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



Union safety reps are saving lives in the pandemic

We always knew unionised jobs were safer, the TUC says - statistically, workplaces with a recognised trade union have half as many injuries. But the union body says the Covid crisis has placed in sharp relief this protective effect. “All too often, bosses and the government have not provided enough protection - and it’s only down to our collective organising that conditions at work are improved,” noted TUC safety lead Shelly Asquith in a TUC blog posting. “From winning sick pay to improving PPE, unions have fought to reduce the risk of workers being exposed to coronavirus, with our health and safety reps leading the fight.” She noted: “Safety reps are not like other rep; they have special rights. They are by law entitled to investigate hazards and complaints, carry out inspections and attend committee meetings.” And since the onset of the pandemic these reps “have gone above and beyond to improve workplace safety, dedicating hundreds of thousands of hours to their roles.” Quoting safety reps from a wide range of workplaces, and their successes in addressing Covid risks, TUC’s Shelly Asquith said their experiences demonstrated how “safety reps and their members have been working at risk, with transmissions and outbreaks of Covid a common occurrence. Their collective effort is a testimony to the movement and demonstrates the benefits of being in a union. It isn't one that should go unrecognised.” She urged union members to extend this protective effect by recruiting new members. “But don’t stop there – if you know someone who would make an excellent health and safety rep, tell them to step forward,” she said. “You’ll both be saving lives.”
TUC blog.

Disbelief as HSE says Covid not a ‘serious’ work risk

The UK safety regulator’s assessment that Covid-19 in not a “serious” workplace risk has been described as “beyond belief”. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has three categories of risk – serious, significant and minor. Employment minister Mims Davies, responding to a question on the Covid-19 ranking from Labour shadow employment secretary Andy McDonald, admitted in an 8 February written statement that: “HSE has decided the category ‘significant’ in the EMM [Enforcement Management Model] table best supports inspectors in making sensible, proportionate regulatory decisions. The definition is that the effects are non-permanent or reversible, non-progressive and any disability is temporary. This definition refers to the likely response of the working population as a whole, not taking account of individuals with a particular resistance or susceptibility.” HSE has received 134,000 complaints related to Covid concerns since the pandemic started but issued just 192 enforcement notices (0.1 per cent) and has taken no prosecutions. Commenting on the minister’s response to his written question, Labour’s Andy McDonald said: “Given that almost 113,000 people have died from Covid-19 and as many as one in five people are suffering from the effects of ‘long Covid,’ it is beyond belief that the government does not consider the virus to be a serious risk to working people.” The shadow employment secretary added: “With workplace health and safety enforcement almost non-existent and after a decade of cuts that has left agencies under-resourced, the government must urgently recategorise Covid-19 as a serious risk and bring in new safety rules and enforcement to protect workers’ lives.”
Labour Party news release. Parliamentary question and answer.  HSE Enforcement Management Model (EMM) Operational version 3.2. Morning Star.

Government PPE failings cost care worker lives

Care home staff went without personal protective equipment (PPE) early in the pandemic because the government prioritised the NHS, MPs have said. The Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said care homes received only a fraction of the PPE needed compared with the health service. It said social care “was only taken seriously after the high mortality rate in care homes became apparent.” Commenting on the committee’s report published on 10 February, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “In the rush to protect the NHS, ministers forgot about social care. Staff were left without the PPE they needed, with deadly consequences. Care workers were forced [to] make their own safety kit, buy it themselves or go without, putting themselves, their families and the people they looked after at huge risk. The distress and fear this caused cannot be overstated.” She added: “The PAC makes clear many lives were lost because of government failings. There must be a public inquiry to hold those found lacking accountable for their inaction and learn lessons. But if one positive can come from such a tragic episode, it must surely be the chance to transform social care. Care of the elderly and the vulnerable should never have been cast out to a fragmented, dysfunctional private sector. Major reform to create a national social care service mirroring the NHS is needed now.”
Commons Public Accounts Committee news release and report, COVID-19: Government procurement and supply of Personal Protective Equipment. UNISON news release. BBC News Online.

