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



Outdated safety rules leave essential workers at risk

The government must urgently update workplace safety rules to protect essential workers and those who can’t work from home from Covid-19, the TUC has said. The union body says that since the rules were published in March 2020, the scientific understanding of how the virus spreads has changed. And the UK is now battling a strain that is far more easily transmitted, including aerosol transmission. Yet the rules have not been fully updated – and the TUC says that this is putting workers at risk. This means current protective measures recommended for many, particularly public-facing workers, are inadequate. And new strains of the virus emerging from England and South Africa are significantly more transmissible than the initial strain of Covid-19, the TUC notes. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “With new strains of coronavirus spreading like wildfire, workplace safety rules must catch up… Airborne transmission is the biggest danger. But little has been done to update safety rules in response. Too many workers are still in indoor spaces without adequate ventilation, or proper social distancing from other staff or customers.” She added: “The government must update the rules on ventilation, masks, limits on numbers and social distancing in workplaces. Nobody should be put at unnecessary risk because safety policy is behind the science, and unfit to cope with new Covid-19 strains. Employers must redo their risk assessments now, and make sure all workers and customers are following the rules to keep everyone safe. And ministers should take a stronger lead on ensuring employers do the right thing to protect workers and control the virus.” Announcing a new national lockdown on 4 January, prime minister Boris Johnson said workers should only go to work, or provide voluntary or charitable services, if they cannot reasonably do so from home.
TUC news release. Prime minister’s 4 January announcement of a new national lockdown for England. Personnel Today.

Call for new variant risk assessment reviews

UNISON is urging employers to review their workplace risk assessments and safety measures in light of the increase in the more infectious variant of Covid-19. The union has written to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to underline the increased risks to staff, urging the regulator to update its advice. UNISON warns disabled, Black and other vulnerable workers with underlying health conditions who are still in the workplace could be at particular risk of the new variant. In the letter to the HSE, assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Despite some of the measures recently announced by the government, it remains the case that many of our members working in key public services will be required to attend their workplaces and work with clients, potentially putting themselves at risk of infection.” She added: “I am sure you will appreciate this has led to growing and understandable anxiety among our members, regarding their own safety and that of their friends, family and the public they serve. This is particularly the case among disabled, Black, older, and those workers with underlying health conditions, who are at greatest risk of dying from the disease or having serious life changing outcomes.” The UNISON officer concluded: “It is essential that these workers know that everything that is reasonably practicable is being done to keep them safe. Employers should be reviewing their risk assessments and the safety measures required.” UNISON said HSE should update its guidance to employers to ensure that they are aware of the need to review their risk assessments and the safety measures they have in place. It also called on the regulator to increase spot checks and enforcement activity and work with the governments of England, Scotland and Wales and the relevant bodies to improve public health guidance for employers across all sectors.
UNISON news release.

Doctors call for action as Covid hits NHS workforce

The number of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who are falling ill with Covid-19 has reached crisis levels and is seriously hampering the fight against the rapidly escalating pandemic, the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned. The problem of staff absence, because of illness or the need to self-isolate when family members test positive, is also beginning to hamper the vaccination programme – just as the government throws maximum resources into efforts to vaccinate 15 million high priority people by the middle of February. In a letter to its members, BMA chair Chaand Nagpaul noted: “There are over 46,000 hospital staff off sick with Covid-19… heaping additional pressure on an already overstretched workforce struggling to manage even current critical care demand.” Stressing the need for doctors and other health workers to be vaccinated as soon as possible, Dr Nagpaul added: “It is only if the NHS workforce is kept fit and well that we will be able to meet the unprecedented surge in demand that the coming weeks and months will bring as well as delivering the vaccine programme that remains our only hope to end this dreadful pandemic.” Workers in transport, education and retail unions have called for essential workers in these sectors to be added to the priority list for vaccinations. Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner this week called on employers to give staff paid time off to get the vaccine. She wrote this week to the “big five” business groups to request that they ease the process of workers getting the jab. The letter was sent to the Confederation of Business Industry, the British Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Directors and MakeUK.
BMA news release. NASUWT news release. Usdaw news release. Unite news release. TSSA news release. Labour Party news release. The Guardian. Morning Star.

Health and social care workers must have full PPE

The union GMB has written to the UK health secretary to demand all NHS and social care workers are given access to full PPE ‘to prevent more unnecessary deaths.’ In the letter to Matt Hancock, the union says in order to save lives, workers must be provided with full coverage of skin, hair and clothing, including head covers, goggles, the more protective FFP3 respirators, coveralls or long-sleeved gowns, shoe coverings, and medical grade gloves. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 618 health and social care workers' deaths in England and Wales were linked to Covid-19 up to 30 June 2020, the latest date for which figures are available. The GMB said this the second time it has written to the health secretary making this demand on behalf of members. GMB national officer Rachel Harrison said: “Our health and social care services are on the point of collapse due to Covid-related absence and immense pressure on the already creaking system. They are putting their lives at risk to try and save ours – the least we can do is make sure they are properly protected while they do it.” She added: “Ministers must step in and make sure our health and social care workers have what they need to keep us safe, or thousands of people will die unnecessarily."
GMB news release.

