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




Only 1 in 218 workplaces inspected during pandemic

Just 1-in-218 workplaces have been inspected by a workplace safety regulator during the pandemic, a TUC analysis has revealed The TUC’s research, covering the period from March 2020 to April 2021, was released this week ahead of indoor hospitality reopening on 17 May. The union body is warning of a “crisis of enforcement” that is risking workers’ safety and allowing bad bosses to get away with flagrant labour rights abuses – adding that the pandemic has highlighted the UK enforcement system’s long-standing deficiencies. It points out the last ten years has seen real term cuts of 50 per cent to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) budget, on top of local authority budgets being slashed. There has also been a dramatic decline in inspections. There were 27 per cent fewer HSE inspections carried out in the UK in 2019 than 2011, amounting to a fall of over 5,700 a year. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Bad bosses need to know that they can't get away it. But the UK faces a crisis of enforcement. Years of cuts to the HSE and huge under-resourcing of other enforcement bodies has left us vulnerable and ill-prepared for the pandemic. It’s staggering that not a single employer has been prosecuted and fined for putting workers at risk of contracting Covid-19. The government must fund enforcement bodies properly so they can recruit and train qualified workplace inspectors, inspect more workplaces, and prosecute bad bosses who don’t keep their workers safe.” The TUC leader added: “As indoor hospitality reopens next week, workers’ safety must come first. Good ventilation is critical...  If workplaces aren’t Covid-secure, coronavirus cases could rebound again. High vaccination rates are no excuse for employers to slack on safety at work.”
TUC news releases. The TUC Action Plan to reform the labour market enforcement system, May 2021.

Renewed call to keep masks in secondary schools

Education unions and scientists have urged the government to rethink its decision to remove the requirement for face masks to be worn in secondary schools. The change, among other measures to ease Covid restrictions set to come into effect from 17 May, was confirmed by the government on 10 May. It comes despite a letter sent to education secretary Gavin Williamson earlier that week, from scientists, public health experts, education unions and parents’ groups, cautioning against easing the measure before 21 June and describing masks as “an essential part of the wider system of control in schools” (Risks 995). Jon Richards, head of education at UNISON, said: “This is a case of too much, too soon. Everyone wants to get back to normality, but any change has to happen safely. Otherwise, all the care taken over the past few months in schools could be undone.” He added: “New concerns over Covid variants and some increase in school infections show more caution is needed. It’s better to be safe than sorry and put staff, pupils and the community at risk.” Professor Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine warned that removing the requirement from 17 May could lead to more young people getting ill in secondary schools and colleges. He said: “Not all adults have been vaccinated and many schoolteachers are relatively young as well, and we haven’t even started vaccinating adolescents yet.”
DfE news release. UNISON news release and blog. Morning Star. The Telegraph. The Guardian and related story. BBC News Online.

Government ignores is own experts on school masks

The government has ignored advice from its own experts, who have concluded face masks in the classroom should be retained. A 21 April consensus statement from scientists on the government’s Sage committee told ministers that pupils should continue to wear face masks into the summer. Despite the recommendation from Sage’s SPI-M-O modelling sub-group, on 10 May the government confirmed that from 17 May masks would no longer be required in English secondary schools. Commenting on the decision to ease Covid restrictions in England, including the lifting of requirements for face coverings in schools and colleges, NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “It is disappointing that Boris Johnson has ignored the advice of Sage modellers to keep the use of face masks in the classroom, as well as communal areas in secondary schools and colleges. The NEU along with everyone else looks forward to the time when they are no longer necessary, but we are not out of the woods yet. Face masks help with suppressing transmission of the virus and therefore help to minimise the disruption caused when pupils or staff have to self-isolate.” He added: “Schools and colleges are doing a very good job of keeping students and staff safe and they should be permitted to retain mask wearing in the classroom if they think it necessary for reasons such as a rise in local infection rates. This would be an entirely reasonable and responsible decision.” Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT general secretary, said: “School and college employers are ultimately responsible for the safety of staff and pupils and they will need to ensure that they have taken all appropriate steps, including reviewing their existing risk assessments, in light of the latest advice issued by the government.”
NEU news release. NASUWT news release.
SPI-M-O: Consensus Statement on COVID-19, 21 April 2021.

