Hazards Campaign reply to HSE: Our Covid 19 concerns remain unanswered

Health and Safety Executive
HSE Head of Strategy, Media and Campaign
Redgrave Court,
Merton Road, Bootle,
Merseyside
L20 8HS

2/4/20

Dear Jason,

Thank you for your response to my letter on behalf of the Hazards Campaign dated 30.3.20.

I am encouraged that you state ‘HSE will consider a range of actions to improve control of workplace risks’, ranging from the provision of specific advice to employers through to issuing enforcement notices’.

However, our concern about ‘non-essential’ organisations which are still working and unable to comply with social distancing remains unanswered.  Surely the risks associated with this far outweighs the ‘indeed it is important for business to carry on’ message in your ‘Social distancing, keeping businesses open and in-work activities during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak’ document?

In addition, many of the organisations which struggle to comply with social distancing also fail to comply with enhanced cleaning of tools and equipment, personal welfare facilities and even in offices, warehouses and manufacturing there is a lack of appreciation about the spread of the virus.

This seems to be in direct conflict with the government Public Health Guidance for trying to control the spread of COVID-19, and with the HSE’s Mission statement – HSE’s mission is to prevent death, injury and ill-health in Great Britain’s workplaces.

The government document says that if a ‘member of staff has helped someone who was taken unwell with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they do not need to go home unless they develop symptoms themselves’ and that the advice is for them ‘wash their hands’.  This is totally ridiculous, will continue the spread of the virus, put more workers at risk and again appears to be in conflict with government Public Health Guidance about self-isolating to reduce risk of transmission of COVID-19.

As previously stated, we continue to receive reports from workers – those who have insufficient PPE, are not trained in the use of the PPE or have the incorrect PPE in essential and non-essential work.  This can be the difference between being protected from a deadly virus or not and therefore there needs to be greater emphasis on the importance of PPE – its specification for different jobs and risks, and the quantity required to fully protect workers.

The HSE document ‘Research: review of personal protective equipment provided in health care settings to manage risk during coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) is contradictory at best.  Surely if FFP3 respirators are required, FFP2 respirators will be inadequate for AGP work with known or suspected patients, when exposure to high viral load is great, or at the very least should only be used only for a short period of time with strict guidance?  And what evidence is being collected about ‘passed a face fit test’ and when will this be audited.  We would also say that eye protection is essential in all settings, where workers have to be closer than the minimum guidelines of 2m.

There has got to be a recognition that many of the workers who will have the most concerns, will be in workplaces where they are on precarious contracts and not in a trade union organised and supported workplace.  In these workplaces it will be impossible for them to resolve issues ‘through speaking with their employer or trade union’ first.  They risk losing their jobs.  There must be an alternative approach available.  The HSE helpline or an alternative option must be available for worried exposed workers.

We welcome your statement about looking to provide a ‘clear message about what you expect employers to do in the current situation’ and that must include reviewing and assessing the risks of the job, controlling them effectively and the consequences to workers health if they fail to do this.  When deciding on control measures where possible, this must include the option of work being carried out at home and providing workers with the equipment and tools to do it.  After also consulting with safety reps.

We conclude:

  • If the work cannot be carried out safely within the public health rules, then it should stop. No-one should be being placed at risk in non-essential workplaces and the HSE must be able to close down unsafe workplaces to protect workers, their families and the wider public health.
  • There must be a recognition that vulnerable workers need to be able to contact the HSE regardless of having reported it to their employer first.
  • In critical essential employment, workers must have the appropriate PPE, in adequate supplies, necessary to keep them safe and healthy and if not, they must be able to stop work until it is available.

We recognise these are unprecedented times, but all the risks workers are facing, are foreseeable and preventable and we believe it is the HSE’s duty, more than ever in such times, to ‘prevent death, injury and ill-health in Great Britain’s workplaces’ by taking a far more proactive role.

With best wishes

Janet Newsham
On behalf of Hazards Campaign
Chair of Hazards Campaign/ Coordinator of GMHC

Covid-19: Hazards Campaign – Request for action from HSE

Letter to the HSE

Martin Temple Chair of HSE Board and Sarah Albon CEO
Health and Safety Executive
Redgrave Court
Merton Road
Bootle
Merseyside
L20 7HS
30 March 2020

Dear Martin Temple, Sarah Albon,

We are weeks into the COVID19 pandemic and reports continue to arrive in our inbox of workers being exposed to unnecessary risks. This includes being left without any protection or controls of exposure to this dangerous virus. The messages from the Government have been confused at best and ignorant of the reality of working practices to the point of negligence to individual workers:

