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



Warning on ‘serious ill-health’ risks of school reopening

A ‘chaotic’ reopening of schools in England is leaving education staff at risk of ‘serious ill-health’, education unions have warned. A 4 January union joint statement on the safe reopening of schools signed by GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, UNISON and Unite came as the majority of primary schools in in the country were set to reopen. The statement noted: “The government’s chaotic handling of the opening of schools has caused confusion for teachers, school staff and parents alike. Bringing all pupils back into classrooms while the rate of infection is so high is exposing education sector workers to serious risk of ill-health and could fuel the pandemic.” Calling for a pause in face-to-face schooling, the statement said the prime minister “should sit down with unions to discuss a joint approach to ensuring safe working arrangements in all schools and prioritising enabling all pupils have the equipment and access they need to receive a high standard of remote learning until the safety of them and the staff in their school can be guaranteed.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government’s own advice from SAGE makes it clear that opening schools to all pupils now risks increasing the infection rate. That’s in no-one's interests. Instead of creating chaos for parents and exposing workers to risks, the prime minister should be talking to trade unions about what steps are needed to make sure all schools are Covid-secure.” An NEU online briefing on 3 December was joined by 400,000 members. The union told members that it will not be safe for them to return to school until mid-January at the earliest. The union said it would provide members with a template letter to send to headteachers, explaining they are refusing to go into work because their workplace is unsafe, a right enshrined in law by section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. GMB said that unless the education secretary postponed reopening it “would be left with no option other than to take action to defend its members’ safety at work.”
Joint union statement. GMB news release. NEU news release. The Guardian. Morning Star and related story. BBC News Online and related story. Labourlist.
Resources: Can I refuse to work because of coronavirus? We explain your rights, TUC briefing. Section 44 and Section 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.

Government ignored expert advice calling for schools

The UK government ignored a recommendation from its own SAGE advisory committee that schools should close to contain coronavirus, teaching union NEU has revealed. SAGE told ministers that they needed to close schools to contain coronavirus, before Christmas. NEU said minutes of a 22 December 2020 SAGE meeting make clear that SAGE was so concerned about the new variant of the virus that it could not be sure that measures like the Spring lockdown will be enough to get the R number below 1, when transmission starts to fall. Commenting on 31 December, NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “SAGE have told the government that they need to close schools to contain coronavirus and the government have decided to ignore their advice. It is also clear from the SAGE documents that school pupils and school staff are infecting each other, and that school age children have the highest rates of infection.” The union leader added: “We believe that schools and colleges should remain closed until mid-January at the earliest so that the government can make an informed decision on the safety of reopening schools as SAGE advise.”
NEU news release. Minutes of the 22 December 2020 SAGE meeting. BBC News Online.

Closing workplaces has ‘high-impact’ on virus spread

Closing non-essential workplaces and extending working from home are the most effective interventions for reducing spread of Covid-19, with school closures also a ‘high-impact’ policy, an international study has concluded. The study published on 29 December 2020 in the journal PLOS One, a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science, examines the ‘most effective’ ways to address Covid spread. It points to measures to tackle Covid-19 transmission “each of which has the potential to reduce weekly Covid growth rate by 10 percentage points or more. The slate of these additional high-impact policies includes targeted or full workplace closings for all but essential workers, stay-at-home requirements, and targeted school closures.” The study, which looked at prevention practices utilised in 40 countries including the UK, estimated the effect that closing more workplaces could have, finding extensive closures could reduce the spread of Covid cases by nearly one-third (over 32 per cent). The study concludes that “for the jurisdictions covered in this analysis, the policies with the greatest marginal impact for achieving Covid control mainly involve restrictions on adults through workplace closings and stay-at-home requirements, although targeted school closings are also in the group of additional high-impact policies.”
Wibbens PD, Koo WW-Y, McGahan AM (2020) Which COVID policies are most effective? A Bayesian analysis of COVID-19 by jurisdiction. PLoS ONE 15(12): e0244177.

