Tag Archives: health and Safety Executive

Talks tomorrow over lack of Covid-19 measures at Bexley refuse depot

Crunch talks are due to take place tomorrow (Tuesday 7 July) to resolve health and safety concerns over the lack of Covid-19 prevention measures at the Crayford refuse depot which serves the borough of Bexley.

Pressure from Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, has prompted the talks with controversial outsourcing giant Serco which runs the council contract.

This follows criticism from the Health and Safety Executive over the failure to have adequate social distancing measures in place at the Thames Road depot, Crayford, Kent from where about 200 employees work.

The HSE’s criticisms from an inspection visit in May included that cleaning was ‘not robust enough’; inadequate monitoring of those visiting the site; and people passing on the stairs with no social distancing.

Unite also said that there had been two separate serious injuries recently when one member had his foot run over by a lorry and another nearly lost the use of his fingers.

Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon said: “What we are seeking from tomorrow’s talks is a dramatic step-change for the better in the health & safety regime which we think should mean a change of management at the Crayford depot. Our members’ lives have been put at risk due to managerial incompetence.

“Our members, many of whom are on ‘poverty wages’, have been working right through the pandemic ensuring that the refuse of Bexley residents is collected regularly – so, at the very least, they deserve the best Covid-19 preventive measures in the depot and their working environment when they are on their collection routes.

“The HSE’s damning inspection report was a marker that Serco urgently needs to get its health & safety act together – there needs to be a radical change of culture in this area. Cost should not be a factor when combating coronavirus.

“I do not say this lightly, but the workforce at Serco Bexley has completely lost confidence in the local management’s ability to be responsible for their safety.”

Earlier this year, Unite’s 125 members working on the Bexley contract took a day-and-a-half of strike action over the ‘dire’ pay they receive from Serco – but called off further industrial action as the lockdown came into force in March. The refuse workforce was earning about £4 an hour less than their counterparts in Greenwich.

Sharp rise in construction deaths coincides with plunge in inspections

Unite, the UK’s construction union, is warning that the large increase in construction deaths could be related to a steep fall in proactive inspections and prosecutions being undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive.

It was revealed this week that construction fatalities increased by 33 per cent in a year from 30 in 2018/19 to 40 in 2019/20, a third of all work related deaths.

Decrease in inspections

A freedom of information request by Unite has uncovered that the increase in deaths corresponds with at least a 25 per cent decline in proactive (unannounced) construction inspections.

In 2018/19 there were a total of 9286 proactive inspections compared to just 6381 in 2019/20, a decline of 31 per cent.

Inspections suspended

In March 2020, the HSE ceased making proactive inspections due to Covid-19.  Notwithstanding this development, the fall in construction inspection still amounts to a massive 25 percent reduction in the number of inspections when compared to the corresponding 11 month period in the previous year.

Construction workers in danger

Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “These figures are alarming and raise serious questions about the safety of construction workers.

 “Each of the fatalities was a terrible tragedy, a loved one went to work one day and never came home again.

 “It is simply no coincidence that the drop in inspections has occurred at the same time that there has been a steep rise in deaths.

 “We need to be honest, the constant cuts to the HSE since 2010 have had an awful impact on workers’ lives.  The simple way to protect construction workers and to help stop the loss of life in our workplaces is to restore funding to the inspection and safety agency.

 “It has always been the case that there are employers in construction that are prepared to cut corners on safety to boost profits – only the threat of action by the HSE keeps them in check.

 “With the added problems of the Covid-19 pandemic, regular inspections by the HSE have never been more important.

 “For employers who are trying to ensure that they follow the complex rules on social distancing, there is a real danger they could take their eye off the ball when it comes to other safety measures.

 “With the unscrupulous employers, the rogues will consider the current crisis a good excuse to play fast and loose with all safety requirements in the unfortunately correct assumption that they are unlikely to be caught.

 “Over the past decade, the HSE has been cut to the bone. The recent meagre increase in funding it has received is a drop in the ocean compared to the funding it has lost.

 “If the HSE is going to keep workers safe and healthy, able to deal with the twin challenges of Covid-19 and workplace safety, then it must be given the resources by the government to do so.”

London and South West biggest reduction

The sharpest decrease in inspections was in the South West where inspections declined by 54 per cent but the most alarming decrease was in London which accounts for 30 per cent of the UK’s construction work and where inspections halved. There were also sharp declines in the West Midlands (-49 per cent), South East (-48 per cent) and Eastern England (-33 per cent).

Unite’s FOI also revealed that the total number of enforcement notices issued by the HSE concerning breaches of safety laws has declined by 30 per cent in 2019, while the number of prosecutions heard in courts for serious safety failures was down by 24 per cent.

Rowan Foods must comply immediately with Welsh Government Guidance

Unite the Union has today welcomed new Welsh Government Guidance for meat and food plants in relation to the prevention and management of coronavirus (COVID-19). The guidance, which was published following consultation with interested parties including Unite, clearly sets out the responsibility that employers must undertake to prevent outbreaks of Covid19 within their workplaces.

The guidance specifically states that employers should ensure that employees “do not suffer a financial detriment as a result of self-isolation’. Rowan Foods, which is currently dealing with a Covid19 outbreak amongst its staff, has so far refused to pay self-isolating workers their normal pay.