Almost a third of workers have contracted Covid

Almost a third of all NHS staff have had the coronavirus, a GMB survey has found. The union’s survey included more than 1,600 ambulance workers and found 37 per cent of these have had coronavirus – with a ‘massive’ 84 per cent of them saying they caught it while on the job. Almost 30 per cent of ambulance workers who had Covid said their symptoms were ‘really bad’ or ‘required medical attention’. GMB’s survey over 3,506 workers across the NHS workforce found 30 per cent reported they had caught the coronavirus, with almost 60 per cent saying they passed it to a family member. The GMB said it is clear that poor PPE is to blame, and is calling on the UK government and Public Health England to urgently review PPE guidance for health workers. The union said ambulance workers report having to attend patients with flimsy gowns instead of proper PPE, nurses in hospitals working amongst Covid-19 patients say they are given only the most basic of surgical masks, while hospital trusts are not isolating and testing patients efficiently. GMB national officer Rachel Harrison said: “Our health workers are dropping like flies – yet the government and Public Health England still won't give them proper, FFP (Filtering Face Piece) level 3 protection. We're a year into the pandemic - this is a disgrace. Our paramedics, technicians and practitioners are expected to treat suspected coronavirus patients with nothing but a flimsy mask and a plastic apron.” She added: “GMB has called for guidance to be reviewed since the start of the pandemic and unless ministers sit up and take notice, our health service will be overwhelmed.”
GMB news release.

Vaccine ‘strong-arm tactics’ used against care staff

The UK government must take action against care home employers refusing to employ staff hesitant about having the Covid vaccine, or intimidating others into having the injection by linking it to pay and employment, the union UNISON has said. If the vaccine programme is to work properly and maximum take-up across the social care secured, individuals should be encouraged, not intimidated, into receiving a jab, the union said. UNISON has written to care minister Helen Whately calling for the government to intervene. It follows the announcement that Barchester Healthcare will not hire workers who refuse the vaccine, and will restrict promotions, bonuses and other rewards only to those who have had the injection. A small number of other companies are understood to be considering following suit. This heavy-handed approach is the opposite of what’s needed to encourage the maximum number of care workers to come forward for the vaccine, said UNISON. It is urging all care companies to adopt a similar voluntary approach to that being used across the NHS. UNISON added that the Barchester move goes against the government’s own advice and it wants to see ministers make a stand against the company. UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The vaccination programme is the way out of this health crisis. The more care workers who get a jab, the safer the sector will be. But care employers who put punitive measures in place for staff, or make it a condition of work, are undermining trust and confidence in the vaccine. They are also at odds with the sensible approach being taken by most employers and the NHS.” She added: “Companies would do better to concentrate on informing staff about the benefits of the vaccination, rather than intimidating them. Ministers should be firm with Barchester that its approach is wrong and must be reversed.”
UNISON news release.

Women facing ‘impossible’ pandemic burden

The TUC has said women have been put in an impossible position and left stressed out during the pandemic and have been left to combine work and childcare. The comments  from the union body came in response to a report by the Commons Woman and Equalities Committee that found government policies in the pandemic have “repeatedly skewed towards men.” Committee chair Caroline Nokes said the government had “overlooked the labour market and caring inequalities faced by women. These are not a mystery, they are specific and well understood. And yet the government has repeatedly failed to consider them.” The report makes 20 recommendations including making it easier for staff to get flexible working arrangements. Commenting on the report findings, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Women have been put in an impossible situation during the pandemic – often expected to work and look after children at the same time. Too many working mums are having to cut their hours or being forced to leave their jobs because they cannot manage. If ministers don’t act, women will be pushed out of the labour market. And that means women’s and children’s poverty will soar.” The TUC is calling for all working parents to be given a temporary right to be furloughed and to have at least ten days’ paid parental leave each year. It also wants an increase in sick pay to at least the level of the real living wage, for everyone in work, to ensure workers can afford to self-isolate. A TUC survey of 52,000 working mums published last month revealed that 9 in 10 had experienced higher levels of anxiety and stress levels during this latest lockdown.  Nearly threequarters (71 per cent) of those who had applied for furlough following the latest school closures have had their requests turned down.  
Women and Equality Committee news release and report, Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact, 9 February 2021. TUC news release. TUC self-report survey January 2021. BBC News Online. Morning Star.
Sick pay that works, TUC, 3 February 2021.

