Copy
View this email in your browser
Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.

Risks: Union health and safety news - number 1004 - 7 July 2021

In this issue: 

COVID NEWS

OTHER NEWS INTERNATIONAL NEWS  

COVID NEWS

 

Covid protections in England to be axed

Boris Johnson has confirmed he plans to scrap from 19 July most of the Covid laws in England, including enforcing masks and social distancing. “It will no longer be necessary for government to instruct people to work from home, so employers will be able to start planning a safe return to the workplace,” he added at a 5 July Downing Street press conference. Face coverings will no longer be legally required in shops, schools, hospitality, or on public transport although guidance will be in place to suggest where people might choose to wear them, Johnson said. Announcing the public would instead be able to make their “own informed decisions,” the prime minister said: “If we can't reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer, and by the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves. 'when will be able to return to normal?'” But he warned cases were predicted to rise to 50,000 a day before the restrictions are lifted, then continue upwards, and that hospital admissions would also rise and “we must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from Covid.” Responding to Mr Johnson's announcement, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said “lifting all protections in one go, when the infection rate is going up, is reckless.” He added: “A balanced approach or proper plan would say keep protections,” for example retaining the use of masks in enclosed spaces and on public transport. Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “We’re not out of the woods, we want to see the lockdown end but we need lifesaving mitigation in place. We still need sick pay, local contact tracing, continued mask wearing, ventilation and support for children to prevent serious illness.”
10 Downing Street news release and prime minister Boris Johnson’s 5 July 2021 statement. Labour Party news release. BBC News Online and related story.
 

Government plan risks ‘widespread confusion’ at work

The wholesale removal of Covid safety rules in England will leave workers at risk, unless the government agrees effective guidance with unions, the TUC has said. Commenting on the 5 July announcement by the prime minister that most Covid rules will go from 19 July, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Ministers must consult with unions and employers on clear and consistent guidance for workplace safety after the end of restrictions, in every type of workplace. Otherwise we risk widespread confusion.” She said: “In particular, ministers must consult with unions and employers before making any changes to the guidance on face coverings in sectors where they currently must be worn, such as retail. The government has to take the lead – not wash its hands of its responsibility to keep workers and the public safe.” The TUC leader was scathing on the government’s failure to address Britain’s poverty sick pay scandal. “It beggars belief that the government is still refusing to provide decent sick pay. Ministers have the power to make self-isolation effective overnight – and cut transmission immediately. All they need to do is raise statutory sick pay to the level of the real Living Wage, and make sure everyone can get it. As infections surge this remains a gaping hole in our defences against the pandemic.” Responding to the prime minister announcement that the work from home guidance will be withdrawn from 19 July, the TUC called for extended rights to flexible working.
TUC news release.
 

Government must ‘not wash its hands’ of Covid

The UK government must provide clear guidance to employers and workers on Covid-19 prevention at work, the TUC has said. The union body said it was not acceptable for ministers to ‘outsource’ its health and safety responsibilities, adding bosses who put staff at risk should face sanctions. Commenting ahead of the 5 July announcement by prime minister Boris Johnson on the next stage of unlocking, TUC deputy general secretary Paul Nowak said: “We all want the economy to unlock as soon as possible. But it is vital that people returning to work have confidence their workplaces are as Covid-secure as possible.” He added: “It is not acceptable for the government to outsource its health and safety responsibilities to individuals and to employers. Personal responsibility will have a role to play, but ministers cannot wash their hands of keeping people safe at work. With cases rising the government must send out a clear message to employers to play by the rules or face serious action. That means publishing clear guidance based on the most up-to-date science and consulting with unions and employers.” TUC polling published last month revealed that many employers have still not taken the necessary action to ensure that workplaces are Covid-secure. To date not one single employer has been prosecuted for criminal Covid health and safety breaches during the pandemic.
TUC news release. BBC News Online.
 

Flexible work needed as people urged to return

The TUC has called for right to work flexibly to be extended as people are urged to return to the office. Responding to the 5 July announcement by the prime minister that the work from home guidance will be withdrawn from 19 July, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “As the work from home guidance ends, employers must acknowledge that one size does not fit all. They should consult their staff and unions about continuing flexibility in working patterns and location. Flexible working isn’t just about working at home. It can mean having predictable or fixed hours, working as a job-share, or working flexitime, term-time only hours or compressed hours.” She added: “No one should miss out on flexible working. Ministers must bring in a new right to flexible working for every worker, in every job. Otherwise there will be a new class divide between those who can work flexibly from home, and those who can’t” (Risks 997).
TUC news release.
 

