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News from around the World

News Archive

October 2020

  1. Airborne virus a ‘major’ transmission risk
  2. Virus harms mental health of two-thirds of workers
  3. Covid-19 crisis hurting most UK retail workers
  4. Outdoor heater fires double as Londoners gear up for alfresco winter – London-wide safety warnings from London Fire Brigade
  5. London Fire Brigade urges smokers to take on Stoptober and quit
  6. Time to move: EU-OSHA launches campaign to address Europe’s most common work-related health problem – Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)
  7. Event: Scientific workshop on the future of smart and effective labour inspection
  8. Event: SFPE20 Conference Highlights 2020 now online
  9. Event: WOW Working Time Policy Symposium 2020
  10. Event: Tackling ethnic minority inequality in health and social care – improving care outcomes, learning from COVID-19, addressing underlying factors, and priorities for leadership and the workforce
  11. Event: Fire Industry Manufacturers (FIM) Expo (rescheduled)
  12. Event: FIREX International
  13. New journal article: Egress Parameters Influencing Emergency Evacuation in High-Rise Buildings
  14. New book: Intumescent Coatings for Fire Protection of Building Structures and Materials
  15. International standards: Inclusion of metrics for the incidence of occupational accidents
  16. Protect home workers Coronavirus (COVID-19): HSE update
  17. HSE Coronavirus (COVID-19): working safely
  18. Event: Hazards 30 Process Safety Conference
  19. Global Handwashing Day – 15 October 2020
  20. Heart Research UK advises that you should avoid sitting too much
  21. Massive under-reporting of Covid cases at food firms
  22. Strict government Covid enforcement – except at work
  23. TUC welcomes new short-term working scheme
  24. UCU says university teaching must go online
  25. Covid-19 is biggest violence flashpoint for shopworkers
  26. Coronavirus may cause ‘wave’ of neurological disease
  27. Government must do more to keep schools open and safe
  28. Bus passenger face covering fines ‘vanishingly rare’
  29. Shop workers need respect as Covid rules tighten
  30. Health and care staff need reassurance about the future
  31. Call for immediate action on deadly silica risks
  32. HSE inspections to target site dust
  33. Progress on law to protect Scottish shopworkers
  34. Canada: Anger as ‘non-profit’ pushes asbestos globally
  35. Europe: Industry tries to stall hazardous chemicals database
  36. Europe: Work cancer action welcome, but not enough
  37. USA: Poultry plants’ fast line speeds linked to high Covid rates
  38. World Day for Decent Work: 7 October 2020

Airborne virus a ‘major’ transmission risk

There is ‘overwhelming evidence’ that inhalation of the coronavirus represents a major transmission route for Covid-19, scientists have warned.

The warning from experts from six US universities contradicts a position promoted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has played down airborne risks and said transmission by larger droplets is the predominant mode of transmission. However, the letter published in Science magazine, notes “aerosols containing infectious virus can also travel more than 2 m and accumulate in poorly ventilated indoor air, leading to superspreading events.” The letters adds: “Individuals with Covid-19, many of whom have no symptoms, release thousands of virus-laden aerosols and far fewer droplets when breathing and talking. Thus, one is far more likely to inhale aerosols than be sprayed by a droplet, and so the balance of attention must be shifted to protecting against airborne transmission. In addition to existing mandates of mask-wearing, social distancing, and hygiene efforts, we urge public health officials to add clear guidance about the importance of moving activities outdoors, improving indoor air using ventilation and filtration, and improving protection for high risk workers.”

More information:

Virus harms mental health of two-thirds of workers

Two-thirds of UK workers said their mental health has been harmed by the coronavirus crisis, a new survey by GMB has found.

In the poll of 13,500 public and private sector workers – thought to be the biggest of its kind during the pandemic – 66 per cent of respondents said that their work during the outbreak has had a serious negative impact on their mental health. The research also discovered 61 per cent of workers say their job is causing them stress or is otherwise impacting on their mental health. Fear of taking the coronavirus home was the frequently cited cause of stress at work (by 36 per cent of respondents), followed by workers’ fear for their own safety (by 30 per cent). Frontline workers report being 70 per cent more anxious on average than official estimates for the whole population before the pandemic struck, the union research found.