DVLA strike ballot over Covid safety ‘scandal’

Thousands of staff working at the vehicle licensing authority DVLA will be balloted for strike action over continuing Covid health and safety concerns, civil service union PCS has said. The ballot will open on 18 February and close 11 March and could see Spring walkouts. PCS said DVLA has been forcing over 2,000 staff members to go into the workplace every day despite over 500 reported Covid cases at the Swansea site since September 2020. The union said it has repeatedly called for a huge reduction in footfall at DVLA, pointing out that during the first lockdown, only 250 people were in the workplace carrying out essential duties. One staff member died recently after a positive Covid test. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It is a scandal that DVLA have insisted over 2,000 staff members come into work every day, despite having the biggest outbreak of Covid in an office workplace within the UK. DVLA senior management led by CEO Julie Lennard have shown a cruel indifference to safety of their staff by repeatedly attacking the union and rubbishing testimony where workers have expressed their real fear at going into work.” He added: “Balloting our members for strike action shows the anger workers feel at their treatment and PCS will also support them in any individual Section 44 claims they make to keep themselves safe.”
PCS news release.

Court workers in strike vote over safety concerns

Civil service union PCS is balloting members in HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTRS) over management’s failure to act to address serious and significant health and safety concerns. Key issues of contention include remote working and the need for increased safety measures, “including a trade union side-agreed risk assessment.” The union commented that “given that we have not yet had a commitment from HMCTS to resolve the issues we have outlined we are escalating the dispute and balloting members”, with a postal ballot involving members in 12 courts “asking them if they would be prepared to strike over workplace safety concerns.” A separate online consultative ballot for all other union members in HMCTS workplaces will also take place. A union statement noted: “We have made clear to HMCTS that our trade dispute will continue to exist until our demands are met. We remain committed to working to reach a resolution to the dispute and we will prioritise dispute resolution talks.”
PCS news release.

Warning on ‘extremely dangerous’ school bubble changes

The school support staff union GMB has called for an urgent meeting with the education secretary after it emerged that guidance for schools in England had been changed to allow mixing between ‘bubbles’.  The newly updated guidelines state: “All teachers and other staff can operate across different groups.” GMB national secretary Rehana Azam commented: “All guidance up to now has sought to prevent the mixing of bubbles in schools. If you have school support staff moving from one group of pupils to another, you’re essentially turning them into super spreaders. This policy change is completely ill-judged and has potential to be extremely dangerous. We want to see the science behind it. The secretary of state needs to urgently meet with schools’ unions and explain why this change has been made.” The GMB officer added: “Despite headlines to the contrary, schools are not closed. Across the country thousands and thousands of children of key workers and in vulnerable categories are in school every day - far more than in the first lockdown last March. In many areas it’s school support staff who are the ones physically present, it’s completely unacceptable to change any rules that would make those workers - and the children and families they’re responsible for less safe.”
GMB news release. Restricting attendance during the national lockdown: Schools. Guidance for all schools in England, DfE, February 2021.

Safety first call on schools reopening in Wales

Enhanced safety mitigations must be in place ahead of the planned wider school reopening of schools in Wales, teaching union NASUWT has said. Commenting on the first minister’s confirmation that schools in Wales will start to open more widely for pupils in some year groups from 22 February, NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “While we welcome the announcement of more funding to support Covid safety in schools, along with the introduction of routine testing for the education workforce, current measures do not go far enough.” He added: “We have presented the Welsh government with a list of mitigations that we believe should be in place in every school. Such measures include the use of rotas to better support social distancing, enhanced use of face coverings within schools and greater protection for vulnerable staff. We are also continuing to call for those education workers that will be undertaking face to face teaching from 22 February to be given priority access to vaccinations.” He said: “The Welsh government should adopt what we consider to be sensible and proportionate mitigations which will help achieve the shared aim of getting pupils back into the classroom in the greatest safety.” The union’s officer for Wales, Neil Butler, said: “All of the education unions in Wales have put together a list of reasonable requests for mitigations that we would want to see in place to make schools safe, given the new variant of Covid-19. The minister’s statement, whilst welcome, does not go far enough. We look forward to more meetings next week so that we can ensure that the updated operational guidance for schools properly reflects the concerns of the profession.”
NASUWT news release.