Living with Covid plan is ‘utterly irresponsible'

The UK government's insistence that the country must `live with Covid', while refusing to provide the furlough and sick pay support needed to protect workers' jobs and health, is ‘utterly irresponsible, Unite has said. Steve Turner, Unite's assistant general for manufacturing, expressed consternation at the government's lifting of Covid controls while the R-rate in England runs at 1.3 and case rates are back at January levels. He said: “It is absolutely staggering that the government has pronounced that we must now ‘live with Covid’, yet they have put zero support in place to support struggling businesses and workers through this next phase. Draining down furlough support at this volatile time just makes no economic sense. Instead, the government should be rebooting the scheme, looking at how it can support the economy to 'live with Covid', which we're told will be with us for years.” Turner said the government was putting Tory backbenchers first and “binning simple public health measures.” He said: “The virus is still running around our communities at an alarming rate and the medical profession is braced for rising short and long-term sickness. The employers that I talk to daily are fearful that if the guard is dropped in our communities, it will be their workplaces that will be hit, but they have been given no support to send workers home to recover. Even those who can claim sick pay will only have £14 a day to keep a family - and two million workers won't have any financial help at all.” He concluded: “The government wants to turn this into a debate on freedom when the truth is that this is nothing other than a shameless effort to move on from their mishandling of the crisis.” The Community union said: “The government’s approach is irresponsible, and puts lives at risk.” In a statement, it added: “The low paid, the young, the vulnerable and those in insecure work will bear the brunt of the lifting of requirements to wear masks and work from home.”
Unite news release. Community statement.
 

Not the time to throw caution to the wind

Scrapping the rules requiring face coverings in enclosed public spaces is a dangerous folly, UNISON has indicated. “Now isn’t the time to throw caution to the wind, especially with infections on the rise,” warned UNISON assistant general secretary Jon Richards. “The economy is important, but so is public confidence. People want clarity from the government as restrictions are eased. They don’t need a confusing free-for-all, with ministers absolving themselves of any responsibility for public health.” The UK government’s 5 July announcement confirmed masks requirements would end in two weeks. Commenting after the announcement, Richards said: “These hasty changes will create a confusing cocktail of guidance. The public will be expected to know how to react to each and every situation they face. Pressure is already building on ambulance and other NHS services, and that’s before safety measures are ditched. It’s just too much too soon.” He added: “Removing most precautions at a stroke won’t do anything to help reassure the thousands of nervous commuters who’re due to return to their workplaces in a fortnight using crowded public transport. If progress isn’t to be thrown away completely, there has to be a real effort to improve ventilation, maintain intense cleaning and continue to provide sanitiser wherever it’s needed.”
UNISON news release and update.
 

TSSA condemns 'gung ho gambling' on Covid risks

Rail union TSSA has accused Boris Johnson of 'gambling with lives' over the lifting of Covid restrictions in England later this month. TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said the prime minister was sticking to a 'gung ho' strategy even while admitting that the pandemic was far from over. “We are still very much in a pandemic, something that the scientists in Downing Street recognise, even if the prime minister seems not to. Opening up on this scale while infection rates are rising is simply gambling with lives. Johnson risks the virus mutating into variants which may become resistant to the current vaccines by taking a gung ho approach to the relaxation of restrictions.” The TSSA leader added: “Let’s not forget that throughout Europe where restrictions have been relaxed the requirement to wear a mask in enclosed public settings remains. Just look at Gibraltar whose vaccination record is second to none and has rightly been praised by the government here. When it comes to public transport Johnson’s mixed messaging is the worst of all worlds. He wants to ditch masks but would still wear one if on a busy train. That hardly provides the certainty our industry and the public so badly need.”
TSSA news release.
 

