The TUC is calling on all UK retailers sourcing garments from Bangladesh to support the victims of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, that killed over 1,100 people in April last year. The call came ahead of a 15 July meeting at Westminster arranged by Alison McGovern MP, shadow minister for international development and vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ethics and Sustainability. The event was supported by the campaign organisation Labour Behind the Label. They say the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund is still £13m short of its target amount because many retailers who sell clothes made in Bangladesh on the UK high street have yet to contribute. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It is shocking that more than 2,000 workers injured in the tragedy along with the families who lost relatives last year still have not been paid all the compensation they are owed.” She added: “This money is urgently needed to provide medical support and income to the victims. All companies which are making money from clothes made in Bangladesh have an ethical obligation to donate to the Fund – not just those who were sourcing goods produced at Rana Plaza.” Anna McMullen from Labour Behind the Label said: “It is inexcusable that some UK brands like Matalan have yet to pay a penny into the ILO Rana Plaza Trust Fund to compensate the families of workers who died in the factory collapse, and the victims who now live with life changing injuries.” She added: “What message do we send to the world about how UK companies do business if, when disasters happen, UK brands fail to act responsibly?”
Global union confederation ITUC has given Bangladesh a ‘failing grade’ on a Sustainability Compact signed on 8 July 2013 in the aftermath of the devastating Rana Plaza garment building collapse. ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said “We are appalled that the government of Bangladesh has done so little, given that nearly 4 million workers depend on the government to effectively implement this plan. Given the lack of progress, the next industrial disaster is only a matter of time.” She added: “Worse, the Commerce Minister has personally threatened to retaliate against unions in Bangladesh that have pointed out the government’s failure to protect workers’ rights. An ITUC, IndustriALL and UNI Global Union evaluation of the implementation of the Sustainability Compact concludes that Bangladesh has clearly failed to address the majority of the issues in the Compact.”
A coalition of union and business groups is calling on the government to give extra legal protection to staff who are assaulted when selling alcohol. A letter published in last week’s Sunday Telegraph arguing the case is countersigned by leaders of the shopworkers’ union Usdaw, retail trade groups and Pubwatch, the organisation bringing licensees and police together to prevent crime and anti-social behaviour in public houses. The letter calls on peers to support an amendment to the criminal justice bill, tabled by Lord Foulkes of Cumnock. The letter reads: “Staff in the pub, retail and hospitality trades are the first line of defence against unauthorised sales of alcohol and there is a real need to address the scourge of violence against these workers. We are concerned that the attackers are getting away with relatively lenient sentences.” It adds: “We want Parliament to provide a real deterrent to the small minority of individuals who cause real damage to the reputation of the pub, off-licence and hospitality trade and have no respect for the hard working people who serve them. Parliament has placed a duty on these workers to enforce and police the laws they pass, so it is only right they also provide the additional protection needed to help keep those workers safe.”
In a victory for trade unions and anti-blacklisting campaigners, a High Court judge has ruled that hundreds of blacklisting compensation claims can be heard together in a class action. The judge ruled that separate cases made by victims of blacklisting will be heard together under a Group Litigation Order (GLO). The next court date has been provisionally set for October and there will be a further hearing in December. The cases will be managed by a steering committee comprising solicitors acting for the unions UCATT, Unite and GMB and the Blacklist Support Group. Construction giants including Balfour Beatty, Laing O’Rourke and Skanska, who produced their own cut price compensation scheme in a bid to bypass the court process (Risks 662), will now have to answer in court to accusations of conspiracy, human rights violations, breach of the Data Protection Act and defamation. Speaking after the 10 July ruling, UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy said: “Today was a green light in the battle for blacklisting justice. Over five years after the scandal was first revealed blacklisted victims are beginning to see justice in action. The companies involved in ruining workers lives are going to be forced to answer for their actions.” GMB national legal officer Maria Ludkin said: “Despite numerous objections from the lawyers for the construction companies, the High Court master set a calendar to clarify legal and factual issues before the next case management hearing in October. GMB is delighted that the court now takes the view that there should be no more artificial delays and the litigation now needs to progress to a rapid conclusion to achieve justice for blacklisted workers.”
Ÿ Morning Star.