Bus drivers face fire and rehire and Covid threats

As the pandemic rages, a fire and rehire company campaign at Go North West buses has seen managers hand-delivering dismissal threats in an apparent breach of lockdown rules, Unite has indicated. The union has accused management at the bus firm of attempting to intimidate workers into signing vastly inferior contracts. Unite is currently balloting its members for strike action, in a dispute over the company’s plans to fire and rehire its entire workforce. The hand-delivered letters, given to drivers who have refused to sign the new contracts, said that if they do not sign the new contract then “Go North West is issuing you with notice of the termination of your employment, which shall end on 8 May 2021.” Changes in the new contract include job cuts, increased hours at no extra pay and an inferior sick pay scheme “which will force workers to work when they are sick or should be self-isolating during the Covid-19 pandemic,” said the union. Unite regional secretary Ritchie James said: “This is a cynical attempt by managers at Go North West to intimidate and bully workers and their families into accepting these inferior terms. It is simply deplorable that Go North West thinks it is acceptable to send its managers scurrying around Greater Manchester and beyond, hand-delivering threatening letters at a time the country is locked down to prevent the spread of Covid.” He added: “Unite is investigating if Covid laws were broken by the completely unnecessary decision to hand-deliver these letters and if so it will be contacting the relevant authorities.”
Unite news release.

Bus firm slammed for pandemic attack

A French-owned bus firm is using the pandemic as an excuse to attack the working conditions of its employees, Unite has warned. The union said London bus passengers should brace themselves for serious disruption if it is forced to go ahead with planned industrial action. The strike action involves bus drivers employed by the French-owned company RATP, which operates three subsidiaries in the London bus network: London United, London Sovereign and Quality Line. Approaching 2,000 bus drivers are involved in the dispute. Unite says RATP is using the Covid-19 pandemic to introduce contract changes that will mean wage cuts of £2,500 at London United as well as longer working hours. The company has also threatened to introduce zero hours style contracts, which would result in drivers only being paid for when they are physically driving a bus and not when they are actually at work. Workers at Quality Line, already paid below the going rate, have been offered a ‘derisory’ pay offer of 0.5 per cent - seven pence an hour. At London Sovereign the pay offer is just 0.75 per cent. Unite regional officer for RATP, Michelle Braveboy, said: “RATP is guilty of using the cover of the pandemic to force through attacks on terms and conditions and table pitiful pay offers.” He added: “Bus strikes can still be averted if RATP removes its threats to cut terms and conditions at London United and make fair pay offers at Quality Line and London Sovereign.”
Unite news release.

Needless danger from non-essential housing repairs

Thousands of council and social housing tenants in Kent, as well as the housing maintenance workers who maintain their homes, are being put at unnecessary risk of Covid-19 exposure, the union Unite has warned. The union issued its warning after a series of outsourced housing maintenance companies in the county refused to suspend non-essential housing maintenance work during the current lockdown. Unite said this has resulted in housing maintenance workers being unnecessarily forced to enter tenants’ homes, which increases the risk of the tenant, the worker and their families being exposed to the coronavirus. The housing maintenance companies that are refusing to restrict their activities during the pandemic are run by Mears, which undertakes housing maintenance work for East Kent Housing, which in turn manages homes in Canterbury, Margate, Dover and Folkestone. A separate arm of the same company, MPS Mears, which undertakes housing maintenance for Medway council is equally at fault, the union says. Unite regional officer Malcolm Bonnett said: “The companies concerned are refusing to listen to common sense and appear to be putting profits over safety. The councils involved and which in many cases still own the properties, must step in and demand that only emergency works are undertaken in people’s homes.” He added: “Unite will be providing clear advice to our members of their legal right to refuse to work if they believe their health is being placed at risk and immediately remove themselves from danger.”
Unite news release.

Unite reservations over social distancing helmets

Hi tech hard hats being introduced on the massive HS2 project that sound a warning when workers come within two metres of each other should not be used as a disciplinary tool but as an educational device, Unite has said. The construction union was speaking out after it was announced that the joint venture company Eiffage Kier Ferrovial Bam, who are responsible for the central section of phase one of the HS2 development, had purchased 1,500 of the helmets. Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “Insuring social distancing on site is absolutely vital to helping prevent the spread of Covid-19 and Unite welcomes the introduction of these hard hats provided strict rules about how the information they generate is followed. Ensuring social distancing is about educating the workforce and for that to be a success then it needs to be enshrined that the information recorded from the helmets will never be used to discipline or dismiss a worker.” He added: “It is human nature to interact with fellow colleagues at close quarters and these helmets, if used properly, will help to educate workers to maintain social distancing and act as a reminder when they come too close to each other.” But he said: “It would be entirely counterproductive if workers feared being disciplined or dismissed if the alarm was triggered particularly as it would be impossible to find out exactly which worker had inadvertently strayed too close to someone else.” Unite said it would seek a meeting with the joint venture company about how the helmets will be used.
Unite news release.