Occ docs call for official review of health worker protection

The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) is calling for Public Health England (PHE), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and devolved administrations to review risk assessments for all health and social care workers where occupational exposure is possible. It says this risk assessment should consider the current PPE guidelines in conjunction with adequate ventilation and other occupational health controls to test if they need to be further strengthened. SOM said it fully supports and endorses the open letter signed by over 1,000 clinicians warning of the urgent need for improved PPE and ventilation, in the context of wider control measures and the hierarchy of control. SOM said the move was necessary after research highlighted how it is possible for the virus to be increasingly carried in what are called aerosols - drifting and accumulating in the air. It added research had established that health care workers relative to non-essential workers have a 7-fold increased risk of severe Covid-19 or death (Risks 977) with “a need for revised national and organisational policies and practices that protect and support workers with an elevated risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection.” SOM said it has approached PHE, HSE and the devolved administrations to ask whether existing risk assessment and controls are adequate.
SOM news release. Open letter signed by over 1,000 clinicians, 10 January 2020.
Venting - Coronavirus risks are mostly up in the air, safety reps’ factsheet, Hazards, number 152, December 2020.

Trade unionists ‘can help with the country’s vaccine effort’

A 'Let’s vaccinate Britain' campaign to sign up thousands of volunteers has been launched by the Labour Party and the TUC, as NHS England seeks to identify 50,000 stewards to help roll out the vaccine. The organisations say the sooner the vaccine is rolled out, the sooner we can begin to recover. “That’s why we are calling on trade unionists to get involved in the vaccine roll out. Every effort made can make a difference,” they note. “Our brilliant NHS health professionals are giving the vaccinations. But they need all of us to support them to get everyone vaccinated.” The organisations are urging union members to sign up locally to NHS volunteer campaigns and to speak to friends, neighbours and relatives about the importance of getting the vaccine. It is also suggesting people urge “your faith leaders and local community champions to promote vaccination. Start a campaign with your union branch to get your employer to give workers paid time off to get vaccinated. Check on neighbours and friends to ensure they are safe over the coming months.” The TUC and Labour Party call concludes: “Whenever this country has faced its toughest challenges, our activists have always stepped up. The time has come again for the millions of trade unionists to rise to the challenge and work together in this national effort. So today we are asking you to register your details to show that you want to get involved and support the NHS and support each other.”
TUC news release. Labour Party news release. NHS England news release. Labourlist.
Sign up to be a NHS volunteer.

Symptom-free workers to get Covid tests

Workers who cannot work from home and without coronavirus symptoms are to be targeted with regular rapid testing for the virus. The government is expanding its community testing scheme across the whole country. And local authorities “will be encouraged to target testing to people who cannot work from home during lockdown.” Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “Rapid, regular testing is led by local authorities who design programmes based on their in-depth knowledge of the local populations, so testing can have the greatest impact. We are now expanding this offer to every local authority across the country, and asking testing to be targeted on workers who cannot work from home during this national lockdown, while asking employers to work with us to scale up workforce testing.” He added: “Lateral flow tests have already been hugely successful in finding positive cases quickly – and every positive case found is helping to stop the spread – so I encourage employers and workers to take this offer up. We must all do all we can to stop the spread of Covid, right now.” Matthew Fell, CBI UK chief policy director, said: “Rapid mass testing is a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to getting on top of the virus. The health and safety of staff is paramount for employers, which is why they will be right behind this initiative. This expansion of testing will help more critical workers and those unable to work from home to operate safely, while also catching new cases more swiftly. Ramping up asymptomatic testing to all workplaces will require hand-in-glove partnership between health services, local authorities and businesses in each and every community.”

Department for Health and Social Care news release. CBI news release. Construction Enquirer. The Observer.
Related: Foreign Policy article on the advantages of rapid antigen testing.

Teacher Covid rates up to 333 per cent above expected

Covid rates among school staff in some areas are as much as four times the corresponding local authority average, union research had discovered. Figures for three councils obtained by the NASUWT teachers' union show that the staff coronavirus infections are far outstripping local rates, casting doubt on the government's repeated assertion that teachers are at no greater risk than other workers. The data supplied to TES by the NASUWT gives the average Covid prevalence rates (per 100,000 over seven days) for school staff compared with the local authority as a whole, for a period during the autumn term. In Leeds, the rate for secondary school staff was more than four times that of the general population or 333 per cent higher. The NASUWT data show that the prevalence rate was, on average, 1089.5 for primary staff and 1750.5 for secondary staff, compared with 404.3 for the local authority as a whole. This average was taken for a period spanning from the week ending 19 October to the week ending 20 November. In Birmingham, the rate among school staff was more than three times higher than the local average. In Greenwich, London, the prevalence rate was also significantly higher for school staff – at, on average, 264 for staff across primary and secondary schools, compared with 98 for the local authority as a whole. The three councils were the only ones to provide the school staff data necessary to calculate prevalence rates out of 28 approached by the union. Patrick Roach, NASUWT general secretary, said the government's assertions that teachers are not at higher risk were “highly questionable” on the basis of the new data.