School shuts after more than 100 test positive

A secondary school shut last week after more than 100 pupils and staff tested positive for coronavirus. Wilsthorpe School, in Long Eaton, Derbyshire, did not reopen following the bank holiday after infections were confirmed. A phased reopening started on 11 May at the school, which has about 950 pupils. On 6 May, two mobile testing units opened exclusively for staff, pupils and people with a direct link to the school. They would remain until at least 17 May, the council said. Latest figures show Erewash, where the school is located, has the third highest infection rate in England at 65 per 100,000, a near five-fold increase on the previous week. In the seven days up to 6 May, the rate rose further still to 185.5, up from just 17.3 in the week up to 29 April. In a letter to families, the school said its “cautious approach” was designed to limit the spread of Covid-19. A statement from Dean Wallace, director of public health at Derbyshire County Council, noted: “You will no doubt be aware that there is a significant outbreak of Covid-19 among staff and students at Wilsthorpe School. We understand you will find this concerning but I’d like to reassure you that we are working closely with the school and Public Health England to take appropriate action to minimise the spread.” The statement added: “Our public health and children’s services departments are supporting the school and all cases and contacts are being asked to self-isolate and follow the necessary guidance. All public health, environmental health and infection, prevention and control actions are being implemented, including a deep clean of the entire school.”
Derbyshire County Council statement. BBC News Online and update.

UCU criticises university re-opening exercise

Lecturers’ union UCU has criticised the government's decision to resume in-person teaching at universities from 17 May, saying it makes little sense for staff and students as most lessons will have already finished. Commenting after the 10 May announcement, the union said it would be better to wait until next term for a wider reopening of campuses as more people will have been vaccinated. It also said the government should be providing much more funding to support student and staff wellbeing. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “The decision to return to in-person teaching on university campuses when classes for the vast majority of students have already finished is a distraction, placing more workload onto burnt out staff. The point of universities is learning and research, not jumping through ridiculous hoops.” She added: “This looks like a stupid end to a stupid year beset by government mismanagement. It would be much safer to delay any in-person teaching until September when many more students and staff will have been vaccinated. This last-minute announcement will cause further stress for staff who are already facing unmanageable workloads. After months of chaos and uncertainty, we should be focusing on planning for September.”
DfE news release. UCU news release.

Compulsory vaccinations for care staff won’t work

Health and social care workers who felt under greater pressure from their employers to receive Covid-19 vaccination were more likely to decline it, according to preliminary new research highlighting factors influencing uptake. The study, not yet peer reviewed, was led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) in collaboration with the NHS Race and Health Observatory, Public Health England and the Royal College of Nursing. Sandra Mounier-Jack, an associate professor in health policy at LSHTM and a study author, said: “Our work shows a move towards mandating Covid-19 vaccination is likely to harden stances and negatively affect trust in the vaccination, provider, and policymakers. Health and social care employers are in a pivotal position to facilitate Covid-19 vaccination access, ensuring staff are aware of how to get vaccinated and promoting a workplace environment in which vaccination decisions are informed and voluntary.” Responding to the findings, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “This study makes plain any talk of compulsory vaccination could damage take-up severely. Care workers need clear, accurate information from their employers about when and how they to get their jabs.” She added: “If achieving maximum coverage is the goal, employers and policymakers will get better results through encouragement, reassurance and removal of any practical barriers for staff. Forced injections simply aren’t the answer.”
UNISON news release. LSHTM news release.
Sadie Bell, Richard M Clarke, Sharif A Ismail, Oyinkansola Ojo-Aromokudu, Habib Naqvi, Yvonne Coghill, Helen Donovan, Louise Letley, Pauline Paterson, Sandra Mounier-Jack. COVID-19 vaccination beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours among health and social care workers in the UK: a mixed-methods study. MedRxiv pre-print.

