Avian flu news





Britain: Poultry unions call for bird flu protection
Workers in the poultry industry must have their jobs and health protected, unions have said.
Risks 293, 10 February 2007

Britain: Union calls for bird flu contingency plan
A trade union has called for a co-ordinated response against the threat of bird flu. Farm and food union TGWU is asking for a four-step plan to be put in place to protect the countryside, poultry and food industry workers.
Risks 250, 1 April 2006

10 December 2005
Minister to involve workers in avian flu plan

Government minister Ben Bradshaw has agreed that poultry workers at the sharp end of the food processing industry are ideally placed to keep tabs on whether or not avian flu has come through the system.

At a meeting with food and agriculture union TGWU, the Defra minister agreed to invite TGWU reps on to the stakeholders' Avian Influenza Group. “The minister listened carefully to what we had to say and agreed that poultry workers are ideally placed to detect changes in the birds they deal with,” said Chris Kaufman, the union’s national secretary for food and agriculture.

“Involving our people is a positive move for them but also a significant confidence boost for the consumer. It means they can be sure production workers have their finger on the pulse of food safety.”

Union leaders from the UK's three main poultry processors, Moy Park, Grampian and Bernard Matthews, said it was imperative that key workers in the processing plants were involved in monitoring and consulted on preventive measures. The minister also agreed it was right that the industry should work closely with its workforce to put in place measures to provide flu jabs or whatever inoculation was deemed medically appropriate.

Unions in the US and Australia have also been pressing for greater consideration of workplace risks in their government policies. And global foodworkers’ union federation IUF has criticised global agencies including the World Health Organisation for taking no account of the risks to workers in their bird flu strategy (more). Two poultry workers in China have died as a result of the disease (more).

TGWU news releaseUnionsafeUFCW news release
Defra avian influenza webpageWHO avian influenza webpage • IUF briefing paper [pdf]HSE avian flu webpage

14 January 2006
USA: Unions push for bird flu standards

Not enough attention has been given to the protection of health care workers from bird flu, US unions have warned. Health care union AFSCME and other unions have petitioned the government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for an emergency temporary standard to protect health care workers against pandemic flu.

The unions says the current government plan is based on voluntary guidance instead of mandatory requirements, which means that employers can choose to ignore the action plan. And they say the plan lacks a comprehensive exposure control plan that would require worker training, communication of hazards to employees, medical surveillance and recordkeeping.

Unions also criticise the “weak recommendations for protecting workers, including advice to use a surgical mask” on an official website, a measure unions say would not protect wearers from exposure to respirable airborne droplets that contain pandemic flu virus. Earlier official documents had recommended a much higher standard of facepiece respirator.

In November 2005, US foodworkers’ union UFCW called on the Bush administration “to initiate coordinated protection for poultry workers on the front lines by initiating a Cabinet-level meeting to discuss worker issues and the potential pandemic”.

Global foodworkers’ union IUF has criticised official agencies including the World Health Organisation for ignoring the risks to poultry workers in their guidance and has issued its own occupational health recommendations (more). Concern in the west about the risk of a possible bird flu pandemic has increased after the deaths of three children in Turkey.

AFSCME news release and bird flu webpageConfined SpaceCDC flu pandemic webpagesBBC News Online
Defra avian influenza webpageWHO avian influenza webpage • IUF briefing paper [pdf]HSE avian flu webpage

19 November 2005
USA: Cheap masks won’t offer flu protections

A US government’s strategy to combat a flu pandemic will fail because the cheap disposable face masks recommended for health staff are not up to the job, unions and public health experts have warned. They say normal surgical masks, which cost only a few pence, lack federal approval as a shield against particles the size of viruses.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say the masks are only a first line of defence. Critics, however, have also questioned the CDC's recommendation that, when in close contact with flu victims, health care personnel wear disposable respirators - the lowest-grade mask that the government certifies as able to filter out toxins and germs.

Unions and some health experts say the risks of disease and of a panic among workers are too great to rely on inexpensive masks, especially given research suggesting virus particles can remain active in the air for hours and can penetrate disposable masks. “This is a programme that will assure that healthcare workers either get sick or decide not to show up for work because they don't have adequate protection,” said Bill Borwegen, health and safety director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents 875,000 medical employees.

Prominent public health experts have backed the union stance, and called for the use of better quality respirators.

Minneapolis Star TribuneUS Pandemic Influenza PlanSEIU health and safety webpages

26 November 2005
Global: Unions call for action after China bird flu death

Global foodworkers’ union IUF is demanding urgent action after government officials in China confirmed the first death from bird flu of a commercial poultry worker. Reports say a woman in the eastern province of Anhui died from the H5N1 strain of avian influenza.

According to an IUF statement: “This death must serve as a warning to the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), whose current efforts to avert a global pandemic in humans do not recognise H5N1 as an occupational hazard and ignore the core issue of agricultural workers' health and safety rights in arresting the spread of the virus.”

IUF says an action plan released by WHO on 2 September 2005 (more) said “no case has yet been detected among workers in the commercial poultry sector.” The statement was not accurate at the time of publication, says IUF. “While there have been few attempts at determining the extent of exposure among workers, public health authorities had already detected cases of exposure to H5N1 among poultry workers in India and Indonesia. But as a result, the WHO has no measures to propose to national governments to protect agricultural and processing workers.”

IUF news release and Briefing paper on Avian Influenza (H5N1) and agricultural workers [pdf]

5 November 2005
Global: Union warns of workplace avian flu risks

Avian flu is a serious occupational health and safety issue, global food and agriculture union federation IUF has warned. IUF says fears of a global pandemic of avian influenza (H5N1) “have again highlighted the indissoluble link between public health, food safety, trade union rights and health and safety at the workplace.”

It says guidelines and action plans for national governments prepared by international agencies including the World Health Organisation (WHO) “have major implications for agricultural workers and the poultry industry, but they are being developed and implemented in the absence of any specific recognition or measures appropriate to the workers who are in the frontline of exposure to the virus.”

IUF says too little regard has been played to the impact on workers’ health of these policies: “Many of the proposed measures to combat the spread of the virus include major changes to poultry farming practices and reorganisation of the industry,” says IUF.

“They will have a significant effect on agricultural workers and poultry processing workers. At the same time, none of these action plans seriously address the interests and wellbeing of processing workers or agricultural workers employed in poultry farming.”

IUF news release • IUF briefing paper on avian influenza H5N1 and agricultural and food workers [pdf]BBC News Online
HSE webpage: Working with highly pathogenic avian influenza virusEuropean Agency guide to avian influenzaWHO avian flu factsheet