FBU launches firefighter cancer and disease registry

Firefighters’ union FBU has launched a new nationwide database to assess the potential link between exposure to fire toxicants and the increased occurrence of cancers and other diseases among firefighters. The union, which has developed the registry with researchers at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), is calling on every current and former UK firefighter suffering from a serious or chronic illness to add their name to the registry, a move it says will help save firefighters’ lives in the future. The UK Firefighters Cancer and Disease Registry (FCDR) will collect information on firefighters’ work routines, exposure to fire effluents, lifestyle and health. The FBU says this will “enable scientists to identify and recognise most common cancers and diseases related to firefighters’ work, and, in the future, offer preventive health screening, education and support that is specifically designed to protect firefighter’s health.” Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Every current and former firefighter who has suffered a serious or chronic illness needs to add their name to this register so we can further expose the shocking numbers of firefighters suffering from cancer and other diseases.” Anna Stec, professor in fire chemistry and toxicity at UCLan, said: “The UK’s National Cancer Registry and Analysis Service is currently not able to provide any reliable data on cancer incidence or mortality amongst firefighters. Setting up the UK Firefighters Cancer and Disease Registry will enable us to identify and keep track of all firefighters who have been diagnosed with the diseases and cancers, as well as identify any association between firefighter’s occupation and exposure to fire carcinogens.” The register covers cancers, nervous, circulatory and respiratory diseases, liver and kidney disorders and ‘other’ ailments potentially related to work.
FBU news release and UK Firefighters Cancer and Disease Registry (FCDR).

Tile factory boss 'drove car at workers'

The boss of tile firm that has faced complaints over Covid safety drove his car at workers during a Christmas strike, the union GMB has said. The same manager at Marley Tiles, in Beenham, near Reading, then instructed a lorry driver to head straight for the picket line, GMB members have charged. Both incidents were reported to the police. The GMB has expressed dismay that the company, instead of taking action against the manager, instead suspended five long standing workers. The union said victimisation of workers for taking industrial action and defending themselves against serious and dangerous actions by management is ‘a disgrace.’ GMB added the company has been reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for Covid safety failures in the workplace. The union said that during the strike, a number of workers were brought from a higher Covid risk tier into Reading, allegedly in just one vehicle, breaking Covid laws and other regulations. GMB national organiser Nikki Dancey said: “Marley’s treatment of the workforce has been nothing short of appalling and has led to a complete breakdown of trust with management. Victimisation of workers for taking industrial action and defending themselves against serious and dangerous actions by management is a disgrace.” She added: “GMB will back the Marley Five to the hilt. We hope that members of the public will support the campaign to get justice for these workers and return them safely to their jobs.”
GMB news release.

Workplace protection for domestic abuse victims welcomed

Public sector union UNISON has won a key amendment to ensure that domestic abuse protection orders (DAPOs) will apply to the workplace. The provision is included in the Domestic Abuse Bill currently moving through the UK parliament. The new protection orders are designed to prevent perpetrators of domestic abuse from harassing their victim. UNISON said thanks to its cross-party campaigning, abuse protection orders will extend their coverage to victims’ workplaces to make sure victims stay safe at work. UNISON national officer Josie Irwin said: “Most of us spend the majority of our time at work. We are delighted the government has agreed UNISON’s amendment to the bill to extend protection orders to the workplace. It means more victims can be protected from harassment and threats at work. It’s important recognition that home and work cannot always be neatly separated.” The union said victims of domestic abuse may be at increased risk of harm in their workplace, especially if they have left a controlling partner and their workplace is the only place they can be located. In 2010, nurse Jane Clough was murdered by her former partner as she arrived for her night shift at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.
UNISON news release.

Rail union warning after track worker is killed

The rail union TSSA has issued a safety warning after a railway track worker was struck and killed by a train. The 30-year-old man from Hampshire was struck by a service operated by South Western Railway (SWR) near Surbiton, Kingston, south-west London, shortly after 11:30 in the morning on 9 February. The deceased person, who was working for Network Rail, has not been named. Two other workers who were nearby are not thought to have been hurt. TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said “a full and thorough investigation must take place, so lessons can be learned. Our union has been warning Network Rail about the alarming number of near misses and fatalities we have seen over the past year.” He added: “Our union will never compromise on safety, and safety can never be taken for granted. It is simply not acceptable in this day and age that people go out to work and end up losing their lives.”
TSSA news release. BBC News Online.