Concerns raised over rushed schools testing plans

The UK government’s end-of-term announcement to require mass testing in English schools from January raises serious concerns, school support staff union UNISON has said. The union’s national schools committee for England, together with representatives of the union’s further education committee, met with Department for Education (DfE) and NHS test and trace officials on 22 December to discuss the government’s plans for mass testing of school staff and pupils in secondary schools and colleges in England in January. The committee highlighted concerns about the reliability of the proposed tests, numbers and roles of staff that would be involved, potential increased workloads, proper training, availability of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), face coverings and the roll out of the programme to primary and special schools. UNISON said it was clear that, while the union supports the use of mass testing in schools, because of concerns with the high rate of false negative lateral flow test results, this test should not be used as an alternative to self-isolation of close contacts and bubbles following confirmed Covid-19 cases. The union said the government must not ‘rush ahead’ with the programme in January, but to work with schools on a sensible timetable. It added it was also vital the DfE amends its mass testing guidance to make clear that schools should use testing only as an additional measure to identify potential asymptomatic cases and not as an alternative to self-isolation of all close contacts and bubbles.
UNISON news release.

Furlough working parents affected by school closures

Employers should offer furlough to all parents affected by school closures, the TUC has said. It follows the UK government’s announcement last week that London’s schools would not reopen to all children as planned from 4 January. The TUC says that this series of chaotic statements and a last-minute approach has left working parents in real difficulties. The job retention scheme allows bosses to furlough parents who can’t work due to a lack of childcare. Furlough is available from a minimum of seven days – which would allow mums and dads to share childcare over the coming weeks – and can also be given on a part-time basis. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The health and safety of school staff, children and parents and the wider community must come first. This government has failed to keep school staff safe in their workplaces.” The TUC leader added: “Employers must do the right thing and furlough mums and dads who can’t work because of childcare responsibilities. And the government should give all parents the right to work flexibly plus ten days’ paid parental leave each year.” Ensuring that employers offer access to the job retention scheme to working parents will help the immediate crisis, the TUC said, but added the government must do more to fix the flaws in the parental leave system. It is calling on the government to introduce a day one right to both 10 days’ paid parental leave and a right to flexible work. The TUC says flexible working can take lots of different forms, including having predictable or set hours, working from home, job-sharing, compressed hours and term-time working. 
TUC news release. BBC News Online.

Covid causing a work-related death a day

The number of officially reported work-related Covid-19 deaths is running at one a day, over three times the rate for all other work-related fatalities, a new report has revealed. The report, which criticises the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), for ‘resignation and inaction’, notes: “The eight weeks from 6 October to 23 November 2020 saw HSE informed of over 2,000 workplace outbreaks. The same period saw over 5,000 workplace Covid infection cases reported to HSE, including 44 deaths. The officially reported work-related Covid-19 death rate, in a RIDDOR system criticised for excluding thousands of cases [Risks 966], is running at about a death a day.” The report warns: “As the country faces an unprecedented workplace health crisis, HSE’s strategy is to be rarely seen and barely heard.” An unpublished HSE breakdown obtained by Hazards covering the period from the start of the pandemic to 4 November 2020, reveals “of HSE’s 4,892 interventions, none (0 per cent) were prosecutions, 136 (<3 per cent) were legally-binding notices and 865 (18 per cent) were ‘written correspondence’. For the remainder – 3,891, or 80 per cent – the HSE’s intervention was limited to ‘verbal advice’.” Hazards comments: “As hundreds died and tens of thousands fell ill as a result of workplace exposures, HSE’s preferred response was to have a little word.” The report concludes: “An unprecedented work-related loss of life has been met with resignation and inaction by HSE. But with few resources and a culture that has evolved by government policy from regulator to adviser, it was perhaps unreasonable to expect anything more. Workers are dying for something better.”
No! No! No! Covid-19 deaths at 3.4 times the rate for all other work fatalities, Hazards, number 152, December 2020 and related ‘Fighting our corner’ safety reps’ poster.
Venting - Coronavirus risks are mostly up in the air, safety reps’ factsheet, Hazards, number 152, December 2020.