  • Stay at home
    • Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home)
    • If you go out, stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times
    • Wash your hands as soon as you get home
    • Do not meet others, even friends or family.
    • You can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms.
    https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
  • When am I allowed to leave the house?
    o You should only leave the house for very limited purposes:
    o shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible
    o one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
    o any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid or escape risk of injury or harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
    o travelling for work purposes, but only where you cannot work from home• Should I stay at home or go to work?
    o You may travel for work purposes, but only where you cannot work from home.
    o Certain jobs require people to travel to their place of work – for instance if they operate machinery, work in construction or manufacturing, or are delivering front line services such as train and bus drivers.
    o Employers and employees should discuss their working arrangements, and employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home, including providing suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working.• I’m not a critical worker and I can’t work from home. What should I do?
    o If you cannot work from home then you can still travel to work. This is consistent with the Chief Medical Officer’s advice.
    o Critical workers are those who can still take their children to school or childcare. This critical worker definition does not affect whether or not you can travel to work – if you are not a critical worker, you may still travel to work provided you cannot work from home.
    o Anyone who has symptoms or is in a household where someone has symptoms should not go to work and should self-isolate.

    How can I find out if my work is essential or not?
    o The government is not saying only people doing “essential” work can go to work. Anyone who cannot work from home can still go to work.
    o Separately, there is a list of critical workers who can still take their children to school or childcare. Provision has been prioritised for these workers.
    o Every worker – whether critical or not – should work from home if they can but may otherwise travel to work.
    o We have also asked certain businesses where people gather, such as pubs and most shops, to close. Separate guidance has been published on this.

    Can I see my friends?
    o We must all stay away from each other to stop spreading the virus, and that means you should not be meeting friends unless you live in the same household.
    o Instead, you could keep in touch with your friends using phone or video calls.

    My boss is forcing me to go to work but I’m scared of coronavirus. What should I do?
    o Employers must make all efforts to help people to work from home where possible, as this will help limit the spread of the virus by reducing the amount of contact between people.
    o In some circumstances this may be impossible – this would apply to those working for a business or organisation that we have not asked to close and requires them to travel and be at work, such as train or bus drivers, construction workers, restaurant workers handling deliveries or those on the frontline like NHS workers.
    o For these workers who need to be at work, do not have symptoms or live with anyone who has symptoms, and are not vulnerable people, we have outlined clear guidance for employers to help protect workers.

    I can’t go to work because I need to look after my child, but my boss is threatening to sack me if I don’t. What should I do?
    o We would urge employers to take socially responsible decisions and listen to the concerns of their workforce – particularly when they have childcare responsibilities.
    o Employers and employees should come to an agreement about these arrangements.
    o If individuals need advice they should approach ACAS where they can get impartial advice about in-work disputes.

    What will happen to me if I break the rules?
    o We appreciate all the effort people are putting into containing the spread of coronavirus which will help protect our NHS and save lives.
    o However, if you leave your home or gather in public for any reason other than those specified, the police may:
    o instruct you to go home, leave an area or disperse
    o instruct you to take steps to stop your children breaking these rules if they have already done so
    o take you home – or arrest you – if you do not follow their instructions or where they deem it necessary
    o issue a fine (fixed penalty notice) of £60, which will be lowered to £30 if paid within 14 days.
    o issue a fine (fixed penalty notice) of £120 for second time offenders, doubling on each further repeat offence
    o Individuals who do not pay their fine could be taken to court, with magistrates able to impose unlimited fines.
    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do

     

  • Employers who have people in their offices or onsite should ensure that employees are able to follow Public Health England guidelines including, where possible, maintaining a 2 metre distance from others, and washing their hands with soap and water often, for at least 20 seconds (or using hand sanitiser gel if soap and water is not available).
    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/further-businesses-and-premises-to-close/further-businesses-and-premises-to-close-guidance

But it is impossible to keep safe distance apart in some workplaces and on some jobs. An example of this are the thousands of construction workers on non-essential projects who are still working. Reducing the spread of Covid -19 is not just about social/physical distancing but about touch. Most work which cannot be done at home – 2/3 of workers are unable to work at home – in manufacturing, construction and warehousing for example, involves a lot of touching and handling of materials. In many there will be touch pad security systems, touched by all workers and uncleaned between. In most workplaces complying with the hand washing, cleaning surfaces and materials guidance will be completely impossible and thus breaches the general duty in S2 of Health and Safety at Work Act.