A shameful employer tried to blame a worker for the accident that left him with serious injuries and his co-worker dead. Unite member Joseph Horsley, an employee of road recovery firm RWR, had driven a truck to assist a colleague whose own work vehicle had broken down at the side of the road. He was standing between the broken down vehicle and another RWR vehicle when the handbrake in his own truck failed, causing it to roll backwards and crush him and his colleague. The colleague was killed and Joseph was left with back injuries and severe mental trauma. He said: “I will never forget the moment when the truck started towards us – and couldn’t understand why it was happening as I’d clearly applied the handbrake. I never received any apology from the company for wrongly accusing me for being somehow liable for the fault which caused the truck to roll.” He added: “What’s worse of course is that while I faced false accusations, my colleague paid the ultimate price for their inexcusable negligence.” Unite regional secretary Annmarie Kilcline said: “Where serious injuries and a loss of life are concerned there can be no grey areas. We were committed to defending our member from the false accusations that he was at fault for causing this horrific incident.” She said it was only when the evidence gathered by Unite’s legal experts “proved that it was wholly a fault with the RWR vehicle, they agreed to settle the case. However, the undue stress RWR caused our member, at a time when he had already undergone a traumatic experience, by pointing the finger of blame anywhere but at themselves, is inexcusable.” Mr Horsley secured damages for his physical and psychological injuries.
Strike action by London Underground power control staff has been extended a further week to 22 July, with the union RMT accusing the company of ‘winging it on safety’. Mick Cash, RMT acting general secretary, said: “Management’s claim that they can run the system without them is both provocative and dangerous.” He added: “We now have a catalogue of safety breaches compiled since the action began where critical inspections have been shelved and agreed procedures ripped up. That dossier has been sent to the safety authorities.” The union leader warned: “We will not tolerate a situation where London Underground are literally winging it on safety to try and break the strike. We also know that fewer trains are running as the system teeters on the brink. If we are going to make any progress the management side need to get out of their trenches and engage with us in serious and meaningful negotiations.” Unite, which represents most of the 40 power technicians, last week called for London Underground management to return to talks at the conciliation service, Acas, amid mounting union safety concerns for passengers (Risks 662).
A health care assistant at a mental health hospital in Gloucester has died after being stabbed at work. Sharon Wall, 53, was attacked and stabbed in the back at 7.30am on 9 July at the inpatient unit of Wotton Lawn Hospital. She died about an hour later at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. Shaun Clee, chief executive of 2gether NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The extremely sad event, which resulted in the death of a highly compassionate and dedicated colleague, has had a profound impact on everyone working in our trust. Sharon Wall was a well-respected healthcare assistant and everyone who knew her speaks about her warmth, caring nature and good sense of humour. She will be deeply missed by colleagues and the service users she supported.” He added: “We are still in the early stages of the investigation and continue to assist Gloucestershire Police in their work. Above all, our thoughts remain with Sharon's friends and family and, along with Gloucestershire Police we ask that the family are given privacy and time to grieve during this difficult period.” Patient Ryan Matthews, 61, has been charged with murder. According to NHS figures, 679 staff at the 2gether NHS Trust were assaulted in 2012/13 out of 2,346 declared staff. Health care is exempted from preventive Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspections under the government’s hands-off enforcement strategy.
US evidence of chemical related deaths, a soaring fatality rate and widespread over-exposure to lung wrecking, cancer-causing dust, has raised seriously unhealthy questions about the UK government’s reassurances on fracking safety. ‘Fracking boom’, a new online report from Hazards, warns that potentially deadly silica dust exposures, toxic chemicals already linked to four US worker deaths during ‘flowback’ operations, and many of the other hazards of more typical extractive industries present underestimated and serious safety and health risks. Hazards notes “for workers in the hydraulic fracturing industry that would smash the fuel out of ground, there is already evidence those fracking risks can be deadly.” It points to a report from the US union federation AFL-CIO that correlates a sharp rise in oil industry fatalities with the creation of fracking boom towns. And US government workplace research agency NIOSH warned in May this year it had uncovered a series of worker deaths related to exposure to chemicals in fracking operations. According to Hazards, the HSE’s “threadbare” fracking webpages suggest the regulator “seems worryingly oblivious to many of these risks.” Unite, the union that organises many of the construction, rig and transport workers on which fracking would rely, agreed at its July 2014 national conference to lobby for a moratorium on fracking.