Big rise in pupil infections confirms unions were right

The Covid-19 infection rate among secondary school age children increased massively over the autumn term, according to data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The ONS estimates put the infection rate among Years 7 to 11 on 2 January at 2,950 per 100,000 — 74 times the rate on 1 September and the biggest increase in any age bracket. Commenting on the latest ONS Coronavirus Infection Survey, Dr Mary Bousted, NEU joint general secretary, said: “It is clear from these results that the National Education Union was right to stand up for safety in schools, a massive public health issue on which this government has been consistently behind the curve. The government can't seem to decide whether schools are safe or unsafe. Let this data end their confusion. Schools are clearly driving infection amongst children, and then onto the wider community.” She added: “Since the beginning of this pandemic the NEU's overriding concern has been to make schools as safe as possible to protect communities. The fact that the government has consistently downplayed the risk of large groups gathering in schools without social distancing in poorly ventilated buildings and with minimal mask wearing has undoubtedly contributed to the dire situation the country is currently in.” She added: “If the government is serious about having more children at school during this lockdown it should reduce bubbles and groups sizes to minimise transmission risks. However, with current staff already fully engaged in providing remote learning to the children at home, reducing bubble sizes will require more staff. The government should demonstrate its commitment to our young people by mobilising supply staff, many of them currently furloughed or even without pay, for this task.” Schools in England opened for one day on 4 January (Risks 979), before another Boris Johnson u-turn saw him instigate the home schooling recommendation demanded by unions.
NEU news release. ONS Coronavirus Infection Survey. Morning Star. The Guardian.

Unions vindicated as schools shut once more

Teaching union NEU, speaking after Boris Johnson’s school reopening in England lasted just one day, has said the evidence clearly pointed to the necessity for school closures to happen weeks ago (Risks 979). Commenting on the 4 January announcement of new national restrictions which included the closure of schools and colleges except to the children of key workers and vulnerable children, NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “Government must take responsibility for neglecting schools and colleges – bringing back pupils and staff into crowded buildings, with no social distancing, poor ventilation and no PPE – which has resulted in primary and secondary pupils being the two most infected age groups. Their ability, with the increased transmissibility of the new strains of the virus, to transmit Covid-19 to their households and into their communities, and to adults in schools – teachers, support staff and leaders – has caused such fear in education professionals. Government needs now to exercise its duty of care, which has been sorely lacking, to those who have worked so tirelessly and heroically, to take care of the nation’s youth.” The NEU leader added: “No one wanted schools and colleges to be shut again but the evidence clearly pointed to the necessity for this to happen weeks ago. Why Boris Johnson allowed such confusion and chaos to build up around school openings before making this belated, blindingly obvious decision is beyond belief. Government must take responsibility for this closure because it has allowed Covid-19 to become, again, out of control.”
NEU news release. NEU’s Education Recovery Plan, 10 June 2020.

Union concerns at numbers of pupils in school

Education unions NEU and UNISON have written to education secretary Gavin Williamson raising concerns about the effect a significant extension to the number of pupils allowed back into school will have on coronavirus transmission rates. The unions say they have been continually left in the dark about scientific evidence driving the decision-making on school openings, despite the obvious risks to school staff, pupils, their families, and the wider community. The Department for Education (DfE) has expanded the numbers of pupils classed as vulnerable, to include those who have difficulties with learning online from home. In their letter, the NEU and UNISON say they must be given the data that informed these decisions and be involved in key discussions involving the safety of staff. UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “Staff and the wider community need to be sure that increasing the numbers through school doors isn’t going to drive up infection rates. The majority being asked to go into schools will be support staff, many of whom are in higher risk groups.” He added: “Unions need to see the science behind government decisions so anxious school staff are assured this is based on safety rather than politics. The government mustn’t create further risks for people living in the poorest areas.” NEU joint general secretary Mary Bousted said: “The unions have led the way on protecting schools. The government appears to have been engaged in the exact opposite. We stand by members who asserted their rights to safety and will continue to do so where it is necessary.”
UNISON news release.