Praise for union ‘unsung health and safety heroes’

The head of Scotland’s lead trade union body has praised the country’s ‘unsung health and safety heroes’. Roz Foyer, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), stated: “2020 has arguably been the most challenging year ever for workplace health and safety reps. Up and down the country, health and safety workplace reps have had their work cut out for them. Facing a deadly virus, with scarce early support from governments, health and safety reps have rose to the occasion in deeply challenging circumstances. They are among the unsung heroes of this pandemic.” The union leader added: “Never has strong health and safety practices ever been so important. 2020 has starkly exposed the fact that bad working conditions kill. The STUC has long stated that when levels of coronavirus are high, we should be in lockdown and non-essential workplaces should close. However, when cases are low, and places begin to re-open, health and safety in the workplace is absolutely paramount to control the virus. As we reflect on this year, we must recognise the importance of decent health and safety, and the hard work of health and safety reps that hold employers to account and make all of us safer.” The union body had earlier called on the Scottish government to adopt “a cautious approach” in response to concerns about the fast spread of a new coronavirus strain, with closure of non-essential workplaces in sectors including construction and manufacturing.
STUC news release and news release on non-essential workplaces. Morning Star.

Lack of trust in bosses exacerbates Covid mental ills

A survey over a thousand Scottish workers has found that Covid-19 has exacerbated a pre-existing lack of trust in employers when it comes to disclosing mental health conditions. The survey by the national union federation STUC found that workers’ mental health has been significantly affected throughout the crisis. Those whose mental health has improved indicated this was due to feeling more in control and being away from work. Most respondents stated they do not trust their employers in relation to supporting their mental health. Approaching half (43 per cent) had been offered no form of risk assessment for working at home or did not feel comfortable disclosing to their employer they were battling with poor mental health (47 per cent). Two-thirds (67 per cent) who have disclosed they have a mental health issue or illness reported they had been offered no form of reasonable adjustment. STUC general secretary Roz Foyer said: “Our survey results should be a stark wake up call to employers. As we continue through a difficult winter, many workers will be feeling isolated, stressed and anxious. Many people’s usual coping mechanisms are not available to them, and for many the heightened pressure will spill over into their work lives.” She added: “Employers must work to build up trust with staff.  This should include transparent workplace policies regarding mental health, decent sick pay and leave for those who are unable to work and a workplace culture free from bullying. Let 2021 be the year that employers start to take mental health seriously and support their workers.”
STUC news release.

NHS staff working under siege

Hard-pressed NHS staff continuing to battle the Covid-19 crisis are being badly let down by a government which is still failing to ensure that the workforce is getting the protection it needs, the union Unite has said. Unite's national officer for the health sector, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, said that the union is now receiving concerning reports of an absence of the correct protective equipment (PPE) for some NHS staff treating the sick. “From paramedic to porter, the catering assistant to biomedical scientist, the system is under severe strain,” he said. “The mounting pressures are taking a heavy toll on an already exhausted workforce. To add to this appalling sense of siege, we are again receiving distressing reports about a lack of suitable PPE for staff treating highly infectious, sick patients and rising numbers of staff self-isolating or contracting Covid-19.”  He added: “Unite is calling on NHS staff to speak up about this; let us know what PPE is needed and we will do all in our power to get the employers to get this to you with urgency… The worst of this wave has yet to be upon us. The government needs to get a grip, show leadership and act to do everything needed to protect frontline workers and the public.”
Unite news release.

