Toggle high contrast
Issue date

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




TUC wants to know about your Long Covid

The TUC has launched an online survey for workers who are experiencing or have experienced Long Covid. The union body says it wants to better understand their experiences at work and what additional workplace support they need. It says Long Covid is an issue of concern for the union movement as Office for National Statistics (ONS) data reveals that 1-in-5 people who’ve tested positive for Covid-19 have had symptoms that have lasted for five weeks or longer and that 1-in-10 have had symptoms for 12 weeks or longer. The TUC estimates that with over 4 million people having tested positive for Covid-19, the number experiencing Long Covid could be as high at 800,000. It says: “Please help us promote the survey so we can collect a robust evidence base and are able design solutions to the issues that workers affected by Long Covid face.” If you have had Long Covid yourself, fill out the online questionnaire and tell the TUC about your experiences – it will help inform TUC campaigns and policy priorities.
TUC Long Covid Survey. Help share the questionnaire on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

WHO finally admits aerosol transmission risk for Covid-19

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has admitted for the first time in a public document that there is a risk of airborne transmission of the coronavirus responsible for Covid-19. In the 30 April 2021 update to its online Q&A on Covid-19 transmission, WHO acknowledges the “virus can also spread in poorly ventilated and/or crowded indoor settings, where people tend to spend longer periods of time. This is because aerosols remain suspended in the air or travel farther than 1 metre (long-range).” The implication is that higher standards of protection – notably the FFP3/N95 type respirators and greater physical distancing – are necessary at work. WHO’s admission now reflects better the evidence from both mortality data and outbreaks, where the worst statistics have been seen in many occupations not categorised by WHO as ‘high risk’. However, the UN agency is still to amend its equivalent workplace Q&A, which downplays the aerosol risk and retains the ‘1m plus’ physical distancing recommendation. The same line is included in WHO’s specific sector-based workplace guides. Unions have for a year warned of the airborne risk, and have urged WHO to recommend a more protective approach. A June 2020 point-by-point critique by the global union ITUC warned of the risk of widespread transmission though workplace exposures. The ITUC briefing, also spelled out in October 2020 in the peer-reviewed journal New Solutions, predicted a lack of adequate control would lead to the widespread outbreaks in food processing plants, offices and other workplaces not classified by WHO as ‘high’ or in some cases ‘medium’ risk. It called for better protection, greater worker participation in assessing and decided the response to Covid-19 risks and for more effective inspection and enforcement action by health and safety authorities.
World Health Organisation’s Q&A on Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): How is it transmitted?, updated 30 April 2021. IUF news release.
WHO Q&A: Tips for health and safety at the workplace in the context of COVID-19, June 2020.
WHO Knew. How the World Health Organization (WHO) Became a Dangerous Interloper on Workplace Health and Safety and COVID-19, New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, Volume: 30 issue: 3, pages 237-248, November 2020. First Published October 8, 2020.

Prime minister admits PPE failures

Britain's failure ensure adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) were available to workers when the Covid pandemic struck was a "tragedy", Boris Johnson has admitted. In a virtual fundraiser with Tory activists, the prime minister said the nation “couldn’t produce enough gloves, enough gowns, enough masks.” The admission contrasts with previous public remarks by the government. Health secretary Matt Hancock claimed in February this year that while there were “individual challenges in access to PPE”, they “never had a national shortage, because of my team”. A National Audit Office report in November 2020 however found the government “made a huge effort to boost supply, but paid very high prices due to unusual market conditions and many frontline workers reported shortages of PPE.” After Mr Johnson’s comments were reported a spokesperson for the prime minister appeared to backtrack, telling the Mirror: “I think the distinction there is the PM was talking about UK-based supply. It's a simple fact that we didn't have a significant amount of UK-based PPE suppliers at the start of this pandemic. And that's something the government has completely transformed in a matter of months.” Unions warned consistently that PPE shortages in health care and the wider economy were leaving workers at risk. Government advisers had warned for years of the need to have sufficient PPE supplies available ahead of a possible pandemic.
The Mirror. Morning Star.