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Covid-19 crisis hurting most UK retail workers

A major survey by the retail UK union Usdaw has exposed the damaging impact of the coronavirus crisis on the mental health of shopworkers.

Usdaw’s ‘Impact of Coronavirus’ survey of 7,357 members, primarily essential workers, found that 70 per cent are experiencing anxiety and raised concerns with their employer. Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, commented: “At some point or another everyone has felt confused, frightened and worried by the coronavirus and our survey demonstrates the extent of that. I have never known a single issue cause nearly threequarters of our members to raise concerns with their employer in such a short space of time.”

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Outdoor heater fires double as Londoners gear up for alfresco winter – London-wide safety warnings from London Fire Brigade

New figures released by London Fire Brigade reveal fires involving outdoor heaters have doubled, as retailers see outdoor heaters, fire pits and chimineas fly off the shelf.

As the colder weather closes in, we’re urging people to use these items carefully this winter. Fires involving outdoor heaters have increased by 55 per cent in London, in comparison to the same period last year. Concern for the potential for these types of fires to increase further are fuelled by reports that retailers, like John Lewis, have seen sales of outdoor heaters spike by 82 per cent, whilst fire pits have sold out.

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London Fire Brigade urges smokers to take on Stoptober and quit

With winter on the way amid an unprecedented public health crisis, we’re urging smokers to join the Stoptober movement and quit the habit – to protect themselves, their families and their neighbours.

In the five months since the lockdown period commenced, our firefighters tackled almost 640 fires caused by smoking materials. Brigade figures show that smoking-related fires in the home have increased by around 20 per cent since the lockdown was announced – even though one study suggests that one million smokers in the UK quit in the early months of the lockdown.

Between January and September this year, smoking was the second biggest single cause of fires our firefighters were called to after cooking. In that period, four people died and 98 people sustained injuries as a result of smoking-related fires.

Smoking is one of the deadliest causes of fire, while only ten per cent of accidental dwelling fires are due to smoking, the Brigade has recorded ‘smoking’ as a cause for almost a third of fire related deaths from 2009 to date.

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Backache? Neck pain caused by work? You are not alone. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has launched its 2020-2022 campaign – Healthy Workplaces Lighten the Load – which focuses on work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The launch marks the start of a programme of events and actions aimed at raising awareness of this issue – which affects millions of workers across Europe – and how to tackle it.

Ensuring the best possible work environment is critical for the health and wellbeing of the workforce, and therefore a duty of all employers. With the pandemic affecting how we live and work, we can all benefit from the guidance and resources published today.

Despite legislation and initiatives aimed at preventing them, around three in every five workers suffer from MSDs and they remain the most common work-related health complaint in Europe, affecting workers in all jobs and sectors. Repetitive movements, prolonged sitting and heavy lifting are just some of the risk factors that contribute to these conditions, which can affect the muscles, joints, tendons or bones. The negative impact that they have on workers’ quality of life is clear.

More information:

Event: Scientific workshop on the future of smart and effective labour inspection

3 November 2020, Online

Organised by BAuA and the, in cooperation with the EU-OSHA.

More information:

Event: SFPE20 Conference Highlights 2020 now online

9-11 November 2020


9 November 2020 – Annual Business Meeting

The Annual Business Meeting (ABM) is a required meeting for the Society to allow all members a chance to hear from their leadership how the Society is performing, any changes in strategic direction, its financial position and any programmatic or operational challenges, or opportunities, it may be facing. This meeting is complimentary, but for SFPE members only. Schedule:

10 November 2020 – The Role of Modeling in Improving the Safety of Lithium-Ion Battery Systems

Ofodike “DK” Ezekoye, Ph.D., P.E., The University of Texas at Austin

For many new technologies the drivers for adoption are based on factors like image enhancement, low cost of ownership, perceived usefulness, usability, and aesthetics. Safety is rarely considered in early product adoption and is, thus, less emphasized in early design and development of new technologies. Designing for safe use and operation is challenging because prior to market penetration it is difficult to imagine all the failure modes that may occur with any given new technology. Safe design and use of lithium-ion battery operated systems have faced some of these challenges. As we know, lithium ion batteries have significantly impacted and affected mobile and stationary electrical usage because of their high energy densities, low rates of self-discharge, long life, and relatively low maintenance requirements. We find these devices in consumer electronics packages such as cell phones, laptops, and other portable electronics. Increasingly these devices are used in mobile platforms such as robots, cars, cycles, and even planes. At large scales, energy storage systems in residential, commercial, and utility scale applications are incorporating lithium-ion batteries. While there’s little publicly available data on the failure rates of lithium-ion cells, estimates are that the failure rates are extremely low and catastrophic failure is infrequent. That said, there are notable examples of failures that have affected the overall penetration and adoption of this technology for certain use cases. In this seminar I will discuss case studies of battery system failures, failure mechanisms of lithium-ion battery systems, and research approaches to understand the failure cascade and improve safe design of battery systems.

11 November 2020 – A Look Back to Move Forward: A Review of Human Behaviour in Fire Research from 2000-2020

Erica Kuligowski, Ph.D.

In 2000, Drs. Shields and Proulx wrote an article entitled: “The Science of Human Behaviour: Past research endeavours, current developments and fashioning a research agenda.” While this seminal article outlines the significant progress made in the field of human behavior in fire from 1956-2000, the authors also present a research roadmap – identifying the topics of study, policies, and protocols necessary for the integration of human behavior/performance and fire safety design for buildings. This presentation will look back at the last 20 years (from 2000-2020) to see how far we have come as a field – and more specifically, to what extent we have addressed the topics identified by Shields and Proulx. First, select issues from Shields and Proulx’s research roadmap will be presented. Next, relevant behavioral research and actions performed in the last 20 years will be discussed in order to determine whether we have addressed the issues or if there is more work left to do. The presentation will conclude with suggestions for ways forward to address any outstanding issues as well as any new issues that may have arisen since 2000.

More information:

Event: WOW Working Time Policy Symposium 2020

13 November 2020

Everybody who is interested on working life and working hours is welcome to follow the stream online.

The WOW Symposium will present and discuss:

The Press Conference will also be streamed online

More information:

Event: Tackling ethnic minority inequality in health and social care – improving care outcomes, learning from COVID-19, addressing underlying factors, and priorities for leadership and the workforce

9 December 2020 (morning only)

This Westminster Health Forum policy conference will consider the next steps for tackling ethnic minority inequality across healthcare – for those working in the sector and those using its services.

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Event: Fire Industry Manufacturers (FIM) Expo (rescheduled)

16 March 2021, Titanic Centre, Belfast

FIA’s Northern Ireland Week was originally scheduled to be held in March 2020; however, due to the effects of COVID-19, it will now be held in Belfast at the Titanic Centre Belfast on 16 March 2021.

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Event: FIREX International

18-20 May 2021, ExCel London

FIREX International is the global arena for sourcing fire safety products, guidance and expertise. It gives fire and security professionals access to the very latest technology from suppliers across the world.

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New journal article: Egress Parameters Influencing Emergency Evacuation in High-Rise Buildings

Fire in buildings pose a significant threat to occupants, first responders as well as the structural system. Rapid spread of fire and smoke in buildings can hinder the process of evacuation resulting in loss of human life. Such situations call for a reliable egress system that provides safe evacuation of occupants in minimal time. Updating the occupants and first responders with much-needed situational awareness such as accessible stairwells and exits during the disaster can not only lead to efficient evacuation but also shorten the duration of evacuation in some scenarios.

This paper examines occupant evacuation scenarios in fire exposed high-rise buildings. A parametric study is carried out on evacuation strategies in a 32-story typical office building during different fire exposure scenarios. The movement of occupants with and without situational awareness is simulated.

The effect of critical parameters such as number of stories, width of the egress paths, location and number of exits on the evacuation process is evaluated. The time required for occupants to evacuate the building is estimated under normal conditions (to simulate fire evacuation drill) and under realistic fire exposure. Results from the study indicate that the two most significant factors that influence evacuation time are the location of stairway within the building and the floors at which fire starts.

When fire starts at the lower levels of the building, the evacuation time is the highest. More importantly, if situational awareness is incorporated in emergency evacuation procedure, it can improve the evacuation efficiency in a fire exposed high-rise building; wherein up to 24% reduction in evacuation time is achieved.