Inquest into Covid death of Belly Mujinga welcomed

An inquest is to be held into the death of rail worker Belly Mujinga, more than a year after she died of Covid-19. North London Coroner Andrew Walker ruled that there was reason to suspect that Ms Mujinga’s death was “unnatural.” The move was welcomed by her union, TSSA, which described it as “a step forward in the fight for justice.” The coroner said that there was “a recognised increased risk for frontline workers,” and that there were concerns “about the provision of PPE and the deployment of Mrs Mujinga at the station which may have involved an element of human error.” Mr Walker added that two other workers had become unwell with Covid-like symptoms while working at the same station, London Victoria, one of whom also died from the infection. The British Transport Police concluded at the time that there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone with a crime, but the family’s lawyers say they had been prevented from bringing a private prosecution because the force has refused to release the name of a suspect, amid concerns Mrs Mujinga may have been spat at during an exchange with a member of the public. TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “Our entire union will welcome the decision to hold an inquest into Belly’s tragic death. As far as we are concerned there have always been a number of outstanding questions about what happened to Belly and an inquest will be a step forward in the fight for justice.” He added: “Belly’s death touched the nation and was keenly felt by so many transport workers who have bravely been on the frontline throughout this terrible pandemic. We simply must know what happened and the lessons which can be learned.”
TSSA news release. Morning Star.

Key workers were ‘anxious’ through the pandemic

Almost threequarters (74.2 per cent) of key workers felt anxious about going into work last year, an Usdaw survey has found. By far the biggest factor contributing to members’ anxiety is a fear of contracting the virus, the union said, with seven out of ten respondents identifying this as the cause. Over 4,000 members responded to the survey. Paddy Lillis, Usdaw’s general secretary said: “The vast majority of Usdaw members are key workers, in jobs and industries crucial to the country’s response to the coronavirus crisis. Very few of these jobs can be done from home.” He added: “Anxiety about exposure to the virus and social distancing in workplaces, increased customer abuse, isolation from friends and family, home schooling and juggling work with care, stress and worry about the future, about job security and family income – Usdaw members are facing these pressures on a daily basis. The survey demonstrates the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of Usdaw members and gives a voice to their experience of working in critical sectors of the economy throughout the coronavirus crisis. We remain focused on identifying how work affects our members’ mental health and ensure members get the right support when it does.”
Usdaw news release.



Plan to boost workers’ rights absent from plan

The TUC has accused the government of ‘rowing back’ on its promise to boost workers’ rights, after ministers failed to include an employment bill in the Queen’s Speech. In 2019, the government promised that it would bring forward a new employment bill to improve people’s rights at work. But two years on no new legislation has been brought forward. Commenting on the decision to exclude an employment bill from the 11 May Queen’s Speech, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said “the government has rowed back on its promise boost to workers’ rights by not bringing forward its long overdue employment bill.” She added: “This pandemic has brutally exposed the terrible working conditions and insecurity many of our key workers in retail, care, and delivery face. We need action now to deal with the scourge of insecure work – not more dithering and delay. Zero hours contracts and other exploitative working practices like fire and rehire must be banned once and for all. Every worker deserves to be treated with dignity and respect at work.” TUC polling published last month revealed that more than eight in ten (84 per cent) working people want all workers to have the same basic rights (Risks 995). GMB and Unite both condemned the government failure to move forward with the employment bill, and a failure to address the fire and rehire scandal.
TUC news release. Queen’s Speech, 11 May 2021. GMB news release. Unite news release. NUJ news release. Prospect news release. BBC News Online.