In our opinion those workplaces which are non-essential at this time and cannot guarantee the safety and health of their workers or the public they travel amongst on their way to and from work, or the families they go home to , and should be suspending operations, if the spread of the virus is to be slowed down. This is the only social distancing that will work. The law now potentially allows workers travelling to non-essential work to be stopped and fined, but does not seem to allow unsafe non-essential workplaces to be closed.

The Government has laid out which agencies who will monitor and enforce the new regulations which support their Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations 2020 and further advice has been issued:

5. Compliance
Everyone is instructed to comply with the rules issued by the government in relation to coronavirus, in order to protect both themselves and others.

As of 1pm on 26 March 2020 new Regulations extending the restrictions are now enforceable by law in England due to the threat to public health. These supersede Regulations that came into force at 2pm on 21 March 2020. They are enforceable in Wales from 4pm on 26 March 2020 and Scotland from 7.15pm on 26 March 2020.

Where an owner, proprietor or manager carrying out a business (or a person responsible for other premises) contravenes the Regulations, that person commits an offence.

In England, Environmental Health and Trading Standards officers will monitor compliance with these regulations, with police support provided if appropriate. Businesses and venues that breach them will be subject to prohibition notices, and fixed penalties. With the support of the police, prohibition notices can be used to require compliance with the Regulations including requiring that an activity ceases.

If prohibition notices are not followed, or fixed penalty notice not paid, you may also be taken to court with magistrates able to impose potentially unlimited fines.
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/further-businesses-and-premises-to-close/further-businesses-and-premises-to-close-guidance

Although this says Environmental Health, Trading Standards and Police will monitor compliance with these regulations this only applies to those workplaces specifically closed down by government regulations. It does not apply to construction, manufacturing and other non-essential work not listed. But this does not negate the responsibility of the HSE and LA Health and Safety Inspectors to continue to regulate and enforce Health and Safety Regulations in all workplaces both essential and non-essential workplaces. And in this case it will be around PPE – provision, appropriateness and quantity -, managing risks and introducing safe systems of work and control measures.

If the HSE and LA health and safety officers do not act, employers will continue to take advantage and place their workers at risk. Trade Unions are continuing to highlight many examples of bad employment practices and negligent employers and through collective action have forced employers to improve their practices, but we still need the enforcement bodies to act as well.
Workers are justifiably feeling abandoned, anxious and their physical and mental health is deteriorating leaving them more likely to be at risk from contracting the virus.

Please will you tell us what action the HSE is taking to protect workers in this unprecedented situation, so that we can pass this on to the thousands of workers currently feeling abandoned and unnecessarily exposed to life threatening risks. We specifically want to know what action the HSE is taking to:

1. Remind all employers in essential and non-essential workplaces that workers health and safety is paramount at all times, that normal health and safety duties and regulations apply and that #Covid19 means extra risks must be assessed and prevented in usual way – by elimination, collective control and appropriate and sufficient PPE as last resort.

2. Issue strong warnings to employers to review all Risk Assessments for the new Covid 19 risk and to introduce safe systems of work to protect workers.

3. Advise employers that if suitable and sufficient Risk Assessments show the risk of exposure to COVID19 cannot be reasonable prevented they must stop work.

4. Provide workers with information about risks to their health and what their employers should be doing. Closure of HSE Infoline in2011 has left workers without a lifeline and employers without advice. Surely at this time with inspectors working from home, the HSE helpline could be reintroduced to support these workers?

5. Respond to the ‘Report a Concern’ online form by next day with enforcement action to support workers health against employers who are breaching health and safety regulations. Will you accept photographic evidence available which is date stamped? This could be used to instruct employers to either improve the situation in workplaces or face Prohibition and Improvement Notices.

6. Enforce strongly the need for appropriate PPE in sufficient quantities to protect the health of all NHS, Care and other health and essential workers who are at greatest risk of exposure to Covid19.

We look forward to your speedy response as we need to advise workers now on what HSE is doing to protect them and by extension all of society.

Yours sincerely,

Janet Newsham
On behalf of the Hazards Campaign
Chair of Hazards Campaign / Coordinator of GMHC

c/o GMHC
Windrush Millennium Centre,
70 Alexandra Rd,
Manchester M16 7WD
janet@gmhazards.org.uk
Tel: 07734 317158

Cancellation of Hazards Conference 2020

Cancellation of Hazards Conference 2020

It will probably come as no surprise that the Hazards Campaign has cancelled the Hazards Conference 2020 due to the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

We were and still are hoping that the spread of the virus will subside by then, but we also have to recognise that public events are now being cancelled and we cannot predict what the situation will be like by July, and with such uncertainty the recruitment and sponsorship for the conference will be detrimentally impacted. That along with the likelihood of a second wave hitting the UK in the autumn, means we will not be able to hold it even later in the year.