Egress Parameters Influencing Emergency Evacuation in High-Rise Buildings
Kodur, V. K. R.; Venkatachari, S.; Naser, M. Z.
Fire Technology, July 2020, Vol. 56, No. 5, pp. 2035-2057

New book: Intumescent Coatings for Fire Protection of Building Structures and Materials

The impact of additives on the fire-protection properties of coatings, highlights problematic issues in the application of commonly used coatings and also presents research and development advances in coatings for various materials.

The book provides practical recommendations for creation of fire retardant materials with an increased service life. The enhanced fire resistance seen in these materials is based on the regularities of the chemical and physicochemical interaction of the components of intumescent composition in the process of thermolytic synthesis of heat-insulating char-foamed layers.

The aim of fire protection of various objects with intumescent materials is to create a heat-insulating charred layer on the surface of structural elements; this layer can withstand high temperatures and mechanical damage which are typical during fires.

The authors describe the contribution of basic components (melamine, pentaerythritol, ammonium polyphosphate), additional components (chlorinated paraffin, urea, cellulose, carbon nano additives, etc.) and polymer binders of intumescent compositions on the process of charring.

The technological aspects of manufacturing, application and operation of fire retardant intumescent compositions, which can be useful for organizations that produce and use fire retardant materials, are also described.

Intumescent Coatings for Fire Protection of Building Structures and Materials
by Zybina, Olga; Gravit, Marina
Springer Books, November 2020, 290 pages ISBN 9783030594213

International standards: Inclusion of metrics for the incidence of occupational accidents

ISO TC 260, Human resource management, has developed a technical specification in which metrics for the incidence of occupational accidents are standardized internationally. At its meeting on 12 November 2019, the executive board of EUROGIP, the French occupational safety and health organisation, expressed strong reservations with respect to this project, and drew up a position paper, excerpts of which are reproduced here.

The specification ISO/TS 24179, Human resource management – Occupational health and safety metrics, is intended to support international standard ISO 30414, Human resource management – Guidelines for internal and external human capital reporting, which was published in 2018. The aim is to define metrics with which human resources managers in companies are able to demonstrate their added value. Examples of these metrics are the number of occupational accidents (whether they lead to incapacity for work or not) and fatalities at the workplace.

Rigorous recording and monitoring of occupational risks and accidents in the interests of better prevention is in principle desirable. Global metrics of accidents would however in no way enable companies around the world to be compared and the quality of their prevention measures thereby to be assessed. On the contrary, such metrics could even be counter-productive, for the reasons set out in the paper.

KANBrief 3/20, page 4:

Protect home workers Coronavirus (COVID-19): HSE update

This Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance has been updated to take account of working arrangements during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

As an employer, you have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers.

When someone is working from home, permanently or temporarily, as an employer you should consider:

More information:

HSE Coronavirus (COVID-19): working safely

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance on making your workplace COVID-secure gives an overview of the steps employers can take to protect people in the workplace.

You can get up-to-date information about Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance and support on GOV.UK.

More information:

Event: Hazards 30 Process Safety Conference

30 November - 2 December 2020, Online

Hazards 30 is an industry-focused event, exploring every major aspect of process safety and helping you to learn from the experience of others.

Stay up to date with process safety good practice, discover new techniques and approaches, explore lessons learned from past incidents and near-misses, and network with the international process safety community.

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Global Handwashing Day – 15 October 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic provides an important reminder that one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of germs and stay healthy is also one of the simplest – handwashing with soap and water. Keeping hands clean can prevent 1 in 3 diarrheal illnesses and 1 in 5 respiratory infections, such as a cold or the flu.

Each year on October 15, Global Handwashing Day highlights the importance of handwashing with soap and water at home, in the community, and around the world.

Global Handwashing Day serves as a yearly reminder that handwashing with soap and water is one of the best steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. The observance was established by the Global Handwashing Partnership in 2008.

This year’s theme, “Hand Hygiene for All,” seeks to raise awareness of making soap and water available globally, especially in public places, schools, and health care facilities. It also calls for institutions and individuals to improve hand hygiene efforts in the COVID-19 response that can outlast the pandemic and ensure continued access to clean water and soap.

Many germs that can make people sick are spread when we don’t wash our hands with soap and clean, running water. That is why handwashing is so important, especially at key times such as after using the bathroom, when preparing food, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.