Ÿ Fracking boom, Hazards online report, July 2014.
The government has refused to commit to a full public inquiry into offshore helicopter safety. Outgoing transport minister Stephen Hammond declined to agree to an inquiry after last week’s Transport Select Committee report backed calls for an official probe (Risks 662). The former minister, a casualty of this week’s reshuffle, said the government was carefully considering its response to the select committee's report. The report follows the 2013 crash of a Super Puma helicopter near Sumburgh Airport in Shetland. Four workers were killed when the helicopter ditched into the North Sea. Offshore union RMT said it was disappointed but it was not unexpected from this government which has made it clear it wants to take a light regulatory approach. Lawyer Jim Morris of the law firm Irwin Mitchell said: “It is disappointing that the government appears to be stalling on adopting the recommendations of the Transport Committee’s report regarding a public inquiry into offshore helicopter safety.” He added that in the light of the onshore helicopter tragedies in Vauxhall, London, and Glasgow last year, “we would also urge the government to use this time to seriously consider whether – rather than purely focusing on offshore concerns – there is potential to broaden the scope of any future public inquiry to analyse the safety of all commercial passenger-carrying helicopter activity in the UK.”
Decisions on whether a footballer can return to the pitch after a head injury should be taken by an independent doctor, and not the player or coach, a top medical journal has concluded. An editorial in The Lancet Neurology says these decisions should not be made “by those with a vested interest.” The editorial came as German players celebrated their World Cup victory, but with midfielder Christoph Kramer admitting he cannot remember his performance in the final against Argentina, because of the concussion he suffered during the game. FIFPro, the world players’ union, has called for an investigation into concussion protocols. Kramer’s injury was one of a number of incidents at the event that led to controversy, including the case of Uruguay's Alvaro Pereira, who continued playing after suffering concussion in a group match against England. The Lancet Neurology editorial noted: “Because signs and symptoms of concussion can be delayed, removing an athlete when there is any suspicion of injury would seem to be the safest approach.” Football’s global governing body Fifa has been criticised for failing to deal with the incidents safely, by ensuring that the players were immediately taken off the pitch and removed from the game. The long-term consequences of mild traumatic brain injuries can include dementia and other neurological degenerative diseases. Headaches and dizziness can appear in the short-term.
Ÿ The Guardian.
British Rail has paid compensation to a former employee with a terminal asbestos-related cancer. Harold Shaw began working for British Rail at Crewe Railway Works in 1958 as a labourer in the Tender Shop. The tenders were used to carry coal and water for the steam locomotive trains. His job was to clean out the fitting pits at the works, which were lined with asbestos. He was exposed to clouds of asbestos dust as he swept it up and tipped it out from a wheelbarrow. He worked in the role for 25 years without any protection. In 1980, Harold moved to a new role in the Asbestos House where he removed asbestos-lagged exhaust pipes until 1988 when he retired. In May 2013, after his breathing deteriorated rapidly, Harold was admitted to hospital where tests confirmed he had mesothelioma - a fatal cancer caused by asbestos. Harold said: “I used to be very active but now I’m on oxygen and morphine continuously and need help from my daughter to do the simplest of tasks such as driving to the supermarket to get my shopping.” Joanne Keen, from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm that secured a ‘substantial’ sum in compensation, said: “British Rail failed to protect its workers at Crewe Railway Works from the dangers of asbestos and now employees like Harold are suffering the consequences. Although the exposure to asbestos occurred over 50 years ago, it’s still very important that employers are held to account as the dangers were well known at the time.”
Ÿ Signal 1.