Union safety first call as train cracks stop services

The cancellation of train services after cracks were found in the high-speed fleet show the need for rigorous safety controls, rail unions have said. Eight trains in the fleet were taken out of service last week after the hairline cracks were discovered. Great Western Railway (GWR) said the cracks were found during routine maintenance of two of its Hitachi 800 trains. It said “possible issues” had been discovered on another six trains, which had been withdrawn from service while an investigation was carried out. TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said services must not resume until it is “one hundred per cent safe” to do so. He said: “It’s welcome news that railway engineering staff have found these cracks before they led to an accident. It’s now absolutely vital that a full investigation is carried out into what led to these cracks. This rolling stock must not be allowed back into service until we are one hundred per cent certain these trains are safe.” He added: “It’s important to point out that the affected trains are relatively new, in which case the manufacturers should foot the bill for any repairs, not passengers or taxpayers.” RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Hitachi needs to ensure the highest safety standards and properly investigate and rectify the issues.” He added: “This situation demonstrates once again that it is reckless for the rail companies and the DfT [Department for Transport] to move the industry to diluted, risk-based maintenance regimes which extends maintenance cycles on rolling stock or on the infrastructure, whether that be on the mainline railway or on the tube and metro services, to cut costs and strip out staff. The railway needs to be maintained rigorously and to the highest possible standards to protect the travelling public and the staff and that will remain RMT's key demand.”
RMT news release. TSSA news release. BBC News Online.

RMT accuses rail firm Abellio of cutting corners on safety

Rail union RMT has accused Abellio of playing fast and loose with safety on its trains. The union said that during industrial action the company has been using unqualified ‘scab labour’ to act as a second person on trains responsible for fare collection, despite these volunteers lacking the knowledge, experience and safety competencies required of the job. RMT said that “revenue is the driving force behind this reckless decision during a pandemic where public safety and confidence should be the overriding priority.” On the eve of the latest walkout on 9 May in a dispute over pay levels for rest day working, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “It is appalling that rather than sitting down with the union to negotiate a fair settlement to this long running dispute Abellio are prepared to play fast and loose with public safety on those lines still running a Sunday service.” He added: “The silence from the political leadership and Transport Scotland on this issue is deafening and it’s about time they started taking responsibility and called Abellio ScotRail to account.” The union has launched an online petition “demanding pay justice and equality for ScotRail workers in light of Dutch state-owned operator Abellio’s failure to treat all grades of workers equally in respect of rest day working arrangements.”

RMT news release, related news release and petition.

‘Remote sign-on’ prompts more bus action

London bus operator Metroline’s decision not to drop permanently its controversial ‘remote sign-on’ policy will lead to five days of strike action that will cause serious disruption to services in the capital, Unite has said. The union announced 48 hours of strike action by more than 4,000 bus drivers will take place on Tuesday 25 May and Wednesday 26 May, to be followed by a 72-hour strike from 7 June to 9 June. Unite said it gave Metroline bosses nearly three weeks’ warning to drop its policy because of health and safety concerns impacting on its members and the travelling public - or face industrial action. Unite regional officer Mary Summers said: “Unite wrote to Metroline’s managing director Stephen Harris last month to give a generous and reasonable timeframe for the company to reconsider its position prior to the union issuing notice for industrial action. However, we warned Metroline that if we didn’t hear from the company by 10 May that it was jettisoning this misguided policy, we would be announcing strikes dates which we have now done.” She added: “We are sorry for the disruption to the travelling public that the 48-hour and 72-hour strikes will cause, however, we firmly believe that the health and safety of our members must be our paramount consideration.” ‘Remote sign-on’ means drivers do not report to a depot, but meet their bus at an alternative location, such as a bus stop. Unite says this raises concerns over lack of toilets and canteens, increased driving hours and fatigue and waiting for the bus in unpredictable weather.
Unite news release.