Official figures hide thousands of work Covid deaths

Official worker fatality figures are hiding thousands of work-related Covid deaths, the union GMB has said. Just 111 people died at work during the year to 31 March, according to HSE figures. But GMB said according to the government’s own statistics, at least 8,000 working age deaths have been linked to Covid in England and Wales in 2020. The official statistics should reflect this in all forms, regardless of whether a legally required RIDDOR notification was made or not, the union said. It added that “workers still have to use inadequate PPE and unbelievably many still have to go into work sick because they can’t afford to self-isolate. These deaths must be properly acknowledged so we can make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again.” GMB national secretary Rehana Azam said: “Worker death figures are always massively understated and exclude huge swathes of fatalities in the workplace. But after 12 months of a pandemic that has hit keyworkers hard – the gap is stark.” She added: “The deaths of 8,000 working age people is a devastating and bitter milestone that could have been avoided. But unless ministers acknowledge the UK was too slow to respond to the outbreak in workplaces, lessons can’t be learned. Workers still have to use inadequate PPE and unbelievably many still have to go into work sick because they can’t afford to self-isolate. These deaths must be properly acknowledged so we can make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again.”
GMB news release.

Masks in school still needed ‘to keep millions safe’

A coalition of top scientists has joined with education unions including NEU, UNITE, UNISON, GMB and NASUWT and over 400 parents and students to press for crucial safety measures to be retained in schools. The group has written to education secretary Gavin Williamson to express concern at reported government plans to stop requiring children to wear face coverings in secondary school classrooms in England from 17 May. “To strip these necessary protections, when there are already too few mitigation measures in schools, and when rates of Covid-19 are still significant would have consequences for the health of our children and their parents as well as their communities,” warns the letter signed by 20 leading scientists and public health experts from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Exeter, UCL, Queen Mary University of London and other top British scientific institutions. The letter points to recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) data confirming a marked rise in infections over March among children after schools opened for just a few weeks before the Easter break. It indicates that according to the latest data, between 10- 13 per cent of children who are infected with Covid-19 develop persistent symptoms after infection lasting five weeks or more, an indication of Long Covid. Estimates from the ONS now suggest that as many 43,000 children and 110,000 educational staff in the UK could now be living with Long Covid, warns the letter also signed by a former Public Health England pandemic expert. Co-signatory epidemiologist Dr Deepti Gurdasani of Queen Mary University of London said: “Scientists, school staff, parents and students are alarmed. We do not want a repeat of past mistakes that previously led to new waves, higher deaths, and prolonged lockdowns. That’s why we’ve come together to urge the government to consider the global and national evidence on current infection rates in schools.” She added: “Face coverings should be continued in schools after 17 May, with review prior to the next stage of the roadmap on the 21 June, to avoid the risk of new outbreaks.” 
NEU news release. GMB news release. Morning Star.

Experts warn vaccination alone won’t protect workers

Widespread workforce vaccination is not yet a sufficient control to allow for the removal of other Covid safety measures in workplaces, a body representing worker health protection professionals has warned. The British Occupational Hygiene Society, a scientific charity and the chartered society for industrial hygiene specialists, said while lockdown restrictions have been in place, workplaces have been the frontline for the control of the spread of the pandemic. It says while vaccination is likely to have a significant impact on workplace transmission, “the Society is warning that simply relying on vaccination, at least in coming months, would be a risky strategy for employers and may contribute to outbreaks, undermine the public health benefits of the vaccine programme, or even land the employer in hot water legally.” BOHS CEO, Professor Kevin Bampton, said: “We are greatly looking forward to seeing the end of additional Covid measures, but it’s probably too early to be relaxing them, despite the general easing of restrictions in society.” He added: “In social life, people can select the risks they wish to be exposed to, but in the workplace it remains the responsibility of employers to ensure those risks are managed.” He said: “Suppressing the risk of asymptomatic infection is not only important to protect workers themselves, but also to reduce the amount of virus in circulation and the potential breeding grounds for new variants. The vaccine promises light at the end of the tunnel, but we are not out of it yet.”
BOHS news release.