A government deal cooked up with the insurance industry and that robs asbestos cancer victims of a large chunk of their compensation (Risks 659) is continuing to attract criticism. The Daily Mirror’s Kevin Maguire notes: “Even workers gasping for final breaths are targets to be short-changed by Tory toff David Cameron.” The deal reversed a decision to exempt mesothelioma claimants from the system that reduces compensation by deducting legal costs from financial settlements. Maguire noted that the Commons Justice Committee was inadvertently sent a copy of a ‘Mesothelioma Heads of Agreement’ between the government and the Association of British Insurers (ABI). “Dated July 13, 2012, the existence of the hitherto private document suggests ministers had reached an understanding with insurers – some of who bankroll the Tory Party – when they were claiming in public that it was open to discussions,” Maguire writes. “So embarrassing is the release of the five-page agreement that lawyers for the Association of British Insurers asked for it back. The Justice Committee, to its credit, refused.” The Mirror’s assistant editor added: “I’d bet my last pound that this government would take a different, more generous approach if High Court judges were dying from inhaled wig hairs… Cameron looks after his own. Mesothelioma victims fighting for air aren’t on his radar.”
Ÿ Daily Mirror.
The widow of a Stafford planning officer found hanged has told an inquest her husband was “very distressed” by performance monitoring at work. Nicky Atkins challenged claims that 45-year-old Phil Atkins was only subject to “informal” monitoring following concerns about the standard of his work at Stafford Borough Council’s planning department. “It wasn’t informal - that is not how Phil saw it,” Mrs Atkins said. “He was very distressed at work and worried about losing his job. They were very heavy with him and I feel he was being bullied there.” The inquest heard that Mr Atkins, a principal planning officer who had worked for the council for 27 years since leaving school, was so affected by the suicide of planning department colleague Susan Empsall 18 months earlier that he kept the order of service from her funeral in his car. “He was very upset by Susie’s death,” Mrs Atkins told the inquest at Cannock. “There was quite inappropriate behaviour in reaction from the council since then.” She asked coroner Andrew Haigh if he could take up issues raised at the inquest with the council. But he advised her to use grievance procedures. “It is not a situation where I can send a report to Stafford Borough Council saying ‘look after your staff’,” Mr Haigh said. Mr Atkins was found hanged in woodland on the fringe of Cannock Chase on 3 May. PC Gina Bennett said she had interviewed an HR manager at the council who said that issues with Mr Atkins’ work were being addressed informally. “There were issues with regard to meeting deadlines, but no reason to manage the situation other than in an informal manner,” she said. Mrs Atkins had found three letters from the planning department “expressing some concern” about her husband's performance. Coroner Andrew Haigh concluded that the death was suicide. “He was unhappy in his work,” the coroner said. “It would appear that the view of the council was that Phil’s situation was not as serious as Phil thought it was. But he was clearly very much distressed by what was going on.”
A turf company has been made to pay £100,000 after a man was run over by a turf harvesting machine he had been driving. A safety system had been disabled on the 27-tonne vehicle. A hearing at Hull Crown Court heard worker Lee Woodhouse, 31, was killed by the harvester in September 2011. York-based Turfgrass Services International Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) over a “preventable death”. The firm had admitted safety failings at an earlier hearing. HSE said Mr Woodhouse, who had been at the company for a year, had been driving the harvester but got out to “observe or adjust the operation” of the machine. After he was hit, the harvester continued to run until it hit a tree. HSE said a wire link had been put across the terminals of a relay switch. This “defeated a number of safety features on the harvester including, crucially, the cut-off switch attached to the driver's seat designed to cut the operation of the harvesting machinery if the driver was not sitting in the seat,” it said. The court heard the harvester had operated with the safety features disabled since 2009. Further investigation revealed that the safety features on another turf cutting machine being used by the same company had also been “deliberately defeated” in 2011. Turfgrass Services International Ltd, trading as Inturf, was fined £67,000 and ordered to pay £33,000 costs for a criminal safety breach. HSE inspector Andrea Jones said: “This was a tragic incident that has had devastating, and life-changing effects, on the whole family, particularly Lee's wife, two small children and his parents. The incident was entirely preventable.”