Screen workers call for action on sexual harassment

TV and film union Bectu is calling for a meeting of industry bosses to address sexual harassment concerns, following an open letter signed by 1,000 workers from across the industry. The letter, penned by producer and Bectu rep Meriel Beale, demands an end to a culture that turns a blind eye to predators and harassers operating in plain sight. It has been signed by figures from across the industry, including head of Bectu Philippa Childs, former Channel 4 commissioner Kelly Webb-Lamb, broadcasters Ashanti Omkar, Dermot O’Leary and Joe Lycett, actors Lourdes Faberes and Rupert Graves, presenter Sarah-Jane Crawford, and ‘countless others’ from writers and producers, to camera operators and make-up artists, the union said. Head of Bectu, Philippa Childs said: “This cannot end with an open letter and social media outrage, and Bectu is calling for a meeting of industry bosses to establish meaningful, structural change to finally stamp out this scourge on our industry.” She added: “The film and TV industry is powered by creative, inventive, and hard-working people, many of whom are freelancers. Freelancers regularly move between productions, with no HR departments, no formal recruitment processes, and very little power. There are very few of the checks and balances that we expect to see in most workplaces. This haphazard approach to hiring and firing bakes in pre-existing inequalities and can very easily lead to an unchallenged culture of bullying and sexual harassment.”
BECTU news release. Joint letter.

New campaign to improve conditions for cleaners

A new alliance of trade unions has launched a listening campaign to get the views of cleaners on common issues affecting them at work. Cleaners United includes PCS, Unite, and the Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain (IWGB) and community organisations that are working together to improve the working conditions of cleaners. The listening campaign has been launched to tackle issues like low pay, discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, which cleaners say is rife in their industry. It will last until the end of July and will involve union reps and other volunteers talking to cleaners in their workplaces. Following that, cleaners will be invited to decide the direction that the national campaign will take and to work together to challenge employers and the government to improve working conditions. Cleaners can also take part in an online survey to report their views and experiences. Amanda Walters, Cleaners United campaign director, said: “No one should have to go to work and expect to experience bullying and harassment, or such low pay that they cannot provide for their family, or a lack of basic work rights such as sick pay. The listening campaign will be the biggest of its kind and will ensure that cleaners’ voices are heard.”
PCS news release. The Cleaners United survey is available in English, Polish and Spanish.

Bargaining on mental health at work

Unless policies are put in place, increased home working and pressures placed on staff are liable to act as ‘detonators’ of mental health problems, public sector union UNISON has warned. In response, the union says its bargaining guidance is evolving to help activists meet the challenge at the negotiating table. It says its new guide will assist branches ensure employers treat mental health with the seriousness it deserves, with procedures that protect staff in general and maximise the assistance given to workers experiencing mental health problems in particular. UNISON national officer for bargaining support Kevin Russell said: “Our frontline NHS and social care workers dealt tirelessly to save lives. Unless policies are put in place, increased home working and pressures placed on staff are liable to act as detonators of mental health problems for those delivering vital public services.” He added: “Covid-19 is set to affect people’s working lives for many years to come. It is vitally important that UNISON sets a bargaining agenda that defends the interests of our members in dealing with those changes.” UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “Employers must provide supportive work environments, recognising the positive impact they can have on people’s mental health and wellbeing.”
UNISON news release, related news release and new guide, Bargaining on Mental Health Policies. Related UNISON guidance: Bargaining over Workplace Issues During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Bargaining on Leave Guide.

Mental health drive in haulage and logistics

Senior figures from across road haulage, warehousing and logistics have convened to determine how to tackle the growing mental health crisis in the sector. The 13 May roundtable, the first of its kind in the sector and chaired by Unite’s Diana Holland, also involved representatives from the mental health charity Mates in Mind and the Department for Transport (DfT). Major firms participating included Biffa, ECM, Hanson UK Wincanton, Gist, DPD, DHL, Suttons, Logistics Uk, CILT, FedEx and Veolia. Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “Unite’s reps have reported a huge increase in the number of members raising mental health concerns since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic [Risks 994] and in the road haulage and logistics sector they are determined to support positive mental health and make a real difference.” She added: “The nature of the sector means that the mental health of workers is often challenged by the nature of the work they undertake,” adding the roundtable was “a critical first step in beginning to tackle the mental health challenges in the sector.”
Unite news release.

