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Hazards news, 4 January 2022

Britain: Real sick pay falling as Omicron strikes
The UK now has the lowest statutory sick pay in real terms in almost two decades, according to a new analysis by the TUC. The union body is calling on ministers to deliver decent sick pay for all – which it says is a “vital public health tool” in the fight against the virus - it wants the UK government to extend statutory sick pay protection to every worker by removing the lower earnings limit and to increase statutory sick pay to at least the value of the real Living Wage – £346 per week, compared to the current figure of under £100 a week.
TUC news release. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: Plan for work absences of up to 25 per cent
Boris Johnson has called on ministers to draw up ​“robust contingency plans” to tackle the coronavirus-related staff absences threatening to disrupt UK businesses and supply chains over the coming weeks. With rising case numbers exacerbating the staff shortages already plaguing many sectors, public sector leaders have been asked to test plans against worst-case scenarios of 10 per cent, 20 per cent and 25 per cent workforce absence rates.
BBC News Online. The Guardian. The Telegraph. Evening Standard. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: Give workers priority access to lateral flow tests
The TUC has warned that supply problems with lateral flow test (LFT) kits are putting working people at risk. Commenting ahead of the xmas break, the union body warned vital services were under threat due to outbreaks that could be contained if tests were readily available. The TUC said workers who cannot work from home should have priority access to LFT kits until supply problems are resolved.
TUC news release and TUC blog. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