Many of you will realise this will have a major financial impact on the Hazards Campaign and the Greater Manchester Hazards Centre, GMHC, which runs the secretariat and organises and runs the annual Hazards Conference on behalf of the Hazards Campaign.

The Hazards Campaign is a network of hazards organisations, union safety reps and officers, asbestos groups and activists, and has no secure funding.

The annual Hazards Conference, which relies on generous financial sponsorship from the trade union movement, helps to fund Hazards Campaign work throughout the year in promoting and resourcing International Workers Memorial Day, speaking at union conferences, seminars, branch meetings and on TUC and Union health and safety training courses across the UK, running specific national campaigns such as the Trade Union Clean Air Network and lobbying and campaigning on all issues affecting workers’ lives and health.

GMHC is a not for profit organisation with no secure annual income other than what we raise annually from grants and fee paying work on behalf of the union movement, and a large proportion of that income is linked to the organisation of the annual Hazards Conference

GMHC provides free advice to workers and reps on health and safety issues, and supports families of workers killed at work. In part we receive payment for work carried out on behalf of the trade union movement, for delivering specialist training, information sheets, delivering conferences, health and safety updates etc.

All this is being impacted by the current situation as is the work of trade unions, branches and workers in all sectors across the economy.

Coronaviorus threatens the lives, health, livelihoods and security of millions of workers and their families across the UK.  We obviously understand all organisations are facing many hurdles and you have our sincere sympathy. Many workers will be facing much worse in coming months and we will provide as much support as we can.

We are exploring different options to continue our work supporting trade unions and safety reps. We will need to make a separate financial appeal in the near future, to enable our organisation to continue over the next 12 months. Most of you will know we work on a shoestring and much of the support is provided on a voluntary basis.

Many trade union branches, regions and national bodies have already provided sponsorship for this year’s conference and we are politely requesting your organisation defers this sponsorship so that money can be transferred to next year’s conference, Hazards 2021, rather than having to reimburse you. If this is not possible please email us and we will arrange for the money to be returned.

It is with extremely heavy heart that we make this decision. This would have been the 31st Hazards Conference and we know that many safety reps and officers value this event.  We are extremely sorry that serious events beyond our control have forced us to make this decision. We would also like to record our thanks for your continued support and hope that you will appreciate the difficult decision we have had to make. We will continue to campaign and stand in solidarity with trade union reps and trade unions.
Thank you and Solidarity Greetings!

Janet Newsham
on behalf of Hazards Campaign Secretariat
Janet Newsham Coordinator of GMHC  Acting Chair of Hazards Campaign

Temporarily based at: 177 Watling Street Road, Fulwood, Preston PR2 8AE
Tel: 07734 317 158  Email: janet@gmhazards.org.uk

Hazards Campaign Covid-19 briefing: Minimum conditions for worker safety

What is your employer doing during the current crisis over COVID-19 pandemic to support workers and the community? 

Decent work shouldn’t become indecent even when there is a crisis. It can be challenging and there are a number of issues/conditions that workers should be negotiating with management to ensure that the health and safety of staff and others who may be affected by work activities is paramount. This includes the pay, terms and conditions on which they are employed. In addition, it will be necessary to enhance or protect existing pay and conditions to protect other staff and communities. If you have any examples of good practice, please send them to mail@gmhazards.org.uk so that we can circulate them. Read the full briefing

Hazards Campaign 28 April 2020 resources order form

The Hazards Campaign has released an International Workers’ Memorial Day resources order form which includes, stickers ribbons and posters. You can download the form here.

Hazards Campaign calls for urgent cut to killer silica dust limit

The national Hazards Campaign is urging the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to halve the workplace exposure limit for silica dust, a move it says will save 4,000 lives a year.

The campaign’s call came in response to a new ‘Choked’ report from Hazards magazine. This presents evidence for cutting the current legal limit of 0.1 mg/m3 for respirable crystalline silica to no more than 0.05 mg/m3, a move the report says would dramatically reduce the incidence of the lung scarring occupational disease silicosis, lung cancer, autoimmune diseases and other silica-related conditions.

Hazards reviewed the international scientific literature and internal HSE documents to calculate the annual excess silica-related death toll resulting from HSE’s repeat refusal to switch to and enforce the tighter standard, instead sticking with a level it admits comes with “significant risks”.