'Freedom’ plans must leave workers free to stay safe

Rather than “pander to pandemic hawks, the prime minister should ensure the safety of workers” and the public is a top priority, the GMB general secretary had said. Gary Smith said Boris Johnson’s “decision to throw Covid caution to the wind is a political decision” that came at a time “the UK has the unenviable status as one of Europe’s Covid hotspots - with eight of Europe’s 10 highest infection rates in England and Scotland.” Calling for workplace safety measures to be retained, he said: “The use of masks should remain mandatory for the time being - ditching them flies in the face of the science and it’s a small sacrifice for the greater good that shouldn’t be beyond anyone. The government wants people to exercise judgement, but not employers exercising their legal duties by reducing the covid transmission risk to the lowest level possible.” The GMB leader said: “The prime minister’s so called ‘freedom day’ plans are not addressing the freedom of workers to be free from floating germs... It is difficult to see how making workers more scared to go into workplaces or putting them under greater risk of being ill is any sense a civil right that he should be thanked for. This pandemic isn’t over and we can’t go back to business as usual.”
GMB news release.
 

Prospect warning on ‘chaotic free for all’

Changes in work practices following the end of the work-from-home guidance on 19 July must be planned carefully in consultation with unions, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors’ union Prospect has said. It added HSE, the workplace safety regulator, must have clarity on its role and be provided the resources to do the job properly. The union was responded to the prime minister’s 5 July statement on moving to the next stage of the Covid roadmap in England. Mike Clancy, Prospect general secretary, said: “The end of the work-from-home guidance must not lead to a chaotic free for all with employers making decisions about their workforce with no consultation, and little guidance from government.” He said: “Managing this transition well will require employers to work with staff and trade unions to adjust to a new normal, whether that is returning to offices or continued home working, and government should be making it clear that employers should not be acting unilaterally in either forcing employees back into offices or keeping them at home.” Clancy added: “We also need far more detail about the role the Health and Safety Executive will have in working with businesses to make workplaces Covid secure, and the government must permanently reverse a decade of damaging funding cuts to the HSE.”
Prospect news release. BECTU news release.
 

Usdaw slams weakening of store safety measures

Retail trade union Usdaw has expressed consternation at the UK government’s plan to lift safety measures in stores in England when it axes most Covid restrictions on 19 July. Paddy Lillis, the Usdaw general secretary said: “This is too much too soon. The government should not be weakening safety measures in shops at the same time as opening up other venues. There is no reason why requirements to wear face coverings and maintain social distancing in busy public areas like shops cannot continue.” He added: “Wearing a face covering in crowded public areas like shops is not merely a personal choice, it is an important measure to help protect workers who have no option but to interact with large numbers of people as a part of their job. The main purpose of face coverings is to protect others and the government must send out a clear message on this.” The union is urging the shopping public “to continue to wear face coverings, along with necessary hand sanitisation and maintaining social distancing to help make shops safer and limit the spread of Covid-19,” Lillis said, adding: “We also continue to call on employers to maintain appropriate safety measures and ensure that they are being followed consistently, in every store. Many retail workers are at a greater risk of catching the virus and bringing it home to their families. Supermarket workers and delivery drivers have worked throughout the pandemic to keep the country supplied with essentials. These key workers must be valued, respected and protected.”
Usdaw news release and update.
 

Masks must stay compulsory on public transport

The government must reverse proposals to end the requirement for masks to be worn on buses and trains, transport union Unite has said. The union issued its warning as ministers indicated that from 19 July the wearing of face masks will no longer be compulsory, but a matter of ‘personal responsibility’. The prime minister’s announcement on 5 July confirmed the masks and social distancing rules would go. Unite said the requirement for passengers to wear masks is particularly sensitive for bus drivers due to the very high numbers who have died of Covid-19. It added it believes that restrictions on the maximum capacity of passengers on buses should also remain in place. Unite national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton said: “To end the requirement to wear masks on public transport would be an act of gross negligence by the government. Rates of infection are continuing to increase and not only does mask wearing reduce transmissions it helps provide reassurance to drivers and to passengers who are nervous about using public transport.” He added: “The idea of personal responsibility and hoping that people will wear masks is absolutely ridiculous, members are already reporting there is an increase in passengers ignoring the rules on mask wearing. Until rates of Covid-19 are fully under control, throughout the whole of the UK, the rules on mask wearing on public transport should remain in place.” Unite said it is seeking an urgent meeting with the mayor of London Sadiq Khan and senior figures at Transport for London (TfL), to argue that passengers in the capital should continue to be required to wear masks. Unite regional secretary for London Pete Kavanagh said: “Drivers are reporting that they feel it is morally wrong to drive vehicles which are likely to become mobile infection hubs.”
Unite news release and news release on London Underground masks call.
 

