKing Health and Safety - Protecting Workers and Promoting Resilient Public Sector Supply Chains. Electronics Watch will present excellent new resources intended to encourage safe, healthy and transparent public procurement policies. The approach and resources are a valuable tool in any sector, particularly in regard to toxic chemicals usage.

ReWORKing Health and Safety - Protecting Workers and Promoting Resilient Public Sector Supply Chains, 30 November-3 December, opening session starts 9am UK time. Register.


UCU 'long Covid' briefing for workplace reps

Lecturers’ union UCU has published an online briefing for its safety reps and equality reps on 'long Covid'. It says long Covid is a collection of post-viral conditions, lingering effects or health problems in the wake of a coronavirus infection. It is not limited to those who have suffered serious cases of Covid-19. Some people with mild symptoms or who were largely or entirely asymptomatic have developed debilitating post-viral effects. The UCU briefing notes that long Covid “is a multi-system disorder that affects every part of the body. Primarily a disease of blood vessels and not the lungs.” It adds that there are huge numbers of people experiencing different symptoms, many of whom weren't tested or treated for Covid-19. “It is not chronic fatigue syndrome and for many people the symptoms are severe,” it notes. The guide lists typical symptoms and potential longer-term health problems, and gives advice to unions reps on how to support affected members.
UCU long Covid briefing.


Safety reps – speak up!

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. The TUC has just launched its biennial Safety Reps’ Survey to determine the big safety concerns in today’s workplaces. 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 the time to complete the online survey are automatically entered into a prize draw.
TUC survey alert. Complete the survey now: TUC health and safety reps’ survey 2020/21.


Global: Union call for rapid antigen testing for workers

The global union confederation ITUC is pressing for urgent and large-scale investment in rapid antigen testing for the virus that causes Covid-19, in order to bring the pandemic under control. These tests, also know as ‘strip’ tests, can be done by anyone at home, in workplaces or in other settings and produce a result in 15-30 minutes. Their key feature is that they give a positive reading when people are still contagious. ITUC says the commonly used Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests can give a positive result well after an individual is contagious, are expensive and logistically complicated. Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said: “Adding these tests to the existing armoury of measures to tackle the pandemic would enable workplaces that have been shut down to reopen safely with a very high degree of confidence.” She added: “Masks, social distancing, sick pay for everyone who tests positive, social protection and job and business support measures are still essential and are vital to the effective roll out of rapid antigen or ‘strip’ tests but those tests can make a real contribution to stopping the virus and saving jobs. The world cannot continue to yo-yo between lockdowns and partial reopening. The social, economic and health costs are too high and are a price that does not need to be paid.” A briefing prepared by the ITUC, which draws on specialist input and the work of epidemiologists, virologists and other experts, sets out the rationale for major investment in strip tests and large-scale rollout. “We need to add these simpler and cheaper but effective strip tests to enable economies to reopen for the long term, and help suppress the virus to the point where we can begin to trust safety in the workplace and in public spaces,” said ITUC’s Sharan Burrow.
ITUC news release, briefing paper and short video explainer.

USA: Meatpacking linked to 1-in-12 early Covid cases

As many as one in 12 cases of Covid-19 in the early stage of the pandemic in the US can be tied to outbreaks at meatpacking plants and subsequent spread in surrounding communities, according to a study. Its findings show “a strong positive relationship” between meatpacking plants and “local community transmission” in cases through to late July, suggesting the plants act as “transmission vectors” and “accelerate the spread of the virus.” The peer-reviewed study by Columbia University and University of Chicago academics has just been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The conclusions draw attention to the role of the meatpacking industry in the pandemic and the Trump administration’s controversial approach to workplace safety as outbreaks at slaughterhouses emerged. Trump issued an executive order on 28 April directing meatpackers to reopen closed facilities, and the administration eschewed mandatory Covid-19 safety regulation, opting instead for voluntary industry guidelines. Marc Perrone, president of the foodworkers’ union UFCW, said the study “makes clear the Trump administration cares more about industry profits than protecting America’s frontline workers in the meatpacking industry. This is just more confirmation that without immediate action, deadly outbreaks at these plants will quickly spread across the Midwest and cause Covid-19 cases to spike even higher.” Overall, the researchers found 236,000 to 310,000 Covid-19 cases through to 21 July associated with “proximity to livestock plants,” comprising 6 to 8 per cent of virus cases at the time. “Ensuring both public health and robust essential supply chains may require an increase in meatpacking oversight and potentially a shift toward more decentralised, smaller-scale meat production,” the researchers concluded.
Bloomsberg News. Bloomberg Government.
Charles A. Taylor, Christopher Boulos, Douglas Almond. Livestock plants and Covid-19 transmission, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, November 2020, 202010115; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2010115117

USA: OSHA’s slammed for ‘absurd’ Covid-19 reporting rule

Workplace exposures continue to be a major driver of the coronavirus pandemic, something that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) should be on top of, says David Michaels. But the former head of OSHA, writing in Stat News, warns a reinterpretation of a reporting rule is making that all but impossible. “The first of the few Covid-19-related citations that OSHA has issued to employers for violating its regulations was to a Georgia nursing home, which had delayed notifying OSHA that six of its workers had been hospitalised,” he notes. “At the end of September, however, the Department of Labor suddenly withdrew the Georgia citation and announced an absurd reinterpretation of the reporting regulation under which employers are no longer required to report the most severe Covid-19 cases to OSHA.” He observes that while the regulation clearly states that OSHA requires employers to report “all work-related in-patient hospitalisations, as well as amputations and losses of an eye, to OSHA within 24 hours of the event”, the agency is now telling employers that they must report worker hospitalisations for Covid-19 only if the hospitalisation occurs within 24 hours of their workplace exposure to the virus, instead of within 24 hours of the employer learning of the hospitalisation. He said this “makes no sense for Covid-19. It is generally impossible to identify the precise moment someone is exposed to Covid-19… the agency’s new policy is yet one more decision suggesting that… OSHA is more concerned with hiding employee infections and shielding employers from their obligation to protect workers than with protecting workers from infection.”
Stat News

USA: ‘Essential workers’ set to get vaccine early

Essential workers in the US are likely to move ahead of adults aged 65 and older and people with high risk medical conditions when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) signs off on Covid-19 vaccine priority lists, coming after health care workers and people living in long-term care facilities, a meeting of an expert advisory panel has made clear. There was no formal vote by the members of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a group of outside experts that makes recommendations to the CDC on use of vaccines. But when asked how they felt about moving essential workers closer to the front of the line, there was clear support for the proposal. “These essential workers are out there putting themselves at risk to allow the rest of us to socially distance. And they come from disadvantaged situations, they come from disadvantaged communities,” said Beth Bell, a global health expert from the University of Washington who is on ACIP and chairs its Covid-19 work group studying the vaccines. Essential workers include people who work in meat packing plants and other food processing facilities, in municipal wastewater management operations, and in transport. It also includes police and firefighters and, in the current iteration of the ACIP’s plan, teachers. France has already announced that a long list of workers in essential jobs will get priority access to the vaccine, but the UK government has excluded all but health and social care workers (Risks 974).
Stat News.

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