DVLA contact centre closed due to Covid-19 outbreak

A confirmed Covid-19 outbreak at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) contact centre in Swansea saw it closed before Christmas, following discussions with the union PCS. The first three weeks of December saw a total of 352 cases of Covid-19 identified among DVLA workers, including 62 confirmed cases at its contact centre in Swansea Vale. On 24 December, PCS confirmed all staff at the contact centre had been put on special paid leave during the closure period. The union said it had also pressed for the main DVLA site, which is 2 miles away, to be closed, but management claimed that Covid rates there were not high enough. However following union talks it was agreed all leave requests would be granted for the period of 22 December to 4 January. The Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, had written to DVLA management demanding that they act appropriately, follow the tight guidelines on how to deal with the pandemic, to allow working from home where possible and to consult on all measures with the recognised union, PCS.
PCS news release. The Guardian. South Wales Argus.


TUC calls on government to ‘plug the gaps’ in trade deal

The TUC has called on the government to urgently build on the UK-EU trade agreement, which it says “falls far short” of the deal ministers promised. The union body was speaking out head after the deal was passed by MPs on 30 December. The union body warned that the deal’s flimsy protections on workers’ rights would fail to prevent the government pursuing a deregulatory agenda. TUC said the deal is “better than nothing, but not by much”. The TUC has set out a 10-point plan to fix the shortcomings of the UK-EU deal and protect jobs, rights and public services. It is urging the government to ‘get going’ on the promise to ‘protect and enhance rights’ by bringing forward the long-awaited employment bill, including a pledge to end zero-hours contracts. It also wants guarantees that no existing rights will be watered down, now or in the future, and that workers’ rights in the UK will be at least as good as those in the EU. It also says the government must ensure workers are not priced out of justice by guaranteeing there will be no re-introduction of employment tribunal fees. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This agreement falls far short of the deal the government promised. Ministers need to plug the gaps.” The TUC’s 10-point plan notes the “deal says that the EU and the UK commit to maintain a level playing field between them by not rolling back the rights that exist today in the field of fundamental rights at work, health and safety, fair working conditions and employment standards, information and consultation rights at company level and restructuring of companies. But the clause falls short of our expectations as it does not clearly indicate that all EU-derived rights – beyond those listed above and including their evolving interpretation through EU case law – that exist at the end of the transition period are to be maintained.” The TUC warns that from January 2021, the government can “amend or repeal existing EU-derived employment law.”
TUC news release and report, The TUC’s ten-point plan to protect jobs, rights and public services after Brexit, 30 December 2020.

Concerns raised over Brexit labour protections

The Brexit deal agreed between the UK and the EU on 24 December is better than nothing, but not by much, the TUC has said.  Commenting on the UK-EU trade deal, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This deal is better than nothing, but not by much. It won’t protect jobs and puts hard-won workers’ rights on the line. As we come out of the pandemic, we’re facing a crunch point for jobs and living standards. This deal is on the prime minister’s head – it’s his responsibility to make sure working families don’t end up worse off.” The deal announced on 24 December by the prime minister forced the UK to accept an independent dispute resolution process if labour, consumer and environmental protections are diluted, to prevent unfair competition. However, there are concerns the system is not adequate. “The protections it offers on labour and environmental standards are surprisingly weak and appear to leave considerable scope for a UK government to weaken EU-derived protections,” warned Marley Morris, IPPR associate director for immigration, trade and EU relations. He said as a result “this leaves protections for workers, climate and the environment at serious risk of being eroded.” Commenting on the EU-UK deal Luca Visentini, general secretary of the Europe-wide trade union confederation ETUC, said: “There is no form of Brexit that will improve the lives of working people.”
TUC news release. ETUC news release. IPPR news release and report, The Brexit EU-UK trade deal: A first analysis, 27 December 2020. Yahoo Finance.