MPs urged to support retail violence action

A coalition including retail union Usdaw and more than 30 major retail businesses is urging MPs to avoid shackling over three million shopworkers to a “life sentence” of violence, abuse and anti-social behaviour. It is urging them to back an amendment to a flagship government crime bill that would offer frontline workers greater protection. The call for stiffer penalties for those committing assaults and attacks on shopworkers coincides with the launch of a new report, ‘Breaking the Cycle: Gaining the views of criminal justice practitioners and retail offenders on effective sentencing’. The research, written by Dr Emmeline Taylor and funded through the Co-op’s Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities campaign, offers a response to the government white paper ‘A Smarter Approach to Sentencing and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’. Dr Emmeline Taylor said: “The Bill introduces better protections for emergency workers. Given the alarming frequency and severity of assaults against shopworkers, an amendment to the Bill to include them would signal that these crimes will be taken seriously. The legal leverage of the new Act could potentially improve the likelihood that offenders comply with treatment services and secure long-term change in their behaviour.”  Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Abuse should never be just a part of the job, shopworkers deserve respect and the protection of the law.”
 Usdaw news release.



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 online 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, occupational 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.



Canada: Renewed call to hold deadly employers to account

Canada’s unions are marking the anniversary of the 1992 Westray mining disaster by calling for negligent employers to be held accountable in the event of a workplace death or injury, through effective enforcement of the Westray law. The first known criminal probe into a Covid-19 workplace outbreak occurred in January when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) initiated a criminal investigation into the 10 May 2020 death of Benito Quesada, a worker at the Cargill meat packing plant in High River, Alberta. The investigation commenced after a family member filed a complaint that the company was negligent in protecting its workers from Covid-19. Charges have not been laid to date, but the national union federation CLC says this is an important milestone in ensuring that when a worker is seriously injured or killed as a result of employer negligence it is treated as a crime, not an accident. “We know that Covid-19 has spread in workplaces over the past year, and in some cases, workers weren’t properly protected,” said Hassan Yussuff, president of the CLC. “In the event of a worker’s serious injury or death, it is imperative that a full and thorough investigation be conducted to ensure that there was no negligence on the part of the employer.” In May 1992, an early morning underground methane explosion killed all 26 miners working in the Westray coal mine in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. “We honour their memory by continuing to fight for workers’ health and safety rights,” Yussuff said. “We have worked, and we will continue to work with government representatives and other stakeholders to ensure that the Westray law is upheld and effectively enforced. Every worker deserves to go home safely at the end of each day.”
CLC news release.

Global: Companies urged by UN to protect seafarers

A wide-ranging human rights checklist has been issued to businesses in the maritime industry to protect seafarers stranded on ships due to new Covid-19 variants and government-imposed travel restrictions. The joint initiative by the UN Global Compact, the UN Human Rights Office, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has created a Human Rights Due Diligence Tool for cargo owners and charterers. It has been issued amid concerns that the number of crew stranded working beyond their contracts at sea by Covid-19 restrictions could surge from the current level of 200,000, potentially returning to the peak of 400,000 seafarers at the height of the crew change crisis in September 2020. UN agencies hope the new guidance will help ensure that the working conditions and human rights of seafarers are respected and comply with international standards. Stephen Cotton, general secretary of the global transport unions’ federation ITF said: “For far too long, shipping has been a human rights blind spot for global brands. Responsible companies in today’s world want to understand how they or partners in their supply chains might be violating human rights, even inadvertently. That’s why in the midst of the crew change crisis, the launch of this tool couldn’t be more timely. It spells out exactly the questions that companies need to ask their suppliers or charterers about what’s happening to seafarers in their supply chains, and provides worker-led pathways for monitoring and enforcement to remedy any violations or mistreatment.” ITF, the International Chamber of Shipping, the Institute for Human Rights and Business, the Rafto Foundation for Human Rights, and the OECD contributed actively to the development of the tool.
UN news release.