Mitie failures put staff and patients at risk

Systematic failures by outsourcing giant Mitie have left staff and patients at Dudley hospitals at risk from Covid-19 exposures, Unite has warned. The union was commenting after the company, which holds the facility management contract for the NHS Dudley Hospital Trust, was issued a ‘rare’ Health and Safety Executive (HSE) notice of contravention in relation to Covid safety. But Unite said rather than close the facility, HSE has given Mitie time to improve its Covid procedures. Unite has said Mitie is running a “laissez faire” regime on Covid security at its headquarters at the Russells Hall hospital. The facility management staff are not confined to the headquarters but work throughout all Dudley Group hospital buildings, greatly increasing concerns about Covid security. It says these include social distancing being non-existent, a lack of ventilation, a failure to require staff and visitors to sign in, a lack of security regarding who can enter the building and a failure to provide hand sanitiser. Unite regional officer Su Lowe said: “This is one of the worst workplaces I have attended as a union officer since the beginning of the pandemic. Unite welcomes the intervention of the HSE, but this should never have been necessary, this is a large well-resourced company and strict Covid secure policies and practices should have been in place for well over a year.” She added: “Keeping our NHS staff and patients safe should be the first thought of every company working for the NHS. The staff working for Mitie operate throughout the entire Dudley Group of hospitals and any safety breaches will have implications for all of the workers and the public who use the Trust’s facilities. Unite will always speak out to ensure the health and safety of workers, we will continue to hold management’s feet to the fire, if we don’t who will.”
Unite news release. Morning Star.

PCS members at DVLA strike again for Covid safety

PCS members at the DVLA offices in Swansea are taking their second week of strike action in a dispute over Covid safety. The union is asking the public to show its support at a public rally on Facebook from noon on Friday 7 May. Union members walked out on 4 May, as management continued to refuse to reduce numbers on site to address Covid risks. PCS says this latest successful action follows the walkout from 6-9 April, where more than 1,400 PCS members took strike action over health and safety concerns at the DVLA sites. More than 2,000 staff are still being made to attend the main Swansea site daily – a site that has seen more than 500 Covid cases. PCS is again asking all staff who are being made to go into work to take the action. It says this is needed so the union can push DVLA management to take health and safety concerns seriously, by reducing numbers on site. On the final day of the latest round of action on Friday 7 May, the union is urging the public to join a strike rally live on Facebook at noon. PCS said hundreds more workers had joined the PCS DVLA branch as the latest walkout commenced. In a 4 May commentary, the branch noted “our resolve will not be broken, and the support of the members, and those new joiners, continue to inspire our determination and confidence.” Branch membership is now at over 3,500.
PCS news release, related news release and PCS NEC statement. BBC News Online.
Attend Friday’s PCS public rally at noon on 4 May on Facebook.
Complete the e-action to secretary of state Grant Shapps to urge him to intervene.
Donate to the strike fund. Account name: Fighting Fund Levy, A/C No: 20331490, sort code: 60-83-01, use reference: DVLA
Send a message of solidarity to

Jobcentre ballot over return to workplaces plan

Jobcentre workers are to be balloted in a move that could lead to industrial action. The move is in response to the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) insistence that staff and customers return to jobcentres to deliver face to face services. Civil service union PCS says that since 12 April, DWP “has been asking considerably more staff to return to jobcentres to carry out face to face interviews with customers. This is despite staff working from home successfully for up to a year, carrying out these interviews by phone.” The union argues “that coronavirus still poses a threat to safety and that to extend services in jobcentres now is unsafe, and places staff, their families and customers at risk. We are therefore balloting PCS members working in jobcentres to ask if they would be prepared to take industrial action over DWP's decision.” The ballot is consultative and a further ballot of members would be required before strike action could take place. PCS said its demands include “stopping the extension of face to face services, with face to face interviews taking place only with those identified as most vulnerable until the vaccine programme is complete and low rates of infection have been sustained for a significant period. We are also asking that DWP sticks to the agreement made in autumn last year, that work coaches can decide how to progress their own workload, including making decisions about how to interview customers.” The electronic ballot closes on 21 May.
PCS news release.