Dave Griffiths Regional Officer commented:

“Unite is surprised by Public comments made by the Wrexham Management Team at Rowan Foods and its Parent Company Oscar Mayer Foods following a two day inspection by the HSE. We have hundreds of members that continue to dispute Rowan Foods version of events. The Covid positive testing at Rowan Foods tells its own story.

We are calling upon Rowan Foods to comply with Welsh Government guidance and pay their workers in full when self-isolating in order to ensure that employees do not suffer a financial detriment. Only by doing this can we ensure that the virus is not transmitted further on this site, in our communities and beyond. Full sick pay so that employees can stay home and be safe is in our view the key action that would have stopped the virus spreading on this site.

We have today contacted the Managing Director of Rowan Foods and the Human Resources Director in order to commence consultations on site in line with the new guidance. This will enable Unite the union to properly represent its members and ensure that everything is done to protect the local community and the customers of this employer”.

Takeaways accused of ‘taking the pee’ as food couriers denied toilet access

Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union, has demanded that takeaways and major fast food chains stop breaking the law and allow fast food couriers to use their toilets.

Fast food couriers

Unite has been contacted by several self-employed couriers who work via platforms such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats, who are concerned that they are increasingly being denied the right to use a toilet when collecting food from takeaways.

Public toilets closed

With public toilets closed due to the pandemic, drivers report having to urinate in bushes and that they have no proper method of cleaning their hands.

The drivers say that the takeaways,which include household names, are using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to prevent couriers from using their premises.

Toilet dignity

Unite has been running a long-term campaign highlighting the frequent lack of toilet dignity in the workplace.

As part of its campaign in November 2017, Unite secured a significant victory meaning that delivery drivers (and fast food couriers) now have the right to use the toilets of commercial customers (not the toilets of private householders) and hand washing facilities. A portaloo is not considered adequate and hot water should also be available.

Denied access

Since the pandemic began Unite has had an increasing number of HGV delivery drivers report that they have been denied access to toilets.

Following lobbying from Unite, a letter jointly signed by Baroness Vere, the parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Transport, and Sarah Albon, the Chief Executive of the Health and Safety Executive, has been produced reminding businesses of their responsibilities and reassuring drivers they have a right to use a toilet when making a delivery.

Safety breach reporting

The TUC has set up a direct link where workers can report safety breaches which includes the refusal to allow access to the toilet directly to the HSE by completing a simple form

Unite will name and shame employers who fail to follow the law and who refuse to act when issues are highlighted.

Public health matter

Unite national officer Adrian Jones said:“This is a serious public health matter.

“When the government’s key advice is to wash your hands it is alarming that takeaways are actively preventing drivers from doing this and then expecting them to deliver food to people’s homes.

“Takeaways and fast food outlets have got to stop taking the pee out of delivery drivers and instead ensure that they have access to toilets when they need them.

“The problem of a lack of access to toilets is not confined to fast food couriers; throughout the pandemic, delivery drivers have regularly reported that they have been denied access to toilets.

“After intense lobbying by Unite, the government is finally taking this issue seriously, and workers denied access to toilets should immediately report this to the HSE.

“Companies who refuse to provide will be named and shamed because their actions are risking the public’s health.”

Labour tells Government ‘up your game’ to make workplaces safe

Labour today tells the Government ‘up your game’ and fully resource safety inspections to give workers confidence they can safely return to work outside the home.

A decade of cuts has left the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities without the resources they need to adequately carry out physical inspections and provide support to workers and employers. The coronavirus crisis has made the need to address this even more urgent.

As more of our economy reopens today, Labour is publishing research that shows that since 2010 Government funding for the HSE has been slashed by more than half, the number of inspectors has dropped by more than one third, there have been 30% fewer enforcement notices, a 62% fall in prosecutions and a 50% drop in convictions. Spending on health and safety by local authorities has also fallen by over 40%.

On average, employers will only see an inspector once every 275 years. But a majority of workers say spot inspections should be conducted in person, and key workers whose work is affected by the coronavirus have identified health and safety as their biggest concern.

Andy McDonald MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights and Protections, said:

“Laws to protect workers are not worth the paper they’re written on if we cannot enforce them. The Government has been too slow too often in tackling the coronavirus outbreak and needs to up its game.

“Workers need to be able to trust the Prime Minister when he says it is safe to return to work outside the home, and have confidence that their health and their families’ health will be protected.

“Without full resourcing, there cannot be an effective system for workplace inspections, putting workers, their families and the public at risk, and undermining the national effort to fight this virus.”


Andy McDonald responds to new government advice on working safely during Covid-19

Andy McDonald MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights and Protections, responding to new government advice on working safely during Covid-19, said:

“We welcome that this guidance has adopted some of the measures called for by the TUC and Labour, but it still falls short of providing a clear plan for a safe return to work outside the home.

“Not only is there no new safety standard, the new guidance risks lowering standards in practice by failing to make employees and employers aware of their existing rights and duties or put in place a process to enforce safe working standards. It is also confusing that guidance on returning to work was published ahead of guidance on the use of public transport.

“There is no obligation for employers with fewer than 50 employees to publish risk assessments, which should be required so they can be scrutinised.

“After a decade of budget cuts, the Health and Safety Executive does not have the resources to inspect workplaces. Without sufficient funding, laws protecting workers and public health cannot be enforced.”