Unions call for closure of nursery schools

Education unions have criticised a UK government insistence that nursery schools in England are safe and should stay open, with vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi saying they “present very little risk” and are Covid-safe. UNISON called for nurseries to close to all but vulnerable children and those of key workers. It added nursery staff should be a priority for vaccination and mass testing, but said nurseries should be shut along with schools across the UK. The union's head of education Jon Richards said: “Keeping nurseries and other pre-schools open puts staff and communities at risk. Social distancing is impossible with young children and the government has yet to publish the scientific evidence to justify nurseries being treated differently to schools.” The union GMB said the government should close nurseries and pre-schools nationwide – rather than leaving it to local authorities to make the call. GMB national officer Stuart Fegan said: “There is no scientific evidence to support the continued opening of nurseries. It is purely a political decision, made by ministers who are failing to take their responsibility to staff, families and the wider community seriously enough. They’ve left nursery staff, childminders and nannies worrying for their safety and sown fear and confusion among parents.” He added: “It’s time for the government to step in and correct this dangerous mistake by closing all nursery and pre-school provision to all but key workers and vulnerable children, in line with school closures.”
UNISON news release. GMB news release. BBC News Online.

EIS welcomes Scotland schools closure

Scottish teaching union EIS has expressed its support for the decision to keep schools on a remote learning platform for at least the month of January, as part of the lockdown announced by the Scottish government. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said “surge in infection levels, driven by the new variant, will have compounded those concerns especially as it seems clear that children can be as easily infected as anyone by the new strain, with subsequent transmission also occurring. Given that social distancing amongst pupils is physically impossible in crowded classrooms, moving to remote learning is the correct decision, therefore, if we are to successfully drive down community infection levels. Suppressing the virus is key to school buildings safely reopening.” He added: “Whilst the education system is better prepared to deliver education remotely than during the first lockdown, challenges remain and we need to ensure that all pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can access learning on an equitable basis.” The EIS leader concluded: “We have raised with the Scottish government the question of prioritising vaccination of school staff as a mechanism to allow school buildings to reopen for all pupils.”
EIS news release.

UCU hails shift to online learning as a victory

UCU said it was a victory for the union that the government had finally listened to it after months of campaigning and moved learning online in colleges and universities. But the union warned the government's belated decision on 4 January still falls far short of what is required for the duration of this pandemic. UCU said the government must now commit to keeping the majority of teaching online for the entire term to give staff and students a stable mode of delivery after they have had to deal with constant disruption and uncertainty since March. UCU was responding to the latest lockdown measures announced by prime minister Boris Johnson. The measures include keeping the majority of learning at colleges and universities online until mid-February. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “It is a victory for UCU that the government has finally listened to our demand for teaching to move online at universities and colleges where possible. However, the decision has been made so late and in such a chaotic manner that we are now in the midst of the disaster we warned against.” She added: “Had we been listened to sooner the government may well have been able to get a grip on this crisis, averted needless illness and death, and avoided unnecessary disruption to education.”
UCU news release.

Keeping parliament open puts staff and democracy at risk

The more MPs physically attend parliamentary debates the greater the risk to them and to staff, civil service union Prospect has said. Despite the worsening health situation in London and the rest of the country the UK government is continuing to insist MPs be physically present for Westminster Hall debates and that voting not be done remotely. The union said some progress has been made to protect staff and the Speaker has instructed MPs to wear a mask, even in the chamber, except when speaking. But it said more does need to be done. Garry Graham, Prospect deputy general secretary, said: “The technology exists to allow MPs to take part in debates online and to vote remotely, yet the government, for reasons that are completely incomprehensible, is refusing to use it.” He added: “The more MPs that come in for debates, the more staff are required and the greater the threat to everyone. The greatest threat to the continued functioning of our democracy is not online debates, it is the real risk of an outbreak in Westminster that would put politicians and staff at risk. The government’s stubborn refusal to act is making this more, not less, likely.”
Prospect news release.

Unions want action to protect transport workers

Transport unions in London have called for action after Transport for London (TfL) revealed at least 57 London transport workers have died during the coronavirus pandemic. The deaths include 42 staff who work on London's buses, eight Tube and rail workers, three staff from the TfL head office, and four from partner organisations. TfL also said 3,646 members of its staff were absent due to sickness, self-isolation and shielding – 10 per cent of the workforce. RMT has written to both the Mayor of London and London Underground calling for an urgent upscaling of safety measures to protect staff. The union’s general secretary Mick Cash said: “With three deaths in recent days of TfL workers amidst the rise of the new Covid variant immediate steps need to be taken now.” He added: “The union will be backing staff who are vulnerable and if they need to withdraw to the safety of their home then we will support them. The only way we can get through the pandemic to the other side of a vaccinated and safe London is if transport staff are adequately protected. While we do not wish to enter into a dispute situation in this matter, we rule nothing out if our demands are not met, as we believe the employer and those responsible for TfL should take the necessary steps to protect the health and safety of its workers and the wider community.” TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “With Covid case numbers rising sharply there is a race to get people vaccinated. It is absolutely right that vulnerable groups and healthcare and care workers are first in line for vaccination. After that, we want to see essential transport staff getting the lifesaving vaccinations.” He added: “We must vaccinate transport workers as the next priority and I’m calling on transport ministers in England, Scotland and Wales to back this important step to protect our transport networks.” The union said at least 13 rail workers have also died from the virus.
RMT news release and renewed Covid guidance. TSSA news release and renewed Covid guidance. BBC News Online. Morning Star. Walthamstow Guardian.