A Slough construction firm and a bulldozer operator have been sentenced for serious criminal safety failings after a worker was run over and killed while working on the M25 motorway widening project. Mihai Hondru, 39, suffered multiple crush injuries and died at the scene when he was struck by a reversing bulldozer near Junction 29 at Upminster on 20 October 2010. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted J McArdle Contracts Ltd and bulldozer operator Stephen Blackmore. J McArdle Contracts Ltd was sentenced this week at Chelmsford Crown Court. Stephen Blackmore was sentenced at an earlier hearing. The court was told that Mr Hondru was employed by J McArdle Contracts Ltd, which was managing the rebuilding of the motorway embankment. He was directing lorries to the correct position on the embankment for them to tip their loads of soil. Stephen Blackmore’s job was then to level the tipped soil with his bulldozer. As Mr Hondru was helping a lorry driver manoeuvre his vehicle into position, he was struck by the reversing bulldozer, driven by Mr Blackmore. A one-way system was not operating problem on the day of the tragedy, as ground conditions meant the lorries had to reverse into position. J McArdle Contracts Ltd – now in liquidation – was fined £2,000 after being convicted of a criminal safety offence. The judge commented on sentencing that if the company had still been trading the fine would have been £200,000. Stephen Blackmore, 54, was also found guilty of a criminal breach and given a six month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to pay costs of £2,500.
A Worcestershire construction company has been fined for criminal safety neglect after a 27-year-old worker sustained life-changing injuries when he was struck by a reversing excavator. Thomas Plumb was run over by the vehicle as it reversed on a site in Gretton, near Cheltenham, on 10 May 2013, leaving his right leg shattered. He was in a coma for ten days and in hospital for seven weeks. He has since undergone extensive surgery, including bone and skin grafts and now has metal rods and screws in his leg, knee and ankle. The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which prosecuted his employer, SD Launchbury Ltd, at Cheltenham Magistrates’ Court. HSE discovered SD Launchbury Ltd had not carried out a proper assessment of the risks on site and so had failed to ensure a safe system of work was in place, including the use of a trained banksman. There was also no segregation or barriers between dangerous moving plant and pedestrians. The court heard how the excavator did not have adequate rear view mirrors or other visual aids, and its warning beacon was not working. In addition, the operator’s direct field of vision was obscured by the counterbalance on the vehicle. Workers had not been provided with information about working around excavators or given high-vis personal protective equipment. SD Launchbury Ltd also failed to ensure that work on the site was properly supervised. The company was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £913 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence.
Mark Harper is the new minister for health and safety, following David Cameron’s reshuffle this week. The previous incumbent, Mike Penning, is now policing and criminal justice minister. Mark Harper’s return to the government see him appointed the Department for Work and Pensions’ minister of state for disabled people, a post that again comes with the workplace health and safety brief tacked on. Commenting on the return of the former chartered accountant to government, the BBC noted: “The MP quit his role as immigration minister earlier this year after admitting to having employed an illegal immigrant as a cleaner.”
Health care workers in Africa have died in the ‘worst ever’ Ebola outbreak because they did not have the necessary tools and equipment, Public Services International has revealed. The global trade union federation, condemning the “criminal neglect” that led to the preventable deaths of dozens of healthcare workers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, warned the Ebola outbreak is “the worst ever and the first to spill widely across several countries.” Ebola has no cure, but can be diagnosed and treated. Treatment requires intensive care and close contact between the patient and the healthcare worker. Rosa Pavanelli, PSI general secretary, warned: “We cannot accept pitiful excuses, whether from health ministers or donor agencies. Health workers must have the tools to do their jobs. All whose work brings them in contact with Ebola victims must have the protective gear. Our members are dying because of unsafe working conditions, this is criminal neglect.” Dr Ayuba Wabba, the chair of PSI’s West African Health Sector Unions’ Network (WAHSUN), demanded action from Ministries of Health, the World Health Organisation and the West African Health Organisation, adding: “Our unions will keep up the pressure, every day, until our members no longer have to lay down their lives without cause, and until we are able to provide the quality care that is so urgently needed.”
Ÿ Interview with Paul Tilame of the PSI-affiliated National Private Sector Health Workers Union of Liberia (NPSHWU).
Ÿ IRIN News.