USA: Omicron could be ‘lifetime’ public health challenge
US experts Michael T Osterholm of the University of Minnesota and Ezekiel J Emanuel of the University of Pennsylvania warned in the Washington Post that the “current omicron surge represents one of the greatest public health challenges not only of the pandemic but also of our lifetime.” They said effective planning would involve being realistic about the effectiveness of vaccination at this point; taking immediate steps to improve public health messaging, data collection and the availability of drug therapies; and doing whatever is possible to ameliorate the potentially devastating consequences for our health-care system.
Washington Post. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: TUC stresses ‘ventilation, ventilation, ventilation’
The TUC’s work safety lead Shelly Asquith has said effective ventilation is a critical factor in protecting workers from Covid-19. She explained that because transmission of the coronavirus is largely airborne, “a combination of concentration, airflow, humidity and temperature, all contribute to whether the aerosol load will be infectious.”
TUC blog. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: PCS pressure forces DWP jobcentre concessions
Pressure by the civil service union PCS has forced concessions by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which had been increasing pressure for more Jobcentre staff to return to face-to-face work. At a 16 December 2021 meeting with the DWP executive team, the union said “the department agreed to issue communications to Jobcentre staff that would reduce footfall in Jobcentres.”
PCS news release. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: Masks back in English secondary schools
Face masks are to be worn in secondary classrooms in England's schools to reduce the spread of the omicron variant, the UK government has announced. The temporary reintroduction of face coverings aims to address concerns about schools remaining open for face-to-face learning in the spring term.
NEU news release. NASUWT news release. BBC News Online. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: School unions call for more government support
Six trade unions representing the majority of education staff have issued a joint statement prior to the return of schools and colleges for the spring term, calling for greater government support for Covid safe education. The statement, from education unions ASCL, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU and UNISON, notes: “As trade unions representing the vast majority of education staff, we wish to emphasise that teachers, leaders and support staff desperately want to be able to conduct face-to-face teaching for all children and young people on a consistent basis and without further interruption caused by the pandemic.”
NASUWT news release and news release on more government ambition needed. NEU news release and news release on higher rates of Covid-19 in education workers.
ONS: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey, characteristics of people testing positive for COVID-19, UK: 16 December 2021Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: Measures ‘should have been introduced weeks ago’
The education secretary’s announcement a couple of days before the new term of provision of a limited number of air filtration systems for schools and for masks to be worn in secondary classrooms is too little, too late, UNISON has indicated. UNISON assistant general secretary Jon Richards commented: “Unions have been calling for these changes for months. But just like last year, changes announced at the last minute leave little time to prepare for the new term.”
UNISON news release. The Guardian. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: Virus leaves London with fire engine shortages
In the last week in 2021, London had over a third of its fire engines unavailable as omicron hits staffing numbers, London Fire Brigade data has revealed. FBU London regional secretary Jon Lambe said “omicron should not be having an effect on this scale – the reason it is that London Fire Brigade has been left in a terrible state by years of government cuts, with almost one in five of London firefighters having been cut since 2010.”
FBU news release. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: Safety concerns as theatres face Covid pressures
As dramatic increases in Covid-19 cases due to the omicron variant puts pressure on UK theatres, entertainment union Bectu has issued guidance on Covid health and safety concerns in the workplace. Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said: “We are receiving worrying reports of safety concerns in theatres, including out of date risk assessments and people being asked to continue working while displaying Covid symptoms.”
Bectu news release and health and safety guidance. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: Welcome for Wales work from home rule
Wales TUC has welcomed the reintroduction of the ‘work from home’ regulation in the country and a focus on employer compliance with the rules. Commenting on the 20 December 2021 measures, the union body said it was “relieved to hear the first minister clarify that the focus of this, including any enforcement activity, will be on employers permitting and enabling home working, and that employers who do not comply are at risk of a £1,000 fine.”
Wales TUC news releases on possible fines on workers and work from home. GMB news release. Wales Online. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: Covid fears worker fails in discrimination tribunal
A woman who refused to go into work because she had “a genuine fear” she could catch Covid and infect her high risk partner has lost a discrimination claim over lost wages. A Manchester tribunal ruled she was not protected by the Equality Act after refusing to return to her workplace in June 2020, because her fear did not meet the criteria for a “philosophical belief” that would be protected under section 10 of the Equality Act 2010.
The Guardian. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: Health staff ‘wrung dry’ by pandemic pressures
More than two thirds (69 per cent) of health staff say they’ve experienced burnout during the pandemic, and three in five (62 per cent) feel overwhelmed after long, intense shifts, according to a UNISON survey. The survey findings – published on 23 December 2021 and based on responses from more than 10,000 health employees in Wales, England and Northern Ireland – show half (51 per cent) are covering more shifts because of staff shortages.
UNISON news release. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: Enforcement collapses as 1.7m plus hurt by work
New Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics confirm shockingly high rates of work-related ill-health accompanied by a collapse of enforcement action. New statistics for 2020/21, from which HSE excluded work-related Covid infections, show 1.7 million workers suffering from a work-related illness, around half of which was down to stress, depression or anxiety, accompanied by a catastrophic fall in HSE enforcement activity to a record low, with just 185 cases prosecuted and only 2,929 enforcement notices issued.
HSE news release and statistics webpage. Workplace fatal injuries in Great Britain 2021, webpage and full updated December 2021 report. Reported work-related Covid-19 cases and HSE decision to exclude Covid from the statistics. HSE 2009/10 statistics. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: HSE downplaying workplace stress catastrophe 
As latest official figures confirm work-related stress cases in the last two years have hit an all-time high, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been accused of downplaying the extent of the harm caused by Britain’s top workplace health problem. The charge comes in the new issue of the trade union safety journal Hazards and follows the launch of HSE’s Working Minds campaign, where the regulator’s executive Sarah Albon warned: “No worker should suffer in silence and if we don’t act now to improve workers’ mental health, this could evolve into a health and safety crisis.”
Tear up: HSE must admit there is a stress catastrophe under its nose and act, Hazards, number 156, December 2021. HSE Working Minds campaign.
Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain, HSE, 16 December 2021. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: Over 1,000 serious injuries at Amazon sites
‘Shameful’ figures reveal more than a thousand serious injuries at Amazon sites have been reported to health and safety authorities since 2016, a GMB investigation has found.  The union said ‘disturbingly’ the number of injuries reported to health and safety bodies is rapidly increasing, with 294 reported in the financial year 2020/21 – up from 231 the year before, or an increase of 27 per cent.
GMB news release. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: Amazon’s high churn, high pace work model slammed
Amazon’s high turnover, high paced work model is hurting us all, a new report has warned. ‘Fast and furious’, publishing in the union safety journal Hazards, noted: “Excessive pace of work is becoming the norm – driven by performance management systems, reward systems and piece work, job insecurity and old fashioned management because-I-say-so.”
Fast and furious: Amazon’s high churn, high pace work template hurts us all, Hazards, number 156, December 2021. Fast and furious pin up at work poster.
When AI is the boss: An introduction for union reps, TUC, December 2021. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: Scottish teachers feeling the stress
The health and wellbeing of Scotland’s teachers is being put at risk by their working conditions, a survey by EIS has found. The Scottish teaching union said responses to its research confirm that 70 per cent of teachers report that they experience stress as a result of their current working environment either ‘frequently’ or ‘all of the time’.
EIS news release and workload findings. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: HSE acknowledges work-related suicide risks
While new Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance on suicide prevention continues to emphasise “suicides in the workplace are not RIDDOR reportable”, it does break new ground in recognising work-related causes and the duty on employers to address them. The new HSE suicide prevention webpage calls on employers to: “Tackle potential mental health triggers such as bullying, harassment and discrimination,” and: “Consider the impact of change, redundancies and job security. Consider things happening at work that are likely to be additionally stressful for workers, for example: change, no matter how small; reorganisation, especially if this may lead to job losses; disciplinary action.”
HSE guidance on suicide prevention, 2021. Is HSE edging closer to acting on suicide?, Hazards, number 156, December 2021. More on work-related suicide.
ACTION! Tell the HSE to recognise, record and take action to prevent work-related suicides. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: Sexual violence ‘endemic’ on campuses
Sexual violence is endemic in the UK's university and college workplaces and employers must do more to tackle it, the union UCU has said. A new report from the union found 1 in 10 university and college staff surveyed had directly experienced workplace sexual violence in the past five years, whilst around a quarter of staff knew a staff member who had experienced sexual violence at their college or university workplace.
UCU news release. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: Firefighters urged to protect themselves from toxics
Firefighters have been urged by their union to use its DECON campaign protect themselves from toxic fire contaminants. FBU national officer Riccardo la Torre said: “DECON guidance and training helps firefighters protect themselves through simple actions like better cleaning of gear and making sure to always wear breathing apparatus when it’s needed, never putting it on too late.”
FBU news release and DECON training and guidance. Firefighter Cancer and Disease Registry. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Britain: Get lunch in McDonald’s, ambulance workers told
Ambulance workers have expressed fury after an ambulance trust told them to take their lunch breaks in the nearest McDonald’s. In December 2021, North East Ambulance Trust (NEAS) announced its paramedics will - from January - be told to take lunch breaks at hospitals or their nearest ambulance station, rather than returning to base, their union GMB said, with workers were also told to head to their nearest McDonald’s or to eat in their ambulance in a bid to improve response times.
GMB news release. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Long Covid: a TUC guide for supporting members
The TUC says union reps have a vital role in making sure employers properly protect workers with long Covid, and in prevent new long-lasting inequalities. To help reps, the union body has produced an interactive guide, which it says will: Explain what long Covid is; describe how it affects working people; and detail how you as a workplace rep can support members and review employer policies.
Long Covid: a guide for supporting our members, TUC – use the interactive guide [takes approx. 25 minutes]. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Global: WHO concedes respirators are necessary
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has finally conceded higher protection respirators are necessary to protect workers from Covid-19 in a wide range of health and care workplace settings. The new recommendations take the UN agency closer to the long-time union position that all frontline staff should have access to properly fitted respirators.
WHO recommendations on mask use by health workers, in light of the Omicron variant of concern: WHO interim guidelines, 22 December 2021. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

