Sunday, 2 August 2020

Call to record COVID works deaths

Call to record Covid work deaths
Big Issue North article 27 July - 2 August 

Employers have not controlled work risks 
A Manchester health and safety advice centre has called for workers who have died from contracting Covid-19 to be recorded as workplace deaths.
The decision would have implications for employers, including public bodies, and grieving families of the dead workers. 
According to the Heath and Safety Executive (HSE) their were 111 fatal workplace injuries in 2019-20, 38 fewer than in 2018-19. The HSE believes part of the fall is due to reduced economic activity resulting from the impact of Covid-19 in the final two months of 2019-20. 
But the total omits deaths from Covid-19. According to the HSE separate data about deaths associated with the coronavirus will be available at a later date. 
Lack of PPE 
The Greater Manchester Hazards Centre (GMHC) lobbies and advises workers on occupational health, safety and welfare issues. Co-ordinator Janet Newsham believes workers have died because workplace risks have not been controlled and is particularly critical of the lack of PPE for health and care workers. Employers found guilty of breaking health and safety laws can be fined, or, in some cases, imprisoned or lose the right to be a company director. 
“There wasn’t a precautionary approach taken to PPE,” said Newsham. “A higher level of stock was needed for health workers and anyone coming into contact with the virus.” 
GMHC wrote to the HSE when the coronavirus crisis crisis began, asking it to make it easier for workers to report concerns about employers not providing PPE. The HSE agreed to the Trades Union Congress producing an online form that sends concerns direct to the safety enforcement agency. 
The HSE also increased the number of people taking calls from employees. But Newsham said: “We have seen, for example, how the construction industry has been widely working and social distancing has been flouted. There has been only a handful of cases that have resulted in HSE or local authorities action.” 
According to an HSE spokesperson “all cases reported to HSE and local authorities are being assessed and investigations initiated where incidents meet our published incident selection criteria”. 
In the US a union is suing meat companies including Smithfield Foods and JBS USA, as well as retailers such as Amazon and Walmart, on behalf of workers who have become infected and died. The first multiple victims case at one workplace during the pandemic was filed in court recently. 
Newsham said: “Unions and families here should be considering legal action against the government, perhaps in a similar fashion to that by soldiers’ families who successfully sued over a lack of adequate equipment and protection in the Iraq conflict.” 
In response to a series of questions an HSE spokesperson told Big Issue North: “With the Covid-
19 virus prevalent in the community at large it is very difficult to be certain that an individual case of the disease resulted from occupational exposure... It is too early for us to comment on potential lines of enquiry.” 
HSE’s response concerned Unite member Abdul Tan Rashid, a Middlesbrough bus driver who has seen colleagues die across the country. “I hope it does not mean Covid-19 deaths among people with underlying health problems are recorded as due to the natural progression of a naturally occurring disease. Employers might then escape their responsibilities.” 
One potential avenue of enquiry was closed down in April when the chief coroner said an inquest was “not the right forum for addressing concerns about high-level government or public policy” and “by no means will all Covid-19 deaths be reported to the coroner”. 
For Newsham though the priority remains “to get high standard PPE and more effective workplace practices in place while not letting down workers who have died by allowing them not to be recorded as workplace deaths”. 

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