‘Huge’ demand for action on workers’ rights

The government must “stop dithering” and deliver on its manifesto promise to boost workers’ rights, the TUC has said. The call came as the union body released new polling showing more than eight in ten working people want all workers to have the same basic rights. The poll of 2,523 working people, conducted by GQR Research, found there is clear support for making sure everyone at work has the same set of basic rights – with more than eight in ten (84 per cent) working people supporting this and just four per cent opposed. Currently those with worker status – who often work in gig economy roles such as couriers and food delivery – miss out on vital safeguards granted to employees such as a minimum notice period if their employment ends, protection against unfair dismissal and the right to request flexible working. In addition, eight in ten (80 per cent) working people agree that big companies must be responsible for all the workers in their supply chain – giving workers the right to take action on unpaid wages, unpaid holiday pay or unpaid sick pay against the commissioning company or buyer as well as their immediate employer. The TUC points to the scandal of workers producing clothes for household name company Boohoo, who were found to be working in dangerous conditions and not paid the national minimum wage. The union body says this highlighted how some employers seek to avoid their responsibility for workers in their supply chains. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The pandemic exposed the terrible working conditions and insecurity that is the reality of many of our key workers in retail, care, and delivery. This has to be a turning point.” She added: “Working people have spoken. They want workers’ rights upgraded wholesale.” She said ministers must bring forward the employment bill in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech “and use it to ban zero-hours contracts and end exploitation at work, once and for all.”
TUC news release.

Bosses still cash in as their workers die

Calls are growing for an end to the practice of paying executives health and safety bonuses if none of their employees die on the job, as an analysis revealed the average value of a human life in some boardrooms under such schemes is as little as £33,000. The research, by the shareholder advisory firm Pensions & Investment Research Consultants (PIRC), looked at annual reports from 38 FTSE 350 companies in which at least one person died at work between 2015 and 2019. It found that at least two had not reported docking their top executive’s bonus at all after employees died, while those that did imposed an average cut of £33,628 – the equivalent of less than 1 per cent of the executive’s total annual pay. Conor Constable, the PIRC researcher behind the report, called for the link between bonuses and health and safety to be broken, saying that keeping employees alive should be a basic requirement rather than something that merited an extra pat on the back. He accused the firms of being guilty of a “dispassionate” approach to the tragic deaths of their workers, adding that they “appear to have quantified or put a value or a price on the life of an employee”. Constable added that if workers died on the job, the discussion should no longer be about the chief executive’s bonus but “fundamental changes to the business, its leadership and its governance”. Contrasting the approach towards executives and staff, he pointed out that the latter would not usually expect a bonus for upholding safety standards but could expect the sack for not doing so. The PIRC analysis, ‘How Much is a Worker’s Life Worth?’, found of the 22 firms in which an employee died on the job in 2019 – the latest reporting period – 12 made no cut to their top executive’s bonus, including two in which policies explicitly linked executive bonuses and worker fatalities. In the other 10, the top executive’s average decrease was £32,628, or 0.85 per cent of their total 2019 remuneration.
The Guardian.

HSE condemned for going easy on offshore criminal

Offshore union RMT has responded with concern to the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) light-touch action after a serious safety incident in the offshore decommissioning sector. The safety offences came to light in 2020 when a video was circulated of a dangerous occurrence during decommissioning work carried out by contractor Ocean Kinetics on the Buchan Alpha rig in waters off Shetland. RMT says a 1,000 tonne structure fell several feet, seriously endangering the safety of the Ocean Kinetics staff and other workers on the job. HSE’s investigation into this incident found that Ocean Kinetics’ method for de-ballasting of the structure was in criminal breach of both the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015. However, RMT said HSE took the ‘unusual step’ of only issuing Ocean Kinetics with a ‘Notice of Contravention’, instead of a more serious and posted online prohibition notice stopping the job. RMT said Ocean Kinetics admission of guilt and in-house reforms to risk management “appear to have prevented the regulator from taking any stronger actions.” RMT general secretary Mick Lynch, commenting on the “deeply troubling incident”, said: “Ocean Kinetics clearly tried to decommission the Buchan Alpha on the cheap, massively increasing the risk to workers’ safety and damaging standards in the UK decommissioning sector.” He added: “Ocean Kinetics failed to protect the health and safety of employees but HSE could only acknowledge that the law was broken. The government’s Energy White Paper announced a review of the environmental impact of North Sea decommissioning but the Ocean Kinetics case shows that stronger regulation by HSE of worker safety in the growing offshore decommissioning sector must be an absolute priority too.” HSE’s enforcement database show Ocean Kinetics has received one prohibition notice and eight improvement notices for criminal health and safety breaches in the last four years.
RMT news release. Energy Voice. Shetland News, including the video clip.