USA: Health care worker protections removed
The Biden administration “has just thrown its most important assets in the fight against Covid-19 under the bus”, a top safety official from the Obama administration has warned. Jordan Barab, who was deputy director at the US safety regulator OSHA, was commenting after the 27 December 2021 OSHA announcement “that it is withdrawing the non-recordkeeping portions of the healthcare ETS.” 
OSHA statement. Confined Space. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

USA: Essential workers need mandatory protections
US unions have demanded urgent and mandatory protections for health care and other frontline workers. National union federation AFL-CIO and unions representing workers in education, health care, care homes, public service, food and retail and wider industry issued the strongly worded statement after national safety regulator OSHA removed a Covid-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS) for health care workers.
AFL-CIO news releases on the ETS removal and the high work-related death rates in essential workers. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022

Myanmar: Junta profits as workers die in jade mines
The death of at least six jade miners in a landslide in Hpakant, Myanmar on 22 December 2021 highlights the urgent need to curb unsafe mining practices and protect miners’ lives, the global union IndustriALL has said. Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, said the “vicious cycle” of unsafe mining cannot be ended “under the military regime that benefits from the current unsafe practices,” adding: “It is crucial for a democratically-elected government to demilitarise the jade mine industry, implement a sound industry safety standard and eliminate corruption at the union, state and regional level.”
IndustriALL news release. Global Witness news release and June 2021 report. France 24. The Guardian. Risks 1027. 4 January 2022



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