RMT in new Covid dispute on Cross Country trains

Rail union RMT has declared a dispute on Cross Country trains over what is believes is the failure of the company to revise its procedures and risk assessments in light of the emergence of the new Covid variant. The union said Cross Country’s approach is that little has changed and that ‘revenue duties’ – fare collection - should continue in conjunction with previous risk assessments, which the union says are ‘wholly inadequate’ in the face of the new highly virulent Covid strain that has triggered the current lockdown. RMT has requested a cessation of revenue duties pending a review and possible amendments to risk assessments, but says this has been flatly rejected by Cross Country. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT has made it clear that we will not tolerate train operators playing fast and loose with staff and passenger safety in light of the emergence if the new Covid variant and we are deadly serious. We expect Cross Country to withdraw their demand that revenue staff work in a clearly unsafe fashion and we will take whatever action is required to protect our members.”
RMT news release.

Rail firm slammed for new variant complacency

Rail union RMT has written to management on East Midlands Railway (ERM) demanding that they “stop ignoring the science, start taking the threat to lives posed by the new variant of Covid-19 seriously and take immediate action to review and rewrite risk assessments to reflect the current, dire situation.” The union is also issuing fresh advice to its members to ‘safe stop’ should they be asked to work in conditions they regard as being unsafe. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “It is scandalous that EMR appear to be the only people in the country who don't recognise the increased threat to life of the new COVID variant and are planning to carry on like nothing has changed. RMT will not tolerate that cavalier approach to both staff and passengers alike.” He added: “In a survey our members have made it clear that they are deeply concerned and we are collecting evidence of the failed and botched ‘deep clean’ the company have promised on their trains.” The RMT leader said the union expected “immediate and decisive action to address our concerns.”
RMT news release.
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.

London bus drivers ‘in eye of coronavirus storm’

London bus drivers are ‘once again in eye of coronavirus storm’ so need vaccine and protection priority, Unite has warned. Commenting on Transport for London (TfL) figures showing 42 bus drivers have died from Covid-19, Unite lead officer for buses in London John Murphy said: “London’s bus drivers, who are truly essential frontline workers, paid a tragically high price during the beginning of the pandemic. These disturbing figures show that once again, bus drivers and other transport workers are in the eye of the storm as they keep London moving.” He added: “Unite has overseen improvements in safety procedures since the virus’ first peak last year and our health and safety reps are continuing to monitor workplaces and make sure measures are implemented and improved upon. More needs to be done by both government and employers, however, to protect drivers and other transport workers. This includes the provision of higher quality PPE, increased testing and the appropriate prioritisation of frontline workers, such as bus drivers, in receiving the vaccine.” The Unite officer concluded: “Members of the public have their part to play to keep communities and transport workers safe as well, by wearing masks on buses and trains at all times and keeping journeys down to an absolute minimum.”
Unite news release.

Stena Line dispute over pandemic sick pay

Ferries union RMT has confirmed it is in dispute with Stena Line over the company’s failure to address seafarers’ and dockers’ long standing concerns over a failure to provide adequate sick pay. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT members on Stena Line ferries and ports are among the key workers who will once again be straining every sinew to keep our maritime supply lines running as the resurgent coronavirus threatens our National Health Service, schools and jobs.” He added: “At the start of March 2020 lockdown Stena Line cut the sick pay scheme agreed with unions and our members are tired of Stena’s excuses which continue to put crews, dockers and customer service staff in an unacceptable position. In December there was an outbreak of Covid-19 amongst crew on the Stena Edda between Birkenhead and Belfast, yet the company continues to deny our members’ demands over sick pay.” The RMT leader said: “RMT remains available for talks but we are clear that our members should no longer be forced to choose between poverty or going to work when they might have coronavirus.”
RMT news release.

Big supermarkets to ban maskless shoppers

Major supermarket chains this week said they would bar customers who refuse to wear face coverings amid rising coronavirus infections. Morrisons become the first to say customers who refuse to don a face mask offered by staff will not be allowed inside, unless they are medically exempt. The announcement came amid concerns that social distancing and masks guidance is not being adhered to in supermarkets. Morrisons’ chief executive, David Potts, said: “Those who are offered a face covering and decline to wear one won't be allowed to shop at Morrisons unless they are medically exempt. Our store colleagues are working hard to feed you and your family, please be kind.” Sainsburys subsequently announced it too would enforce mask use in it stores, followed quickly by Tesco, Asda and Waitrose. John Lewis suspended its click and collect service to address Covid-19 risks. The moves came days after shopworkers’ union Usdaw repeated its call for firms to apply more stringent measures.
Usdaw news release. BBC News Online and update. The Guardian and related story.