Worker fell to his death through fragile roof

A glass firm has been fined for a criminal health and safety offence after a worker fell to his death through an asbestos roof. Marius Andrus was carrying out snagging repairs to a roof above the “toughening area” at Pearsons Glass in Kirkdale, on 22 May 2017. The Romanian, described as “an experienced contractor,” crossed the parapet wall onto the fragile roof above the processing area. The 36-year-old plunged down six metres into an unnetted part of the factory. He sustained serious head injuries and was pronounced dead at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the area accessed did not have safety nets fitted and the building occupier failed to take reasonably practicable measures to reduce the risk to those working on the roof. At Liverpool Crown Court, the owners of Pearsons Glass were fined £80,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,656. HSE inspector Andrew McGrory commented: “The risks from working on fragile surfaces are well known. Businesses have a responsibility to ensure that the contractor they select to undertake any construction work devise safe methods of doing so, which should include providing the necessary information to their workers and ensuring that they are adequately supervised.” The prosecution of the roofing contractor is ongoing.
HSE news release. Liverpool Echo.

Senior retail leaders call for protection of shopworkers

Senior retail leaders have written jointly to UK prime minister Boris Johnson to raise concerns about the increasing problem of violence and abuse against shopworkers. The letter asks the government to treat the issue with the seriousness it deserves and to improve protection for staff by creating a new statutory offence of assaulting, threatening, or abusing a retail worker. Welcoming the call, Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “When retail CEOs, leading retail bodies and the shopworkers’ trade union jointly call for action, it is time for the government to listen. Retail workers are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be just a part of the job.” He added: “Our latest survey results lay bare the scale of the appalling violence, threats and abuse faced by shopworkers and demonstrate the need for a protection of shopworkers law. It has been a terrible year for our members, with almost 90 per cent of shopworkers suffering abuse, two-thirds threatened and nearly one in ten assaulted. The government responded to our petition with little more than sympathy, objected to the Alex Norris ‘protection of shopworkers’ bill and only this week again denied the need for a change in the law.” He contrasted the UK government response with that in Scotland, where last month “MSPs voted through groundbreaking legislation to give shopworkers the protection of the law that they deserve. So we are now looking for the UK government to support key workers across the retail sector and give them the protection they deserve” (Risks 981).
BRC letter. Usdaw news release and petition. Morning Star.


Australia: Fears about hidden toll from deadly silica

Workers at risk of developing an incurable, progressive and fatal lung disease caused by silica dust need greater protections across a range of workplaces, Australian unions have warned. The warning comes after a spate of cases of the lung-scarring disease silicosis affecting young workers. Joanna McNeill, a 34-year-old mother of two, was diagnosed with silicosis last year after returning from maternity leave. She worked in an administrative role at a quarry and was exposed to dust as her office close to the main blast site. “At the moment I am feeling healthy, but I don’t know if that will be the case in one year, let alone five or 10 years and as a mum of two young daughters that terrifies me,” she said. The disease can progress even after exposure has ended, and is also linked to lung cancer and kidney damage and other diseases. The Australian Workers Union (AWU) is leading a push for tougher national regulations to protect all workers exposed to deadly silica dust, with fears Australia could be hit with a “tsunami” of deaths in the coming decades. AWU national secretary Daniel Walton said preliminary reforms recommended by the country’s National Dust Disease Taskforce would only provide extra protection for stonemasons, leaving the construction industry, miners, quarry workers and tunnellers “out in the cold”. He said the federal government must not “tinker around the edges” or compromise the health and safety of Australian workers. “It’s an outrage that a country like Mexico has stricter laws in relation to workplace silica dust exposure than Australia,” he said. The UK exposure standard is more lax still.
Sydney Morning Herald.
ACTION: Send an e-postcard to HSE demanding it introduce a more protective UK silica standard no higher than 0.05mg/m³ and with a phased move to 0.025mg/m³. More on work-related dust diseases.