For more information visit:

Heart Research UK advises that you should avoid sitting too much

Unless you are a wheelchair user, there is evidence to show that prolonged periods of sitting can increase your risk of developing heart disease. Modern technology has changed how we spend our work and leisure time. It is not uncommon for people to spend several hours every day sitting behind a desk, watching TV, playing computer games or sitting at the wheel of a car. Heart Research UK has some tips to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting:

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Massive under-reporting of Covid cases at food firms

The number of Covid-19 infections at food factories could be more than 30 times higher than reported, according to research that concludes employers have too much influence over official data.

A report from the ethical investments consultancy Pirc comes on the heels of academic research showing ‘many thousands’ of UK work-related cases and hundreds of deaths were being missed by the RIDDOR occupational accident and disease reporting system and a June warning from Hazards magazine of an “intelligence failure” at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), with the regulator “having little idea what was going on”. Food manufacturing has been at the heart of several major local outbreaks, with workers reporting cramped conditions and pressure not to miss work even when displaying symptoms.

The Pirc investigation found just 47 notifications of Covid-19 workplace infections – and no deaths – had been reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) by food manufacturing companies, who employ 430,000 people in the UK.

Pirc calculated there have been at least 1,461 infections and six deaths in the sector, with the true toll likely to be even higher. The research consultancy said the discrepancy was partly due to a loophole that allows companies to determine whether employees were infected on the job, or elsewhere, when they submit RIDDOR reports to HSE.

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Strict government Covid enforcement – except at work

A sharp disparity between enforcement resources directed at public and workplace breaches of Covid-19 rules has emerged.

From 28 September, refusing to self-isolate when told became illegal in England, with fines of up to £10,000. The measures, introduced without any parliamentary scrutiny, mean anyone who tests positive for Covid-19, or has been told they have been in contact with someone who has, now has a legal duty to quarantine. A funding pot of £60 million is to be made available for police and local authorities in England to assist them in enforcing Covid-19 rules, and includes the introduction of Covid ‘marshals’.

By contrast, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was provided with a boost to its coffers of just £14 million and has not to date prosecuted any firms for breaching criminal safety laws over Covid, despite thousands of firms breaching ‘Covid-Secure’ work rules (Risks 965) and failing in their legal responsibility to report work-related cases.

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TUC welcomes new short-term working scheme

The TUC has said the government’s announcement of a short-time working scheme ‘is a significant step forward’.

The union body was commenting after a 24 September statement from chancellor Riski Sunak announcing a new Jobs Support Scheme. This will replace the furlough scheme at end of October and will see workers in ‘viable’ jobs get up to 77 per cent of their normal salaries for six months.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Unions have been pushing hard for continued jobs support for working people. We are pleased the chancellor has listened and done the right thing. This scheme will provide a lifeline for many firms with a viable future beyond the pandemic.”

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UCU says university teaching must go online

Face-to-face teaching at universities should be halted until the government fixes test-and-trace failures and curbs the spread of Covid-19, the lecturers’ union UCU has said.

The warning comes as institutions increasingly take matters into their own hands by switching to majority online-only teaching. Others are spending millions of pounds instituting their own test-and-trace systems to identify outbreaks on campus. Strict disciplinary measures for students who flout social distancing rules are also being brought in.

By 28 September 2020, outbreaks had hit about 40 universities, forcing thousands of students into self-isolation. Hundreds of coronavirus cases were confirmed on campuses.

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Covid-19 is biggest violence flashpoint for shopworkers

Enforcing social distancing measures and the wearing of face coverings are now the biggest triggers for abuse of shopworkers, a survey by Usdaw has found.

The union said earlier similar surveys had found consistently that theft from shops and age identification were the major flashpoints, but these had now been overtaken by Covid-related abuse.

The survey of 2,232 shopworkers was conducted online in mid-September and asked the question: ‘What were the main triggers for abuse during the Coronavirus emergency?’, with respondents able to identify more than one issue.

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Coronavirus may cause ‘wave’ of neurological disease

Covid-19 can cause worrying neurological symptoms like a loss of smell and taste, but Australian scientists are warning the damage the virus causes to the brain may also lead to more serious conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

They say there is a worrying precedent. Five years after the Spanish flu pandemic in the early 1900s, there was up to a three-fold increase in the incidence of Parkinson’s disease.