Brexit deal should lead to ‘levelling up’ on rights

The UK government must commit to protecting and improving jobs and rights and building back better in UK, the GMB has said. The union said it will be holding the government to its promises of increasing UK workers’ rights and standards, with the EU employment standards as the ‘global benchmark’. It said it wants ministers to use all the tools in the box - public procurement, trade policy, state aid and other government support measures - to protect and promote good and stable jobs across the UK to navigate the acute economic challenges ahead. Warren Kenny, acting GMB general secretary, said: “The prime minister has got his deal, the buck stops with Number 10 now. He needs to deliver on the promises he made. For too long, jester Johnson has been playing to the political gallery over our departure from the EU, it is now time for him to address the economic and jobs reality of this decision. He must give workers and business leaders the clarity and support they have lacked for the past five years.” The GMB leader added: “If the government is serious about building back better, then they need to build back better in the UK. That means levelling up on workers’ rights. There can be no more excuses, no more hiding behind the EU for government inaction. In everything from public and health services to renewables and energy infrastructure, shipbuilding and steel, we demand ministers to follow through on their promises. Workers across the UK want and deserve better.”
GMB news release.

Brexit deal is not job done

Unite has said the eleventh hour Brexit deal will be a relief to UK manufacturing workers, but does not amount to ‘job done’. Steve Turner, Unite's assistant general secretary for manufacturing said: “Relieved as we are and thin as the deal may be, we consider the deal to be the floor and certainly not the ceiling of our future trading relationship.” He added: “The government must not be allowed to put its feet up and claim job done.  Far from it. The new year will bring a need to roll up our sleeves in the national interest and build the broadest possible alliance to safeguard and advance the long-term interests of our manufacturing heartlands. A strong, confident future for UK manufacturing sector levels up the economy, providing secure, well paid, skilled jobs, and its high value exports help fund our public services.” He concluded: “We are a proud, innovative, manufacturing nation and we want to stay that way. Unite will certainly continue to lead the fight for every job, apprenticeship, investment and opportunity as we lead the world in the race to green and clean our towns, cities and skies.” In a letter to Labour MPs ahead of the 30 December House of Commons vote on the deal, Turner stated: “Unite regards Boris Johnson’s deal as a floor and not a ceiling in both our relationship with this significant market but also the absolute base from which domestic government-led improvements and investment must be forthcoming.”
Unite news release and Unite letter to Labour MPs.

STUC sees big Brexit battles ahead

Avoiding a ‘no deal’ Brexit does not mean that workers’ rights are protected, Scottish national union body STUC has warned. STUC general secretary Roz Foyer said: “There will no doubt be some relief that the UK government, at the last turn, has made sufficient concessions to avoid a disastrous No Deal Brexit, however we still see major economic challenges in the period ahead.” Commenting after the Brexit deal was concluded on 24 December, she added “what we do know is that the UK government now has increased autonomy on the future of workers’ rights. It has also grabbed additional powers through the Internal Market Bill and is contemplating a Trade Bill with the US which could see reduced standards across a range of policy areas.” The STUC leader warned: “This is a right-wing Tory government which is no friend of working people. Many within its ranks will seek to limit workplace rights in the period ahead. But that is a battle we are ready for. The past nine months has shown just how important it is to have workplace protections in place and to have trade union freedom. These are rights and freedoms will fight for and campaign to extend.”
STUC news release.

Urgent appeal to UN about threats to BBC journalists

An urgent appeal has been filed with three United Nations (UN) experts on behalf of all BBC Persian Service staff. The 18 December appeal details ‘serious and credible death threats’ made to BBC Persian Service journalists in recent months, and further harassment of both BBC Persian Service staff and their families, including freezing of journalists’ assets and online attacks. It also highlights that Iran has taken extra-territorial action – including within Europe – against individuals considered to be critical of the Iranian authorities. The appeal has been filed with the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, and the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. Barristers Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jennifer Robinson of Doughty Street Chambers, who act for the BBC World Service in respect of the threats and harassment against BBC Persian Service staff, said: “We call on the international community to condemn these threats and actions in the strongest terms, and to take robust action to ensure that BBC Persian journalists can report without fear.” Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the UK journalists’ union NUJ, said: “Journalism is not a crime. The Iranian government must stop targeting journalists and their families. The authorities will never be effective in their attempts to stop quality journalism or reporting in the public interest.” The union said it would continue, alongside the BBC and Doughty Street Chambers, “to engage with the international community and urge the Iranian authorities to cease all action against BBC Persian Service staff and their families.”
NUJ news release. Doughty Street Chambers news release.