RMT warns of dangerous Covid confusion

Rail union RMT has warned the latest relaxation of lockdown measures by the UK government could lead to confusion and go against ‘common sense and medical advice’. Commenting ahead of the UK government’s announcement on the plan to take effect in England from 19 July, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Yet again there's a real danger of the government making up policy on the hoof on critical issues.” He said “common sense and medical advice seems to indicate that some level of control should remain in place in the public realm. RMT’s priority will be the safety of our members and the travelling public and the union will continue to campaign for the staffing levels and enhanced, in-house cleaning services that the pandemic has exposed as being key to delivering that safe operation.”
RMT news release.
 

Anger at ‘reckless disregard’ for education safety

The government is wrong to scrap Covid health and safety measures in colleges and universities and needs to get the vast majority of students vaccinated, the university and college union UCU has said. The union was responding to the 6 July announcement from the education secretary Gavin Williamson on the lifting of restrictions in education. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “The government said it would be led by data not dates, but it is scrapping health and safety measures in education while cases are climbing rapidly.” She added: “The shocking outbreaks we have seen in colleges and universities over the past academic year show that educational settings act as Covid incubators and help the virus spread rapidly. Worryingly, it appears the government has learned nothing, and is set to repeat the same mistakes, abandoning important safety measures too early and showing a continued reckless disregard for health and safety.” The UCU leader concluded: “Yet again the government is shifting responsibility for managing a national health crisis onto employers, an approach that proved catastrophic last time. We need robust Covid health and safety measures and have a majority of the student population vaccinated.”
DfE news release. UCU news release.
 

‘Alarming’ approach abandons children to Covid

The government’s ‘alarming’ approach to lifting Covid-19 rules in education abandons children to a highly transmissible virus and could pave the way for new variants to emerge, UNISON has warned. Responding to the 6 July announcement from the education secretary that school bubbles and self-isolation are to be scrapped from 19 July, UNISON assistant general secretary Jon Richards said: “The government’s alarming approach abandons children to a highly transmissible virus spreading at a record pace through schools. Safety measures like bubbles and self-isolation are proven to reduce the spread of the virus.” He added: “With around one in ten pupils reporting symptoms of long Covid weeks after infection, this is a dangerous gamble from the government. The only way to minimise risk is for tried and tested safety measures like masks, good ventilation and self-isolation to stay.” Richards warned: “Allowing the virus to spread rapidly amongst unvaccinated pupils provides an ideal environment for new variants to emerge.”
DfE news release. UNISON news release.
 

‘Unbearable’ pressures face exhausted NHS staff

Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid’s forecast that Covid cases could top 100,000 daily this summer as restrictions ease, will leave already exhausted NHS staff buckling under the ‘unbearable’ pressure, Unite has warned. The union said that there were serious questions to be asked over what it described as the ‘gung-ho’ easing of restrictions from 19 July unveiled by the prime minister on 5 July. Extra funding was needed urgently to meet the increase in cases and hospitalisations as the successful vaccination programme had not completely broken the link with people getting infected, the union said. Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “We have serious questions about Boris Johnson’s gung-ho approach to the easing of restrictions from 19 July. All bets have been placed on the vaccination programme holding the line, but there is no guarantee that this will be a completely successful strategy.” He added: “Our members have been fighting coronavirus for the last 16 months and they are exhausted. An increase in hospitalisations which will follow from 100,000 infections a day will add to their immense workloads. Already we are hearing reports from our members of holidays being curtailed to meet the expected demand. A massive cash injection is required to tackle the pressures on the NHS this summer and running into the autumn - and also to ameliorate the ever-present ‘recruitment and retention’ crisis throughout the health service.”
Unite news release.
 

ASLEF stops Covid disciplinary plan

ASLEF reps have fought back against a policy which could have seen London Underground drivers disciplined for following the rules on Covid-19. At a scheduled meeting with trade unions on 1 July, London Underground management announced plans to include Covid-related absence from work under its Attendance at Work procedure. This would have meant drivers absent due to Covid-19 - either through having contracted the disease or as a result of being asked to isolate - could have faced disciplinary action. The union said management also suggested that drivers should turn off the NHS Covid-19 app while at work, which the union saw as “a clear attempt to push staff to ignore the law on self-isolation, and presenting a risk to the safety of ASLEF members and others.” After local reps successfully resisted the plan, ASLEF commented: “We all want to keep London moving and, as key workers, ASLEF members have worked throughout the pandemic driving trains both in London and across the country. Nobody can doubt our commitment to keeping public transport safe and reliable for all.” It concluded: “ASLEF members always stand together against attempts to compromise safety at work, or the safety of the public and this was no exception. Our reps stood up to management and forced a change of plan, so that thankfully drivers will be able to follow the rules to keep all our communities safe and not face discipline if they catch Covid-19.”
ASLEF news release.
 