Study co-author Kevin Barnham from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health said he believed a similar “silent wave” of neurological illness would follow this pandemic.

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Government must do more to keep schools open and safe

Giving all education staff priority testing, reducing the size of pupil ‘bubbles’ and making face coverings compulsory on school buses would help ensure schools can continue to stay open in the coming weeks, education unions have said.

In a joint letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson, UNISON, GMB and Unite outline proposals to reduce the risk of infection for children and staff, and reduce the likelihood of entire schools closing. The letter stresses that all school employees should have priority access to testing – not just teachers – and full pay must be given to lower paid workers who need to isolate. It also calls for more information to be shared with staff about suspected Covid-19 cases at their schools.

The three unions – representing school support staff across the UK including teaching assistants, technicians, catering workers, cleaning staff, caretakers, and receptionists – say the government must introduce additional measures to halt rising infections.

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Bus passenger face covering fines ‘vanishingly rare’

Over three months after the requirement for face coverings to be worn on public transport was first made compulsory, fines for those not complying with the order are ‘vanishingly rare’, the union Unite has said.

The transport union – whose public transport members have been hit hard by Covid-19 – is warning that the government’s latest announcement of increased fines for not wearing face coverings could make little difference unless accompanied by properly resourced and consistent enforcement.

The union was commenting after prime minister Boris Johnson announced last week that fines for not wearing in a mask on public transport and in shops would increase from £100 to £200 for a first offence. But Unite says the government’s own figures reveal that just 368 fines or fixed penalty notices were issued in London over a three month period.

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Shop workers need respect as Covid rules tighten

UK Retail trade union Usdaw has called on the shopping public to respect shop workers and follow the necessary in-store safety measures to keep us all safe.

The union comments came in its response to new workplace and other Covid-19 rules announced by the prime minister on 22 September. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “The increase in Covid-19 cases is alarming and we urge the government to ensure key workers are protected. We are deeply worried about safety measures not being followed and the impact that has on the safety of staff.”

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Health and care staff need reassurance about the future

Health and care staff need reassurance about next stage of the pandemic, the public sector union UNISON has said.

The union was commenting on the health secretary’s announcement of increased production and supply of personal protective equipment for health and care workers. “We have built robust and resilient supply chains from scratch and thanks to an absolutely phenomenal effort from UK businesses, almost threequarters of demand for PPE will soon be met by UK manufacturers,” said Matt Hancock. “As we take every step to combat this virus we are setting out this plan to reassure our health and social care workers that they will have the PPE they need to carry out their tireless work.”

UNISON head of health Sara Gorton commented: “It’s been a terrible time and with infections on the rise, the pandemic is far from over. Health staff and care workers need reassurances there’ll be no repeats of the nightmares with safety kit shortages they faced in the spring.”

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Call for immediate action on deadly silica risks

UK MPs are being urged to take immediate action to prevent avoidable deaths and illness caused by exposure to respirable crystalline silica.

The British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS), the scientific society on workplace health exposures, has written to MPs calling for action on a dust hazard which could put over 2 million workers at risk in the construction industry alone. It warns that hundreds are dying each year from the lung-scarring disease silicosis and that those infected by Covid-19 could be especially vulnerable.

Silica is also linked to 4,000 deaths a year from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Unions have also raised concerns about hundreds of preventable silica-related work cancer deaths each year and a link to serious autoimmune and other diseases. BOHS warns: “With a shortage and ramped up costs for respiratory protection equipment (RPE) and pressures to cut costs and an over-stretched HSE [Health and Safety Executive], the Society fears the problem is about to get much worse.”

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HSE inspections to target site dust

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors across Great Britain will be targeting construction firms to check that their health standards are up to scratch during a month-long inspection initiative, starting on 5 October 2020.

The safety regulator says it will be looking at the measures businesses have in place to protect their workers’ lungs from potentially deadly hazards including asbestos, silica and wood dust. It adds while the primary focus will be on health during this programme of inspections, if a HSE inspector identifies any other areas of concern, they will take the necessary enforcement action to deal with them. This will include making sure that businesses are doing all they can to protect their workers from the risk of coronavirus and make workplaces Covid-secure, it says.

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Progress on law to protect Scottish shopworkers

Retail trade union Usdaw has welcomed the Scottish parliament’s stage one unanimous vote for a new law to protect shop workers from abuse.