Two workers die of Covid at Tesco supermarket

A man and woman who worked at a Covid-hit Greenock store in Inverclyde in Scotland have died of the infection within days of each other. Colleagues are said to have been left “devastated” by the loss of the popular team members. The news came days after it was reported that a number of employees at the store and its neighbouring Port Glasgow branch were self-isolating, with Tesco chiefs confirming that staff had been impacted due to the virus. The supermarket chain confirmed the deaths of the two employees at its Greenock branch. A spokesperson said: “Our thoughts are with their families and we are supporting our store colleagues at this difficult time.” Tesco would not comment on the number of Covid-19 cases identified at the store but said the safety of colleagues, customers and suppliers was a priority. It said all government guidance was being followed, including track and trace requirements, and extensive measures were in place in stores to protect shoppers.
Daily Record. BBC News Online.

Shopworkers call for full lockdown measures in stores

Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw has made an urgent call on supermarkets and food retailers to immediately revert to the stringent safety measures in stores that applied during the first lockdown. The union has been inundated with complaints from members deeply concerned about their safety as customers blatantly flout the rules. Paddy Lillis, the union’s general secretary, said: “Retail staff are working with the public every day and not only suffer increased abuse, but are deeply worried about catching Covid-19. The strict safety measures that we agreed with employers in the first lockdown must now be immediately reinstated in every workplace to ensure that staff are working in the safest conditions possible. Where safety measures are agreed, retailers need to make sure that they are being followed consistently, in every store.” He added: “We are also very concerned by reports that too many customers are not following necessary safety measures like social distancing, wearing a face covering and only shopping for essential items. Usdaw is urging the shopping public to strictly follow the rules to help make shops safer and limit the spread of Covid-19.” The Usdaw leader concluded: “Many retail workers are at a greater risk of catching the virus and bringing it home to their families. Supermarket workers and delivery drivers have worked throughout the pandemic to keep the country supplied with essentials. These key workers must be valued, respected and protected.”
Usdaw news release.

Firms in Wales ignoring risk assessment duties

Just under a quarter of employers in Wales have carried out the legally required Covid risk assessments in consultation with staff, new research by the Wales TUC has revealed. Welsh government guidance states clearly that employers “must carry out an appropriate Covid-19 risk assessment, just as you would for other health and safety related hazards. This risk assessment must be done in consultation with the recognised trade union or, if there isn’t one, a representative chosen by workers.” However the union body’s findings show that fewer than one in four bosses are complying with the guidance in full. Wales TUC general secretary Shavanah Taj said: “These findings are shocking and deeply worrying. It is now clear that the majority of employers in Wales don’t appear to be complying with even the basic steps of managing the Covid risk in the workplace, with those in lower-paid jobs less likely to be protected. This adds to the ongoing concerns we’ve had for particular groups of workers who cannot do their jobs from home, like those working in distribution centres and food processing.” The Wales TUC is also calling for Welsh government guidance to be reviewed and strengthened in response to high virus rates and the new, more contagious strain. Shavanah Taj said: “The new strain means we have to consider where action needs to go further – this means clear rules about ventilation in the workplace, where face coverings should be worn, the quality of PPE, and the number of people permitted to be in a particular space and for how long. It also means we need a far stronger message to employers that they have a duty to facilitate home working, as no one should still be going out to work if it’s possible to work from home.”
Wales TUC news release. Welsh government guidance.


Tory cleaning cuts left NHS ‘woefully under-prepared’

There must be urgent investment to reverse swingeing cuts to NHS cleaning services over the last decade, the union GMB has said. Regular cleaning of wards and equipment is an essential part of the public health strategy for controlling coronavirus.  However, new figures published by NHS Digital show that the full-time equivalent of almost a thousand NHS cleaners have been cut in England since 2010/11. The survey questioned over 1,000 directly employed and outsourced workers. The union said the amount spent by NHS Trusts on cleaning services fell by £38 million in real terms – a decline of 3.4 per cent. GMB warned that many cleaning staff have been outsourced over the last decade and are enduring inferior pay and terms and conditions, and are under pressure to complete jobs too quickly. The GMB points to research suggesting the risk of catching the superbug MRSA may be 50 per cent higher in wards where cleaning services have been outsourced. Rachel Harrison, GMB national officer, said: “The NHS couldn’t function without its cleaning staff. They have been saving lives, often at real personal risk, since day one of the pandemic. Our members tell us that they are overworked, underpaid, and denied access to the right PPE. Some cleaning workers are put under pressure to complete jobs without enough time or the right equipment.” She said the cuts had “weakened the NHS and meant that services were vulnerable when the coronavirus pandemic hit. As we enter a third lockdown, it is more important than ever that NHS cleaners receive the resources, pay, and decent employment standards that they deserve.”

GMB news release.