RMT calls for probe into bus and coach fires

A rising trend of bus and coach fires must be “thoroughly investigated”, transport union RMT has demanded. The call came after figures obtained by The Scotsman showed they increased for three consecutive years. There have been more than 200 incidents north of the Border since 2015, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service statistics revealed. They included a coach going up in flames while transporting school children in Livingston in 2019. RMT has warned that the figures obtained in Scotland are mirrored by a spate of fires on buses across the south west of England. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “These figures show a concerning increase in the number of bus fires in Scotland recorded in recent years. We believe it is important this trend is thoroughly investigated and action taken to tackle the causes of bus fires.” He added: “RMT has longstanding concerns about the risks to bus workers and passengers of vehicle fires. There should be a consistent, industry-wide approach to bus safety which ensures all operators are complying with their health and safety duties, there is a comprehensive evacuation procedure that is communicated to bus workers and passengers, operators ensure bus drivers can directly and easily contact emergency services in the event of an incident, all vehicles are regularly maintained and inspected, and the potential for fires is thoroughly risk assessed.”

RMT news release. The Scotsman.

Steep rise in payouts for Scottish teachers

Details of personal injury compensation payouts to members of the teaching union EIS have been revealed, with the 2020 total more than double that for 2019. The union said the rise came in a year the coronavirus pandemic has left teachers feeling “particularly vulnerable” in the workplace. Almost £700,000 in compensation was secured for EIS members injured at work in 2020, up from the 2019 figure of just over £290,000. While the highest settlement of £200,000 was to a teacher who suffered serious injuries in an attack by a pupil, three of the highest awards – one of £90,000 and two of £60,000 – were for stress-related ill-health. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “It is never a welcome development to report on an increase in compensation payments received by our members. Whilst the sums involved do represent success for the EIS in pursuing appropriate compensation for injuries suffered at work, our clear preference would be to see these types of injuries eliminated entirely from our schools, colleges and universities.” He added: “Many teaching professionals have felt particularly vulnerable in their places of work over the past year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. All employers have a duty of care to provide a safe working environment for their employees in order to protect both their physical and mental health. Working in buildings that many teachers do not believe are Covid-secure, without sufficient safety mitigations in place, has had significant implications for the physical and mental wellbeing of many of our members.”
EIS news release. TES.


Global: Sixty journalists were killed in 2020

The year 2020 will go down in history as the year of an unprecedented global pandemic crisis, but also as the year of the resurgence of murders of journalists and media staff around the world, the sector’s global union IFJ has said. With 60 murders in 2020, IFJ warns the ‘macabre’ statistics are on the rise again compared to 2019, when 49 were killed. It adds organised criminal cartels, extremists’ insurgencies and sectarian violence continue to strike terror among journalists, scores of who have paid the ultimate price for independent reporting in the four corners of the globe. “The trends in our publications over the last 30 years, but also in 2020, make it clear to all that there is no room for complacency. Instead, they are an urgent call to redouble our efforts to mobilise for greater protection of journalists and commitment to the safe practice of journalism”, said IFJ general secretary Anthony Bellanger. As of 31 December 2020, the IFJ lists Asia Pacific as the most dangerous region with 27 killings, followed by Latin America with 17 murders. The Middle East and Arab World posted eight killings, followed by Africa with six and Europe with two deaths. In its 2020 ranking per country, Mexico tops the list for the fourth time in five years with 14 killings, followed by India (8), Afghanistan (7), Pakistan (7), Philippines (4), Syria (4) while Iraq and Nigeria recorded 3 killings each. There were also two killings in Somalia. One journalist was killed in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Colombia, Honduras, Paraguay, Russian, Sweden and Yemen.
IFJ news release.