The vote on 24 September 2020 allows the Bill to go forward for detailed scrutiny in committee. The Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill is promoted by Daniel Johnson MSP.

Stewart Forrest, Usdaw’s Scottish divisional officer, said: “We are delighted that MSPs have recognised that retail workers are subjected to unacceptable violence, threats and aggression every working day. We welcome the support of MSPs across the parties and of the Scottish government. We congratulate Daniel Johnson MSP for the work he has done on behalf of our members and retail workers across Scotland by introducing this Bill and driving it forwards.”

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Canada: Anger as ‘non-profit’ pushes asbestos globally

A lobby group promoting asbestos sales in developing nations and listed in Quebec as a public interest ‘non-profit’ should be deregistered by the provincial government, health campaigners have said.

In a letter to Quebec Premier François Legault, Kathleen Ruff of RightOnCanada and Dr Jean Zigby, past president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, call for the International Chrysotile Association (ICA) to be stripped of its non-profit status under the Quebec Companies Act. The Quebec government states that non-profit organisations incorporated in the province must undertake moral or altruistic activities.

Ruff and Zigby say legal precedents have established the courts have the authority to remove ICA’s non-profit status because of its ‘immoral, deadly activities’.

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Europe: Industry tries to stall hazardous chemicals database

A coalition of 40 manufacturing industry organisations has urged the European Commission to put the brakes on a new EU chemicals database requiring suppliers selling products containing hazardous substances to provide extra information about their chemical constituents.

The trade bodies, which represent business across wide sections of the economy from aerospace to battery manufacturers, wrote to commission president Ursula von der Leyen on 21 September urging her to postpone by at least one year the European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA) new Substances of Concern in Products (SCIP) database. The lobbyists also want ECHA to carry out a “usefulness study” to test the “feasibility, proportionality and impact” of the database on business, which they argue is unworkable and of little value.

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Europe: Work cancer action welcome, but not enough

Trade unions have welcomed action by the European Commission they say will protect over 1.1 million people from work-related cancer by putting binding exposure limits on three dangerous substances.

The Commission has proposed Binding Occupational Exposure Limit Values (BOELs) on acrylonitrile, nickel compounds and benzene as part of an update to its Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (CMD). It means new or updated limits have now been placed on 27 carcinogens since 2014. However, the Europe-wide trade union body ETUC expressed concern that “no action has been taken to limit exposure levels to 20 more cancer-causing substances, while existing exposure limits for common workplace carcinogens like crystalline silica, diesel emissions and asbestos do not offer sufficient protection and urgently need to be updated.”

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USA: Poultry plants’ fast line speeds linked to high Covid rates

Forty per cent of the poultry plants participating in the US agricultural department’s (USDA) controversial line speed waiver programme have had Covid-19 outbreaks, according to a new analysis by the Food and Environment Reporting Network.

Unions and workers’ rights groups have warned continually that faster speeds on crowded processing lines could expose slaughterhouse workers to a greater risk of Covid-19. A regulatory waiver programme at the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service permits participating poultry plants to run their processing lines at 175 birds per minute (bpm), 25 per cent faster than the long-time industry standard of 140 bpm. According to FSIS data, 54 chicken or turkey plants have received waivers. Twenty-two of those plants, or 40 per cent, have had Covid-19 outbreaks, according to FERN’s outbreaks database. That represents a higher proportion of outbreaks than in the overall meatpacking sector.

More information:

World Day for Decent Work: 7 October 2020

A New Social Contract is required to ensure the global economy can recover and to build the resilience required to meet the convergent challenges of the pandemic, climate change and inequality.

This year marks the 13th World Day for Decent Work (WDDW) on 7 October 2020. Millions of people have taken part in WDDW events since 2008, and this year again it is a day for mobilisation all over the world: one day when all the trade unions in the world stand up for decent work. Decent work must be at the centre of government actions to bring back economic growth and build a new global economy that puts people first.

The effects of the pandemic on health, employment, incomes and gender equality are all the more catastrophic because the world was already fractured, with the deeply flawed model of globalisation causing entrenched inequality and insecurity for working people. A new social contract is central to charting the path to recovery from the effects COVID-19 as well as to building an economy of shared prosperity and sustainability.

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