PM ‘ill-informed’ as DVLA infection continue to rise

Boris Johnson showed he is ill-informed about the ongoing Covid safety risk at the DVLA offices in Swansea when the PCS dispute was raised last week during prime minister’s questions (PMQ), the union PCS has said. Labour MP Christina Rees used PMQ to question the prime minister about the decision of the Department for Transport (DfT) and DVLA management to increase the number of staff attending the office at the DVLA HQ in Swansea. Since June, when numbers attending the office were over 2,000, an additional 450 staff have been forced back into work despite Covid-19 rates in the Swansea Bay area increasing substantially. In her question, the Labour MP for Neath asked: “Why does the prime minister feel it is so acceptable for the DVLA to have returned over 450 staff to its Swansea site, contrary to government advice, as some of them can work and have been working effectively and safely from home?” In reply, Boris Johnson said that as he understood it “rates of infection and disease have been declining at the DVLA site.” But PCS says DVLA’s own figures contradict this statement, with numbers that week seeing seven confirmed cases among staff, a further 14 suspected cases on 28 June and 10 more suspected cases on 30 June. PCS said Ms Rees is writing to Mr Johnson regarding his ‘misleading’ response and once again demanding that transport minister Grant Shapps engages positively with PCS to bring about an end to the dispute. An agreement negotiated with PCS which could have ended the dispute was withdrawn at the last-minute by the employer at the end of last month.
PCS news release.
 

GMB action threat after Serco shielding sackings

GMB members working for Serco Sandwell waste collection services are balloting for strike action after disabled workers were sacked for shielding. The union says the ballot follows months of management intimidation, including threatening workers who spoke out about safety issues and the sacking of disabled workers who shielded during the pandemic, one of whom was awaiting a kidney transplant. GMB regional organiser Justine Jones said: “Serco bosses have behaved appallingly. Sacking disabled workers for trying to keep them and their families safe, while bullying those who raise safety concerns is no way to run a business.” She added: “GMB members have had enough and are flexing their industrial muscle.” She said Serco risks “crippling industrial action and inconveniencing the people of Sandwell if they do not address these concerns.”
GMB news release. Union News.
 

OTHER NEWS

 

Hospital strikes off as Serco makes big concessions

Further strikes by back of house catering staff at the Royal London Hospital have been suspended after outsourcing giant Serco ‘largely capitulated’ to the workers’ demands. The Unite members took five days of strike action last month after the failure of year-long efforts to resolve problems around bullying and an unworkable roster system. Following talks at the conciliation service Acas last week, Serco has agreed to adopt a workable roster system and the manager accused of bullying will be moved from the department and provided with training. As a consequence, Unite said it had suspended strike days so it can consult members on the offer and to allow time for the deal to be finalised. Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon said: “This is a tremendous victory for our members who have stood together and faced down Serco, a multinational company.” She said: “The workforce simply wanted to be able to undertake their roles without being bullied and to be able to undertake caring duties and to study when not required to work. The Acas talks were a huge breakthrough as Serco finally agreed to act on the concerns that Unite has been raising with them for nearly a year. Providing that the final deal is in line with what was offered last week, this dispute should be resolved and there will be no further disruption to the meals patients receive at the hospital.”
Unite news release.
 