Japan: Government must compensate site asbestos victims

Japan's Supreme Court has ordered the government to pay more than 22 million dollars (£16.2m) in compensation to former construction workers who developed lung diseases caused by asbestos. The ruling is the first holding the government responsible in lawsuits filed by former construction workers and bereaved families. The plaintiffs say former workers developed lung cancer and other illnesses after inhaling asbestos at construction sites. They have demanded that the state and manufacturers of the materials pay damages. The award to a group of about 350 workers was first made by a court two years go. The Supreme Court rejected the government's appeal in December. The ruling also acknowledged the government's responsibility for health problems developed by self-employed construction workers, but dismissed a call for the compensation to be increased. An appeal by the former construction workers regarding a Tokyo High Court ruling that asbestos product manufacturers were not liable will be heard on 25 February.

Asahi Shimbun. NHK World.

USA: Trump’s air safety pick silenced safety whistleblower

Donald Trump’s pick to head the agency responsible for airline safety had, when an airline boss, used a psychological evaluation to ground and intimidate a pilot who raised safety concerns, an official investigation has found. The Labor Department ruling determined that before becoming head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Steve Dickson participated in efforts by Delta Air Lines management to use the evaluation to retaliate against the pilot. The decision by a department administrative law judge concluded that Dickson, as Delta’s senior vice president of flight operations, knew about and approved punitive moves against co-pilot Karlene Petitt, who was deemed unfit to fly in December 2016 after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The diagnosis eventually was reversed and she resumed flying. The Labor Department ruling supported the veteran pilot’s claims that she was singled out for special scrutiny to try to keep her quiet about safety issues. Scott Morris, the judge who presided over the long-running litigation, determined that Delta punished and discriminated against a federally protected whistleblower without any evidence indicating her “performance as a pilot was deficient in any way.” According to the decision, “not a single witness questioned her flying acumen.” After making a presentation of her safety concerns to the senior Delta management, Petitt was instructed to attend an evaluation by psychiatrist Dr David Altman, who was paid $73,000 for the assessment. He found Petitt, who had no previous history of mental issues, had bipolar disorder, a diagnosis that would permanently ground her. Petitt sought a second opinion at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, which totally debunked Altman’s diagnosis. The independent medical report noted “the evidence does not support presence of a psychiatric diagnosis but does support an organizational/corporate effort to remove this pilot from the rolls.” Altman, who had been involved in other controversial psychiatric assessments of Delta pilots, subsequently surrendered his licence to practice medicine.
Wall Street Journal. Pulling Wings from Butterflies. Christine Negroni website and related story.

USA: President-elect Biden signals work safety action

US president-elect Joe Biden has promised to clamp down on poor workplace safety practices and to consider a Covid-19 emergency standard. In a 29 December 2020 statement on the 50th anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Act being signed into law, he said the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the Department of Labor “has been prevented from using its full range of tools to protect workers from Covid-19. The number of OSHA inspectors is at its lowest level since 1975, while millions of essential workers are working to keep the country functioning through the pandemic.” In a statement, he indicated his administration “will ask OSHA to determine whether to establish an emergency temporary standard to keep workers safe from Covid-19. I will direct OSHA to enforce worker safety requirements, target the worst violators, and work to increase the number of OSHA inspectors to get the job done. And, I will direct OSHA and other relevant agencies to develop comprehensive strategies for addressing the most dangerous hazards workers encounter in the workplace.” He concluded: “As President I will work every day to uphold the mission of OSHA established fifty years ago and protect the safety and well-being of American workers.”
Statement by President-elect Joe Biden.


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