A Guangzhou court has dismissed a lawsuit brought by 34 shipyard workers who claimed their employer, CSSC Guangzhou Longxue Shipbuilding Co. Ltd, had colluded with its affiliated hospital to conceal the results of health checks which should have revealed the early stages of the deadly dust disease pneumoconiosis. China Labour Bulletin (CLB) reports that the Liwan District Court ruled that the workers did not prove they’d had their medical checks done at the Guangzhou Shipbuilding Factory Hospital between 2009 and 2011, and said that their current medical condition had nothing to do with the medical test results in the past. Some of the workers expressed exasperation at the ruling and said they would meet their lawyers to discuss an appeal. The case originated in November 2012, when one worker left the company and did his final medical check-up at the Guangzhou Shipbuilding Factory Hospital. The results showed no abnormalities on his lungs but just seven days later when he went to a local hospital that specialised in occupational disease, he was promptly diagnosed with pneumoconiosis. When news of the worker’s test results started to spread, many of his co-workers followed suit and got tested independently. Eventually, 23 workers were diagnosed with suspected pneumoconiosis, an occupational lung disease caused by inhaling dust. Most of the workers were welders who had worked for many years in cramped, dust-filled ship compartments. According to CLB: “The key problem for the worker litigants was the health checks were commissioned by the employer and the results were sent to the employer, making it very difficult for them to get their hands on the evidence.”
Factory doctor Ahmet Tellioglu has seen how workplace exposures cause serious occupational diseases. But the Turkish medic says the official statistics don’t recognise the problem, with the authorities instead burying the evidence. He says: “According to official data, the incidence of occupational diseases in Turkey is 30 times lower than in the EU. Since it is unlikely that this is a true reflection of reality, we can infer that only one of 30 occupational disease cases is reported in Turkey.” Writing in Global Labour Column, he notes that “only 59 cases of death have been recorded to be an outcome of occupational disease in Turkey from 2004 to 2012,” a minute number compared to other industrialised nations. Tellioglu was fired in 2013 after raising concerns about cases of occupational disease in the Istanbul chemical factory where he was employed as the works doctor. His revelations resulted in a Ministry of Labour inquiry. “The results of this inquiry are yet to be seen; however, in the history of Turkey, no company has ever been found guilty of exposing workers to toxic chemicals, or compromising workplace physicians,” the doctor said. “Deaths due to undiagnosed occupational diseases attract little attention by the government.” Tellioglu concludes: “Occupational health and safety is a human right. Occupational diseases arise in most cases because employers avoid costs to secure decent working conditions. In the current system, the occupational health and safety professionals are paid by the employers directly, and they are not organised in unions and have no guarantee against dismissal, just like most other employees in Turkey, which makes it harder for them to resist compromises. It is a crime against society to allow occupational diseases to be hidden.” He warns: The Turkish government attempts to turn occupational health and safety professionals into partners with employers in this social crime by taking away their professional and financial autonomy, and organisational rights.”
In February 2013, a temporary worker at a sugar plant and warehouse operation in Pennsylvania was buried alive in sugar when he fell through a hopper he had climbed into to free up the flow. A newly published report from the official federal safety regulator, OSHA, reveals that the death of Janio Salinas, 50, would have been avoided if a safety device - a simple screen over the hopper - had not been removed 13 days earlier because the plant manager believed it was slowing down production. On 25 February last year, Salinas went missing, only to be found buried deep underneath sugar in the hopper he had been unclogging. The removed device - which had prevented clumps from forming, thus reducing the need to climb into the hopper - had originally been installed after safety concerns were reported to OSHA. At the time of the fatality the warehouse was staffed entirely by agency workers. The company, CSC Sugar, with operations in the US and Mexico, includes beverage maker Snapple and Unilever’s Ben and Jerry’s among its clients. CSC had previously been fined by OSHA for not training temporary workers at another facility. Temp workers interviewed at the Pennsylvania facility told reporters they had received no safety training. OSHA assigns joint responsibility for training to both the agencies and the user enterprise – it is just not happening. Analysis of US accident compensation claims - which understate the magnitude of the problem because workers are under pressure not to seek compensation - confirms that temporary workers face a much higher risk of injury on the job and are exposed to even higher risks of the most serious injuries than permanent workers. A 2013 US study found that half of the employers with the highest number of workplace amputations – fingers and fingertips, arms and legs – were temp agencies, and called the situation a “public health emergency”. CSC was fined $25,855 following the death, later reduced to $18,098.
COURSES FOR 2014
The person responsible for the Risks e-bulletin is Hugh Robertson
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