Woolwich Ferry victimisation at ‘obscene levels’

The victimisation of two Unite trade union reps by the management of the Woolwich Ferry has reached ‘obscene levels’, their union has said. Unite said the victimisation of reps at Woolwich Ferry, at the epicentre of a long-running industrial dispute, was one of the worst cases currently on Unite’s books. The union called on the Transport for London (TfL) bosses at the ferry ‘to drag themselves into the 21st century in terms of progressive employment relations’. A total of 57 Unite members are taking part in a rolling programme of strike action this month over the victimisation issue and failure to agree a new pay and reward scheme, the excessive use of agency staff, and the failure to provide adequate health and safety training to new employees. Unite said these are issues which have arisen since TfL took back control from the ‘discredited’ Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd in January this year. Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “Unite now has two reps representing our members at the ferry operation who have been through a gruelling – and unjustified - disciplinary process.” He added: “Our reps are innocent of any allegations, yet they have had to cope with the stress that comes with false allegations and victimisation. For them, it is not about using disciplinary action as a bargaining chip which appears to be the view of the management. For them, it is about their work record, stress and the worry, which also affects their families – TfL now needs to do the right thing.” He warned: “Unite will not stand by while our reps are victimised. We will take action and defend those who put their heads above the parapet by becoming reps.”
Unite news release.
 

Amazon safety won’t improve without unions

The safety of Amazon’s workforce will not improve until it embraces unions, GMB has said. The union was commenting on 5 July, as Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos was succeeded by Andy Jassy as chief executive of the world’s largest retailer. Bezos takes up the role of executive chair. Mick Rix, GMB national officer, said: “Make no mistake, Jeff Bezos will still be pulling the strings. Putin stepped down as president once and became prime minister.” Rix added: “Amazon will not move on and embrace fundamental change to deliver better safety standards until they sit down with unions like GMB across the world, embrace collective bargaining and give the workers the independent voice they so badly need.” Research by GMB released last month showed injuries to Amazon workers spike in the build-up to key sales dates like Prime Day. GMB’s Mick Rix said in the run up to these sales events “workers are expected to operate like robots gone haywire, picking and packing at a furious rate to meet completely unrealistic targets” (Risks 1002).
GMB news release.
 

Act on shop abuse, retail bosses urge PM

Retail bosses have called on prime minister Boris Johnson to take action against violence and abuse aimed at shop staff. Leaders of 100 brands, including Tesco, Sainsbury's, Ikea and Aldi, signed an open letter calling for greater legal protection for retail workers. In the letter, organised by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) which represents big chains, the leaders said the situation “cannot be allowed to get any worse.” They added there was “a clear need now for better protection in law for retail workers.” Retailers are spending record amounts on crime prevention and have invested £1.2bn in the past year, the BRC said. “Retail workers are facing violence and abuse very day just for doing their jobs – keeping customers safe during the pandemic, checking ID, and confronting shoplifters,” said BRE chief executive Helen Dickinson. “Behind each of these statistics is a person, a family, colleagues and communities that have to cope with this trauma. No-one should go to work fearing for their safety, yet many retail workers have come to see it as part of the job – this can’t go on.”
British Retail Consortium news release. BBC News Online.
 

Shopworkers gutted at latest violence snub

Usdaw has said it disappointed after MPs rejected an amendment to the UK government’s flagship policing bill, which would have provided greater protection for shopworkers from violence, threats and abuse. The retail trade union is now calling on the government to deliver on its promise to bring forward an amendment in the House of Lords. Commenting on the 5 July vote, Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Today MPs had the opportunity to back a new law to protect shopworkers, which is supported by our members, customers and retailers. We are deeply disappointed that they let that opportunity pass them by at a time when our members are facing unprecedented levels of violence, threats and abuse. However the minister promised twice during the debate that they would bring forward an amendment in the House of Lords and we urge the government to keep to their word and ensure that the measure they bring forward will be substantial and deliver much needed protections.” He added: “When retail employers, leading retail bodies, the public and the shopworkers’ trade union call for legislation, it is time for the government and MPs to listen. In Scotland, MSPs voted through a new groundbreaking law to give workers the protection they deserve. We are now looking for the UK government to end their opposition and deliver on their promise.”
Usdaw news release.
 

Working from home is upping mental distress    

Working from home during the coronavirus pandemic has caused increased levels of loneliness and mental distress, according to new research into how workers have been affected by the crisis. The study by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) found that the biggest increases in mental distress and loneliness during the pandemic were felt by the most isolated group – those working from home and living alone. Analysts examined data from interviews carried out with 8,675 people before the pandemic and in May, July and November 2020. They found that people able to work from home have been protected from financial difficulties that can drive poor mental health. When financial circumstances, loneliness and demographic characteristics were controlled for in the research, however, people working from home recorded bigger increases in mental distress. “More of us than ever now work from home and use technology to replace many aspects of work previously done in person, but this cannot fully replicate the working environment for everyone,” said Isabel Taylor, research director at NatCen. “As the government considers current working guidance, individuals, employers and government departments should be aware of the impact working from home is likely having on people’s mental health.”
NatCen webpage, research programme and Stay home: affecting lives briefing, July 2021. The Observer.
 