Scottish work injuries scheme needs reform

The UK industrial injuries scheme is not protecting workers from developing occupational diseases including Covid-19, Labour members of the Scottish parliament have said. Labour is calling for Scotland to introduce its own, more comprehensive scheme. Central Scotland MSP Mark Griffin said he is intending to propose a Member’s Bill calling for Covid-19 infections in the workplace to be classed as an occupational disease. Health and Safety Executive statistics have revealed that up to 12 December employers in Scotland have made 1,345 reports of workers contracting the virus in their workplaces. Of those, 11 cases have led to deaths from the virus. It has been acknowledged there is massive under-reporting of cases. Mr Griffin said: “Reform of our industrial injuries support system was long overdue before the pandemic, but the scale of the damage done by Covid-19 has made that reform a matter of urgency. Coronavirus has ripped through workplaces across Scotland, exposing thousands to the virus and tragically leading to deaths. These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg.” The proposals would also see the creation of a Scottish Employment Injuries Advisory Council and measures to tackle the gender gap of people seeking support. The Bill would also modernise industrial injury social security support. A consultation over the proposed Scottish Employment Injuries Advisory Council Bill is now open and will close next month.
Proposed Scottish Employment Injuries Advisory Council Bill. Mark Griffin MSP on YouTube and related webpage on the Bill. Evening Express. Morning Star.

Jail terms after electrocution on farm

A farmer whose ‘reckless disregard’ of the dangers of trying to do electrical work led to the death of his partner in their caravan home has been jailed. James Atkin had denied the manslaughter of Deana Simpson by gross negligence – but was found guilty following a trial at Warwick Crown Court. Deana, 40, died after being electrocuted as she prepared food for a barbecue in the static caravan where she lived with Atkin on his father's farm in August 2017. Atkin had bought an inverter to convert power from a diesel generator on the farm to DC current to store it in batteries and then to convert it back to AC for use in the caravan. But rather than employing a skilled electrician, he had decided to do the work himself. Five days after the incident, a qualified electrician examined the electrical installation at the scene and found it was in a poor and dangerous condition. Atkin, 43, was jailed for six-and-a-half years. His father, Trevor Atkin, 72, was sentenced to 10 months in prison suspended for two years after he pleaded guilty part-way through the trial to two criminal breaches of health and safety law at Willoughby Fields Farm in Willoughby. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) principal inspector Amy Kalay, who managed HSE’s involvement in the case, commented: “This was a completely avoidable and foreseeable incident. Deana was killed because work on an electrical system hadn’t been done by a professional electrician with the right skills and experience.” During the investigation, it emerged that Trevor Atkins had been complicit in the work his son had carried out on his property, and as an employer, had a duty to maintain the electrical system relating to the caravan to ensure that it was not dangerous. As Deana lived in the caravan, he also had a general duty of care towards her to ensure she was not exposed to risks to her safety.
HSE news release. Coventry Telegraph.

Firefighter gets pioneering asbestos cancer treatment

A former part-time firefighter has secured the cost of a revolutionary cancer treatment as part of his asbestos disease compensation claim. Anthony Carlton, originally from Kent but who moved to Aberdare in 2006, is now receiving immunotherapy, a pioneering cancer treatment, as part of his mesothelioma settlement. While most patients will visit hospital for this type of treatment, Anthony will be one of the few who will be able to have it at home as part of his settlement, ensuring his safety during the Covid-19 pandemic. Between 1969 and 1979, the now 82-year-old worked as a planning manager by day, but by night, volunteered as a firefighter for 11 years until he retired. As he was based in a rural area, he attended many fires in barns, which were constructed using corrugated asbestos sheeting. He was exposed to the deadly fibres while extinguishing the fire but had no idea about the dangers of asbestos. He was diagnosed with the asbestos cancer, mesothelioma, at the start 2019 and given six months to live. His case was taken by law firm JM Parsons & Co Solicitors, a partner company to Thompsons Solicitors. Mr Carlton said: “I knowingly put my safety in danger when I volunteered for the fire service, but to have unknowingly been exposed to something that has put a ticking clock on my life is unforgiveable.” Amanda Jones, who represented Mr Carlton, said: “It is hoped Tony’s treatment will continue to have a significant benefit for him, especially as he is able to have it safely at home. It is very rewarding to have played a part in obtaining this for him.”
Thompsons Solicitors news release. Wales Online.


Souped-up TUC Covid-19 guidance now online

Need a one-stop source for the essential pointers on how to tackle Covid-19 at work? The TUC’s freshly revised Covid-19 guidance for union reps covers all the top concerns. The updated guidance includes information on issues including risk assessments, ventilation, shielding, the Employment Rights Act section 44 right to refuse, PPE, testing and vaccines… and a whole lot more. Have a look and share it with anyone who may find it helpful.

TUC Covid-19 guidance. Share the guidance on Facebook, Twitter or Whatsapp.