Global: Saving lives at work is ‘fundamental’

Many governments and employers don’t think that being protected should be a fundamental worker’s right, the global union confederation has warned. The ITUC points out that the World Health Organisation, a UN agency, says in its constitution that “the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being”. But another UN agency, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), has still not been able to implement the decision of its centenary conference in 2019 to include “safe and healthy working conditions in the ILO’s framework of fundamental principles and rights at work.” This year, trade unions around the world will be pressing governments and employers to agree to put that commitment into practice, said ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. “Making occupational health and safety a fundamental right at work — on a par with the prohibition of child and forced labour, discrimination at work, and the right to join a union, bargain collectively and ultimately to take strike action — wouldn’t solve every problem at work,” she said. “But it would make employers and governments more accountable when they fall short and a working person suffers, often leaving grieving parents, children, wives or husbands.” She added: “We’re calling on governments and employer representatives at the ILO Governing Body in March to set a firm date for inserting workplace health and safety in the ILO’s fundamental principles and rights, and then deliver on it. Workers and their unions trusted it would happen this year. It just needs leaders committed to saving lives. People’s lives matter more than money. With the Covid-19 pandemic raging in workplaces across the world, the time is now. We can’t wait any longer.” The campaign will be the central theme for the world’s biggest safety event, International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April.
ITUC news release.
Find out more about International Workers’ Memorial Day, 28 April 2021. #iwmd21

Global: Impact of chemicals on women’s health ignored

The global food and farming union IUF has welcomed a new report from IPEN – the International Pollutants Elimination Network - highlighting the overlooked impact on women of exposure to chemicals. The IPEN review found there is a lack of research and information about women’s exposure to chemicals or nanomaterials and their effects on women’s specific physiology or endocrine [hormone] system, as well as the long-term effects on their reproductive health. Separating out data by gender in labour statistics – gender disaggregation - is often lacking for occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals, IPEN found. It added women generally are disproportionately impacted by exposure to chemicals and wastes and have less access to participation in decision making. The report recommends that governments adopt both regulations to protect women from exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and legislation to prohibit the import, export and use of highly hazardous pesticides. IUF said the review “confirms that women can be exposed to pesticides at work even if they do not apply them directly, for instance when they are picking tea leaves, washing pesticide containers or from contaminated protective equipment.” Gertrud Sahler, who is president of a UN process updating the global SAICM agreement on the management of chemicals and waste, commented: “In my view it is vital that we use the potential of gender mainstreaming to make our work in the field of chemicals and waste more comprehensive, more impactful and more sustainable. Providing everyone with equal rights, opportunities and responsibilities in decision-making is not only a human rights issue, it is key to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.”
Women, chemicals and the SDGs: Gender review mapping with a focus on women, February 2021. IUF news release and manual, Making women visible in occupational health and safety.

USA: Time off call for workers with vaccine side effect

Workers with temporary, unpleasant side effects from Covid-19 vaccines deserve appropriate time off without having to use up their regular sick leave or paid time off, US academics have said. Dorit Rubinstein Reiss from the University of California and Arthur L Caplan of New York University note: “The vaccines cause sore arms at high rates, and they can cause swelling, mild fevers, fatigue, and aches. That is not a bad sign; that means the recipient’s immune system is vigorously responding to the vaccine, building immunity that can protect the recipient, which is what we want. But these side effects can be debilitating.” In a Health Affairs blog posting, they add: “Vaccine recipients may need to take a couple of days to rest. This is what we are seeing now, among the health care workers, older Americans, and others that are the first recipients. Unfortunately, not all hospitals or health care providers are making it easy for workers to take that needed leave.” Rubinstein Reiss and Kaplan concluded: “Employees deserve to have the few days they need to recover from temporary, but unpleasant, Covid-19 vaccine side effects.  If hospitals do not provide that themselves, we call on state and federal policy makers to require it.” A study of Covid-19 deaths by occupational in the US state of Massachusetts found workers in 11 occupational groups including healthcare support and transportation and material moving had mortality rates higher than that for workers overall. The findings, published this month in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine (AJIM), also found Hispanic and Black workers had age‐adjusted mortality rates more than four times higher than that for white workers overall and also had higher rates than whites within high‐risk occupational groups.  
Dorit Rubinstein Reiss and Arthur L Caplan. Workers With COVID-19 Vaccine Side Effects Deserve Time Off To Recover, Health Affairs Blog, 5 February 2021. DOI: 10.1377/hblog20210204.959004
Hawkins D, Davis L, Kriebel D. COVID‐19 deaths by occupation, Massachusetts, March 1–July 31, 2020, AJIM, 1 February 2021.


TUC Hazards at Work 6th Edition

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