Call to tackle online violence against women journalists

UK journalists’ union NUJ has said there must be great coordination in tackling and preventing systemic online violence against women journalists. The call came in response to new research, carried out by the International Center for Journalists and commissioned by UNESCO, the union says echoes many of the NUJ's safety survey findings. ‘The Chilling: Global trends in online violence against women journalists’ focuses on the global prevalence of online violence ranging from “large-scale attacks or extreme threats at a moment in time, through to the slow burn of networked gaslighting, which involves constant lower-level abuse.” Gender was identified as the key reporting theme most frequently associated with online harassment. The report concludes there is a ‘climate of impunity’, adding: “For too long, the emphasis has been on making women journalists responsible for their own defence and protection, rather than making the perpetrators and instigators, the platform enablers, and law enforcement and media employers accountable.” Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “We welcome this report's insight, analysis and recommendations, and the fact that many NUJ members experiences are acknowledged and reflected throughout.” She added: “There is a clear and pressing need for harsher penalties to deter and punish the perpetrators and we also need more engagement and coordination between law makers, social media platforms, employers, unions and independent safety experts. The NUJ endorses many of the recommendations in this report and we want to see effective solutions implemented via cross-sectoral efforts.”
NUJ news release. The Chilling, International Center for Journalists/UNESCO report.

Employment tribunal backs unfairly dismissed lecturer

A university lecturer from Yorkshire has won an employment tribunal, which found he was unfairly dismissed while working for the University of Huddersfield. Jonathan Duxbury, 57, was successful at Leeds Employment Tribunal, after a multi-year legal battle following the university bringing in new rules which had an unfair impact on him. The related stress exacerbated mental health problems. The UCU member began working for the university in July 2005 as a senior lecturer in the Department of Accounting, Finance and Economics. While he did not hold a PhD, Mr Duxbury has a professional qualification in accountancy and is a fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. In July 2013, Mr Duxbury was informed that he would need a PhD to continue teaching at his level – despite his role never requiring one before. He enrolled for a PhD the following year but informed his employer of concerns that the heavy workload would not be possible alongside his work commitments, and that it would have a negative impact on his mental health, as he had suffered from stress. Management though insisted he had to continue with the double workload, exacerbated the lecturer’s mental health problems. After several disciplinary meetings, Mr Duxbury was sacked. He then turned to UCU and law firm Thompsons Solicitors, to take the case to employment tribunal. A 29 April judgment confirmed he had been unfairly dismissed. “I’m grateful that, with the help of the UCU, Thompsons Solicitors and my barrister Sue Sleeman, I’ve been able to put this to bed. I just hope those involved at the university now understand and learn from their mistakes so something similar doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Mr Duxbury said. The judge in the hearing said the university had been “wholly unreasonable” with a “closed mind” to Mr Duxbury’s reasonable expectation that his health would be considered and measures put in place to protect it.
Thompsons Solicitors news release.

More strike action by tugboat crew in rota row

Devonport naval base faces 96 hours of disruption next week when tugboat crews strike in a continuing rostering dispute, Unite has said. About 40 tractor tug crew members employed by Serco Marine at the naval base will strike from 07:00 on Saturday 15 May until 06:59 on Wednesday 19 May. This follows two well-supported 24 hour strikes last month (Risks 992). The long-running dispute centres on the imposition of a new three weeks ‘on’ and three weeks ‘off’ roster introduced in December, which Unite has repeatedly warned poses serious health and safety risks for its members, including excessive tiredness. Unite members are currently being balloted to extend the mandate which will ensure that they will be covered by the full 12-week period of immunity from being dismissed for taking part in lawful industrial action, which will now cover all action until early July. Unite national officer Bobby Morton said: “The 96-hour strike is a shot across the management’s bows that now is the time for them to sit down for constructive talks to resolve this dispute, otherwise Devonport could face serious disruption with strike action until early July.” He added: “The new roster system of three weeks ‘on’ and then three weeks ‘off’ has meant increased fatigue for our members who do a very responsible and essential job. The previous one week ‘on’ and one week ‘off’ pattern worked well for many years and should be reinstated.”
Unite news release.