The report reveals that HSE’s own internal reports estimate the silicosis risk for workers is six times higher at the current HSE limit of 0.1 mg/m3, calculated at 30 cases per 100 workers exposed compared to just five per 100 at the tighter 0.05 mg/m3 standard. The United States and a number of other jurisdictions already work to the safer standard.

The Hazards Campaign is asking supporters to send an online postcard to Sarah Albon, the new chief executive of the HSE. Over 600,000 workers in the UK are regularly exposed to silica at work which is created when cutting, grinding drilling or polishing, natural substances such as rocks and sand and is a major constituent in bricks, tiles and concrete and materials. At least one-in-five workers in these jobs – and in some like stonemasonry and construction, possibly half – are exposed at or above the current deadly UK limit.

Choked! The evidence for introducing a lifesaving new silica dust exposure limit, Hazards, Number 147, September 2019.
ACTION: Send an e-postcard to HSE demanding it introduce a more protective silica standard no higher than 0.05mg/m³ and with a phased move to 0.025mg/m³.

Workers lives and health is at risk as watchdog budgets are halved

The Hazards Campaign has signed this letter about the UK’s collapse of enforcement and checking on employers and  manufacturers.  We support Unchecked UK because we want the hard fought for and won protective laws intended to keep us safe  at work,  at home, in the environment and community, when eating drinking and breathing, and when using products and services, to be properly enforced.

Since 2010 Coalition and Tory governments have indulged in an orgy of slashing the enforcement budgets of the HSE and Local Authority watchdogs and extracting their teeth.

The system intended to protect workers’ lives and health in the UK is essentially broken, workers are harmed daily, and those most at risk now have no reasonable prospect of enforcement of their basic human right to safe and healthy work. Employers cannot be trusted. UK Governments have slashed workers’ lifeline and left an increasing trail of injuries, ill-health and death from despair at the brutish working conditions employers provide when no-one is checking on them.

The system intended to protect workers’ lives and health in the UK is essentially broken. Workers are harmed daily, and those most at risk now have no reasonable prospect of enforcement of their basic human right to safe and healthy work.

Employers cannot be trusted to comply with even the most basic health and safety law.. UK Governments have slashed workers’ lifeline and left an increasing trail of injuries, ill-health and death from despair at the brutish working conditions employers provide when no-one is checking on them.

Unchecked news release, letter to The Times and briefing, The UK’s enforcement gap, 20 August 2019. The Times. Hazards Campaign manifesto.

Book now for the National Hazards 2019 conference, 26-28 July

The 2019 National Hazards Conference, billed as the UK’s “biggest and best educational and organising event for trade union safety reps and activists”, will be held in Stoke-on-Trent from 26-28 July. The theme this year is ‘Cleaning up toxic work’ in increasingly insecure workplaces.

Speakers include Amanda Hawes, a US lawyer and victims’ advocate who specialises in occupational and environmental health compensation cases, world-renowned chemical safety and occupational cancer expert professor Andrew Watterson of Stirling University, former TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson, BFAWU environment officer Sarah Woolley, Unite member and TGI Fridays activist Claire Trevor and GMB health and safety director Dan Shears.

Hazards Campaign conference, 26-28 July 2019, Keele University, Stoke-on-Trent. Hazards 2019 programme and booking form.

United Kingdom: FACK statement on International Workers’ Memorial Day

Workplace victim support and campaign group Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) has issued a statement to mark International Workers’ Memorial Day 28 April 2019.

Selected quotes:

“When someone dies in a work-related incident, it’s not something that happened to a family. It is something that continues to happen. Not just for weeks or months. But for years…decades…maybe even generations.”

“Ensure the lessons to be learned from their deaths are taught over and over so that the greatest legacy of all can be built for this and future generations, a world of work that is safer and healthier: life-giving, not life-ending.”

For further information and to support FACK, contact Hilda Palmer, Facilitator for FACK: Tel 0161 636 7557

Hazards Campaign Workers’ Memorial Day 2019 posters

The Hazards Campaign, in conjunction with Hazards Magazine, has produced two striking International Workers’ Memorial Day 2019 posters. They are available in A4 and A3 sizes from the Campaign. Posters are free but postage will need to be paid on larger orders.  Order here. 

They can viewed on the Hazards magazine website at higher resolution. Poster 1 and Poster 2

Posters are free but  postage will need to be paid on larger orders. As a guide 25 x A4 posters OR 12 x A3 posters will cost £1.50 first class postage. Call us for a price: 0161 636 7558

Send Order to: Hazards Campaign, c/o GMHC, Windrush Millennium Centre, 70 Alexandra Road, Manchester M16 7WD
or janet@gmhazards.org.uk