USA: Official acceptance that coronavirus is an airborne threat

US federal health authorities have updated public guidance about how the coronavirus spreads, emphasising that transmission occurs by inhaling very fine respiratory droplets and aerosols, as well as through contact with sprayed droplets or touching contaminated hands to one’s mouth, nose or eyes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now states explicitly – in large, bold lettering – that airborne virus can be inhaled even when more than six feet away from an infected individual. The new language, posted online on 7 May, is a change from the agency’s previous position that most infections were acquired through “close contact, not airborne transmission.” As the pandemic unfolded last year, infectious disease experts and unions warned for months that both the CDC and World Health Organisation (WHO) were overlooking research that strongly suggested that coronavirus travels considerable distances and can remain airborne for hours. Then, on 30 April, WHO changed its position to recognise airborne transmission (Risks 995), quickly followed by CDC. The new focus underscores the need for the US federal workplace safety regulator OSHA to issue standards for employers to address potential hazards in the workplace, some experts said. “They hadn’t talked much about aerosols and were more focused on droplets,” said David Michaels, an epidemiologist at George Washington School of Public Health and head of OSHA in the Obama administration. The new information has significant implications for indoor environments, and workplaces in particular, Dr Michaels said. Virus-laden particles “maintain their airborne properties for hours, and they accumulate in a room that doesn’t have good ventilation,” he noted.

Scientific Brief: SARS-CoV-2 Transmission, CDC update, 7 May 2021.
World Health Organisation’s Q&A on Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): How is it transmitted?, updated 30 April 2021.

Zimbabwe: Safety campaign in small-scale mining

Campaigns by trade unions, civil society organisations and mine affected communities in Zimbabwe are seeking to improve the deadly working conditions of miners by formalising artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM). IndustriALL, the global union for the mining sector, says hundreds of these miners are dying in flooded and collapsing mines. Rock falls often block escape routes and toxic gases suffocate the miners in poorly ventilated mines. It adds most rescue operations carried out by the government’s ill-equipped teams are never completed, and only a few miners are rescued before the operations are abandoned. IndustriALL says with no other source of income, over one million miners, or 14 per cent of the country’s labour force, continue to look for minerals, especially gold, to eke out a living. Unions in Zimbabwe have long identified the risks in ASM of unsafe and poorly ventilated pits. Further, the shafts and tunnels are prone to collapse and flooding, especially after heavy rains. There is also lack of personal protective equipment and exposure to dust. And miners are exposed to other risks from hard labour as the work involves digging with picks and shovels repetitively over long hours. Most miners or their employers cannot afford to buy mining equipment and machinery. There is also exposure to extremely hazardous substances such as mercury. Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL director for mining, said: “IndustriALL supports formalisation of ASM to address the appalling health and safety conditions and decent work deficits in Zimbabwe and other African countries. It is distressing that miners continue to lose their lives in preventable accidents that could otherwise be prevented by national laws and international labour standards.”
IndustriALL news release.




TUC Hazards at Work 6th Edition

Stock Code: HS111
Price £22 RRP £52
Also now available as an eBook
This is the Sixth edition of the TUC's best selling guide to health and safety at work.

Used by reps, officers, employers, professionals in the field and even enforcement officers. This incredibly popular book is now even more informative at over 400 pages, an invaluable resource, which incorporates common hazards and cause of ill health at work, and how to assess and prevent them.

The book also contains HSE and other guidance, extensive checklists, case studies and web resources.
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