Gas blast killed asbestos worker

An asbestos removal contractor has been fined for criminal safety offences after a young worker died and a colleague was seriously injured as a result of a gas explosion. Hamilton Sheriff’s Court heard how on 5 October 2017, Enviraz (Scotland) Limited workers were removing a boiler and pipework, and overspraying walls to remove asbestos residue, at the former Pastoral Centre in Newmains, Wishaw. The plan was to cut the boiler and pipework into sections to make it easier to remove prior to demolition. But the gas supply had not been isolated and the workers cut through a live gas outlet pipe which ignited causing an explosion. Two workers received extensive burns and underwent surgery. One, 23-year-old Pawel Urbanski, died in hospital several days after the incident. An HSE investigation revealed that the risk assessment and plan of work for the job had identified services were present in the boiler room, but the company failed to ensure the gas pipe was isolated and purged of gas before work commenced. Enviraz (Scotland) Limited pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches and was fined £150,000. HSE inspector Helen Diamond said: “Given the potential consequences of using a power tool on live or unpurged pipework, the management system to establish the status of the pipework needs to be robust and there should be written confirmation of isolation. Tragically, one man has lost his life as a result of this incident and a second worker has sustained life-changing injuries.”
HSE news release. Daily Record. Construction Enquirer.

Firefighters honour 2,300 fallen colleagues

Firefighters across the UK held a minute’s silence at midday on 4 May for Firefighters’ Memorial Day, in memory of more than 2,300 firefighters who have died in the line of duty. Firefighters and control staff stood outside their stations and workplaces and sounded their sirens to commemorate the fallen firefighters, including two serving UK firefighters who have lost their lives to Covid-19 over the last year. A new website for the FBU’s Red Plaque scheme was launched on the day, allowing the public to view memorial sites across the UK honouring fallen firefighters and to apply for future Red Plaques. The scheme is funded by FBU’s Firefighters 100 Lottery and allows firefighters, communities and the family and friends of those lost to pay tribute to fallen heroes, and to provide a place of reflection and memorial for all time. Users of the website can use an interactive map of the UK to learn about the incidents that claimed the lives of firefighters. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Firefighters Memorial Day is a day to pay tribute to our fallen heroes, but it’s also a day to reaffirm our commitment to fight for the safety of all firefighters. All too often, these tragedies could and should have been prevented and lessons must be learnt to ensure that no more names are added to the firefighters’ memorial.”
FBU news release and Firefighters’ Memorial Day website.



Working through Covid research – webinar, Friday 14 May

What lessons can be learned from working through Covid? What more could employers, unions and government do to improve the effectiveness of employee health and safety consultation? The University of Greenwich Centre for Research on Employment and Work (CREW) is holding a half day on-line research seminar, to share the results of recent work on those working from home and through Covid and the role of safety reps and committees in the Covid-19 pandemic. An invited audience will include trade union and management health and safety specialists, cccupational health and safety specialists and others with a practical knowledge of supporting employee health and wellbeing during the pandemic. The on-line seminar is free.
CREW webinar: Working through Covid: Research on Work, Health and Safety during the Pandemic, Friday 14 May 2021, 9.30am to 12.30pm UK time, free. Programme.



Australia: Call for reforms to protect mental health at work

Australia’s national union federation ACTU has joined with mental health advocates and academics in a joint statement calling on federal industrial relations minister Michaelia Cash and her equivalents in state governments to support key reforms. They say the changes were recommended in both the Boland Review of Model WHS [workplace health and safety] Laws and the Respect@Work report on sexual harassment in the workplace. Both reports, commissioned by the work health and safety ministers and the federal government respectively, recommended the inclusion of a psychological hazard regulations in the Model Work and Health Safety Act. The issues are set to be discussed at a meeting of state, territory and federal WHS ministers. ACTU assistant secretary Liam O’Brien commented: “These reforms are essential to making Australian workplaces safer and reducing the instances of mental health issues and psychological injuries which affect working people every day. Australia is one of the only developed nations in the world to not have equal protections for physical and psychological health and safety.” He added: “There should be no difference between the way an employer is required to address a hazard which might impact workers’ mental health to that which impacts their physical health. Mental stress is the fastest and one of the only growing causes of injury claims in the workers’ compensation system. We need to act to make workplaces safer for all workers."
ACTU news release. Joint Statement.