Firm caught out using banned asbestos

A manufacturing firm has been fined for using banned asbestos components imported from its sister company in China. Power Link Machines (UK) Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was informed the company was using gaskets within its generator sets that contained asbestos. Analysis by HSE’s science division confirmed the gaskets contained asbestos. The company was served with a prohibition notice on 26 March 2018 requiring them to stop the use of these gaskets and ensure that they did not import any asbestos containing items. Leeds Magistrates’ Court heard that a second concern was received on 21 September 2018 stating that employees were being asked to work on a generator set that contained gaskets that looked very similar to those found to contain asbestos earlier in the year. This unit had been imported from Power Link Machine (Shanghai) Co Ltd. An investigation by HSE found that these gaskets also contained asbestos and as the generator set had been imported into this country, the company had breached the prohibition notice served served six months earlier. The company subsequently allowed an untrained employee to remove the gaskets, releasing asbestos fibres into the generator set and then asked two other employees to work within that generator set, exposing them to asbestos fibres. Power Link Machines (UK) Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £22,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,062. HSE inspector Rachel Brittain commented: “Had the company put robust checks in place to ensure that they were not importing asbestos containing materials, this incident would not have occurred.”
HSE news release.
 

Warehouse services firm fined after worker electrocuted

A warehouse management solutions company has been fined after an employee was electrocuted while servicing an air compressor. Maidstone Magistrates’ Court heard that on 8 December 2017, Logistex Limited employee Andrew Meade was carrying out pre-planned maintenance on an air compressor at a distribution centre in Gravesend, when he was electrocuted. It was more than an hour before he was found. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the control measures in place to prevent contact with electricity during maintenance activities were not suitable or sufficient. The electrical systems had not been tested or visually inspected since installation, and an incorrect isolating switch had not been identified. Logistex Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £180,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £23,358.16. HSE inspector Joanne Williams said: “This was a wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the company to implement safe systems of work and identify the risks. Had the company identified the correct isolation point for the compressor and ensured that employees were sufficiently trained and supervised in the lock off procedures expected of them then this fatal incident would not have occurred.”
HSE news release.
 
INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Belgium: Ventilation rules at work as Covid surges
Hospitality sites in Belgium, including restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues, are being fitted with sensors that indicate how effectively the ventilation is operating. The move is an attempt to combat further surges of Covid-19 into the autumn and winter. The carbon dioxide monitors give an indication of whether windows or doors should be opened to increase the circulation of fresh air and prevent the transmission of coronavirus. Pedro Facon, Belgium’s Covid-19 commissioner, commented: “I think the importance of air quality and ventilation has been long underestimated.” He said a focus on surfaces and droplets from coughing and sneezing had overshadowed the role of shared air. “Even if there were some experts already in summer of last year that pointed to the importance of ventilation, there were a few policies, or decisions, with regard to it,” he said. All such businesses are now required to display a carbon dioxide monitor in a location visible to the public, so customers can check whether the fresh air is at a safe level. The amount of carbon dioxide is an indication of how effectively the ventilation is work. If the sensors show carbon dioxide levels of 900-1,200 parts per million, venues are required to take action to improve it, and anything above that level is a safety breach. It will be enforced by inspectors who will issue warnings if they find sensors are not displayed, and after a three-month phase-in period will begin issuing fines to businesses that do not comply. The measure is adapted from existing workplace safety regulations that already set out maximum carbon dioxide levels and that were in place because a high level of carbon dioxide adversely affects concentration and overall health.
Irish Times.
 

PUBLICATION

 

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.
Order your copy
There are discounts on bulk orders, over 5 copies, please contact us for details.
Those on TUC approved courses can receive discount, please call for details 0207 467 1294. Or email at; publications@tuc.org.uk
 

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

Courses for 2021

Find the latest courses at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
 
This newsletter is sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.
View our privacy policy
@The_TUC
TUC health and safety
Website
Sign up to receive this bulletin every week.Catch up on past issues.
Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine.
For further information contact the TUC at healthandsafety@tuc.org.uk.
Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.