If you work in food and drink…

If you work in the food and drink sectors, you could make an important contribution to safety research. The TUC is working with researchers to create an evidence base of how safety measures have been used in the food and drink industries during the Covid pandemic. Whether you’re in agriculture, manufacturing, distribution or retail, if you’re working in part of the food and drinks supply chain the TUC-backed researchers want to hear from you and your colleagues. You don’t need to be a union member to take part in the research.
Complete the Covid food and drink survey now!


Canada: Mounties to probe massive meat plant outbreak

Ariana Quesada, 16, walked into a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) detachment in High River, Alberta last week and filed a formal complaint asking police to investigate potential criminal negligence in the death of her father. Benito Quesada, a 51-year-old immigrant from Mexico supporting a wife and four children, was hospitalised with Covid-19 in mid-April, one of hundreds of workers at the town's Cargill meat plant infected with the coronavirus. He died on 7 May. The Quesadas are demanding accountability from Cargill, alleging the company didn't do enough to protect Benito from the coronavirus. Ariana Quesada said the family wanted “to finally hold Cargill accountable for what they did.” The RCMP confirmed it has now opened an investigation. The probe is the first known instance in Canada of police investigating a workplace-related Covid-19 death. “An investigation has commenced," Staff Sgt. Greg Wiebe, the detachment commander, told CBC News. “It's not going to be your routine investigation, certainly. There's probably a lot of moving parts to it,” Wiebe said. At least 950 staff at the Cargill plant — nearly half its workforce — tested positive for Covid-19 by early May in what remains the largest workplace outbreak in Canada. The complaint filed against Cargill cites the Westray Law, a Criminal Code provision that imposes a duty on all employers to take “reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm” to workers. The Quesadas allege that Cargill failed to heed early public health warnings and failed to protect workers from a known, deadly threat. “Employers need to do far better than what happened in High River in the spring,” said Michael Hughes, a spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, which has been helping the Quesada family. Hughes said that for a company such as Cargill, which reported revenue of $113.5 billion US in 2019, the threat of fines for labour and safety violations isn't necessarily a strong deterrent, which is why the complaint was made to police.
CBC News.

Korea: Union accuses steel firm of manslaughter

A pattern of fatal accidents at a global steel company will only be resolved when workers have the right to organise freely and participate in safety systems, the Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU) has said. The union was speaking out after incidents in November and December at POSCO’s Gwangyang steelworks in Korea resulted in the deaths of five workers. It said there have been 18 fatalities in the past three years at the company’s Pohang and Gwangyang plants. POSCO workers have been killed by asphyxiation, explosions, fires, physical crush injuries, fatal falls, and overwork. KMWU said it believes that POSCO workplaces will only become safer when union representatives are able to participate fully in safety structures. Instead, POSCO recently dismissed three union activists for exposing union busting and failed to reinstate them after the National Labor Relations Commission ruled that their dismissal was unfair. The KMWU argues that large-scale industrial disasters happen at POSCO due to management decisions to not upgrade aging facilities and equipment, to downsize subcontracted workers, and to outsource risks instead of eliminating them. A law passed last week means business owners and CEOs can face at least one year in jail or a fine of up to 1 billion won (£672,000) if they are found to have been negligent in enforcing safety measures when a deadly workplace accident occurred. Corporate entities or institutions, if held responsible, can also be fined up to 5 billion won. The KMWU had earlier indicated POSCO CEO Jeong-Woo Choi should the first person to be held accountable under the law. KMWU’s international officer, Hyewon Chong said: “Allowing a democratic union to function freely is a precondition for setting up a credible safety system at the steelworks. But instead of working with the union to make POSCO workplaces safer, the company dismissed three union activists for exposing their plans to bust our union.” Unions had pressed for harsher penalties following worker deaths. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions said the level of punishment allowable under the law was “only a slap on the wrist.”
IndustriALL news release. Korea Times.

USA: Nebraska governor’s shame on immigrant vaccinations

Comments by Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts last week went viral for all the wrong reasons, an opinion piece in The Hill has reported. Immigration attorney Paul Reyes was commenting on Ricketts’ briefing announcing plans to deliver coronavirus vaccines to meatpacking plants. Ricketts was asked if undocumented workers would be included. “You’re supposed to be a legal resident of the country to be able to be working in those plants,” he said. “So I do not expect that illegal immigrants will be part of the vaccine with that programme.” His remarks drew a storm of criticism, so his communications director later offered a clarification: Immigrants in Nebraska will get the vaccine, but the state is going to prioritise citizens and legal residents before those without legal status. According to Reyes: “Suggesting that undocumented immigrants are less deserving of the vaccine than others is as offensive as it is irresponsible. Basing vaccine priorities on immigration status would be bad public policy, a logistical nightmare, and an insult to the essential workers helping keep food on our shelves and tables.” While the US federal government has largely left the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to the states, the Washington Post notes that Nebraska is so far the only state to have “publicly suggested it will consider legal status in its immunization campaign — a move that even federal officials have warned could be dangerous.”
The Hill. Newscenter1 TV.


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