Europe: Huge fall in labour inspections raises Covid risk

The number of labour inspections has collapsed across Europe over the last decade, leaving workplaces less prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic. New research from the Europe-wide trade union confederation ETUC reveals that safety inspections have been cut by a fifth since 2010, falling from 2.2 million annual visits to 1.7 million. The decade has seen the loss of over 1,000 labour inspectors across the EU. More than a third of European countries no longer meet the ILO’s standard of having one labour inspector per 10,000 workers. ETUC says the cuts left workplaces less prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic. The report reveals Romania had the largest fall in inspectors (45 per cent), followed by the UK (32 per cent). ETUC deputy general secretary Per Hilmersson said: “It is a scandal that the number of workplace safety checks were at their lowest in a decade when Covid-19 struck. Labour inspections have been slashed across Europe as a result of austerity and that undoubtedly left workplaces less prepared for the pandemic and may have cost many lives.” He added: “It’s time Europe stopped treating life so cheaply and put peoples’ safety first. All countries need to dramatically increase their number of labour inspectors to facilitate a safe return to work after the pandemic, as well as dealing with the unacceptably high number of fatal accidents and work-related cancer.”
ETUC news release.

Philippines: Worker pressure forced Covid-19 recognition

More than one year into the pandemic, a concerted campaign by unions and labour rights campaigners has seen the government in the Philippines recognise Covid-19 as an occupational disease. The Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD) said “this is a small victory of the Filipino workers and workers’ organisations in the country, who had to fight, online and offline, for this most logical and human measure.” It added: “At the same time, given the recognition of Covid-19 as an occupational disease, we will continue to fight for the Paid Pandemic Bill, a measure much-needed by the country’s workers at present.” IOHSAD noted that the Employees’ Compensation Commission (ECC) ruling means Covid-19 is now considered a work-related disease. Under a related measure, which still requires presidential approval, “infected workers, regardless of the severity of their symptoms” can receive compensation where there is ‘direct evidence’ of exposure, their work tasks required frequent face-to-face and proximity interactions, transmission occurred in the workplace, or transmission occurred while commuting to and from work. The global union Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) and the Nagkaisa Labour Coalition had earlier lobbied the ECC to declare Covid-19 a compensable occupational disease. The Nagkaisa-affiliated Federation of Free Workers (FFW) also partnered with BWI and the Danish Trade Union Development Agency on occupational disease research as part of the effort to push for recognition.
BWI news release. IOHSAD news release.

USA: Union report shows 275 US workers killed a day

In 2019, 5,333 working people were killed on the job and an estimated 95,000 died from occupational diseases, according to a new report from the US national union federation AFL-CIO. ‘Death on the job: The toll of neglect’ reveals that every day, on average, 275 US workers die from hazardous working conditions. And the union body says this toll was before the devastating Covid-19 pandemic. “This year, we commemorate 50 years of OSHA [the US workplace safety regulator] and the lives saved by ensuring workers are protected on the job,” said AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Liz Shuler. “Covid-19 has been a stark reminder that workplace safety protections are absolutely critical, and we still have a long way to go. As a country, we must renew our commitment to safe jobs for all workers and invest the resources to make that happen.” AFL-CIO said one of the most disturbing statistics is the increase in the death rate for workers of colour. In 2019, there were 1,088 Latino worker deaths, compared with 961 Latino worker deaths in 2018. Black workers are also at an increased risk of work-related deaths. In 2019, 634 Black workers died - the highest number in more than two decades. Another alarming trend is growing workplace violence, the report noted, now the third-leading cause of workplace death. In 2019, violent workplace deaths increased to 841, while more than 30,000 violence-related lost-time injuries were reported. AFL-CIO said OSHA’s ‘meagre’ resources have severely declined in recent years. It said: “Renewed attention and dedicated resources to getting inspectors back on the job is crucial to fulfilling the promise of safe jobs for all workers.”
AFL-CIO news release and report, Death on the job: The toll of neglect, 4 May 2021. Report summary.



Courses for 2021

Find the latest courses at
This newsletter is sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.
View our privacy policy
Enable Two-Factor Authentication

To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).

Setup now