Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others.
UK ratifies prevention of violence at work treaty
The TUC has welcomed the UK ratification of an international treaty on prevention of violence and harassment at work. The union body was commenting after work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey told the comments the UK was putting measures in train to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 190 on violence and harassment. The statement from the minister added: “Following our response to the sexual harassment in the workplace consultation, published earlier this year, the government will also be introducing a new proactive duty requiring employers to take steps to prevent their employees from experiencing sexual harassment and introducing explicit protections for employees from harassment by third parties, for example customers or clients.” She said the move will also “motivate employers to make improvements to workplace practices and culture.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Ratifying the convention is a welcome statement of intent – it now comes down to the action and enforcement that follows. No matter who you are, or the job you do, you should be safe from violence and harassment at work.
Each year, thousands of teachers are assaulted and harassed, and we also bear witness to significant growth in online abuse of teachers by pupils as well as parents.
NSEAD welcomes this measure as it places responsibility very much at the door of the employer to ensure that the workplace and working conditions are suitable and safe for their employees.
School inspections acceleration
Ofsted said it “has been asked by government to inspect all schools and further education (FE) providers by summer 2025, to give a quicker assessment of how well education is recovering from the pandemic.” The education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, said: “Accelerating the rate of Ofsted inspections over the coming years will provide parents with an up-to-date picture and swifter recognition of the hard work of leaders and teachers.”
This is a serious concern to our members, as they have been at the forefront of keeping education operational during the ongoing Covid-19 response.
Not only have they been failed by the government by not receiving a much-needed pay increase, the response to Covid is far from over in schools, which are still very much on the front line with schools seeing significant high rates of cases and infections.
This is an idea by people who are out of touch with the reality of what is happening. In our schools. Teachers don’t need additional accountability at this time, they need support and they need resources.
Warning on work-related mental health ‘crisis’
Work-related stress and poor mental health ‘risk becoming a health and safety crisis for Great Britain’s workplaces’, the UK’s workplace safety regulator has warned. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said last year more than 17 million working days were lost as a result of stress, anxiety, or depression.
HSE added its new ‘Working Minds’ campaign aims to help businesses recognise the signs of work-related stress and make tackling related issues routine. The regulator said it is calling for a culture change across Britain’s workplaces, to ensure psychological risks are treated the same as physical ones in health and safety risk management.
For years, we in education have witnessed the severe toll on teachers when it comes to mental health and their emotional well-being.
In many ways, the pandemic was an opportunity to press the reset button and allow us an opportunity to design and frame a new way of working that embraced teacher well-being, yet evidence strongly proves that we have returned to our old normal with new added pressures.
Poor mental health and well-being adversely affects performance, and it has a profound impact on personal lives. All education settings should promote good working practices.
Covid mitigation to continue in Scottish schools
Teaching unions have welcomed an announcement by the Scottish government that current school Covid safety mitigations are to be retained following advice from senior clinicians. Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville urged continued vigilance to protect pupils and staff. The minister said: “In recent weeks we have seen the previous sharp decline in Covid-19 case numbers starting to level off, and that is why we have decided to adopt a cautious approach and maintain safety mitigations in school for the time-being.”
The 19 October Scottish government announcement means that pupils will continue to be required to wear face coverings in secondary school classrooms as they return from the October break. Secondary-aged pupils, and staff in primary and secondary schools, will also still require face coverings in communal areas or when moving around the building.
This is a sensible position to maintain in light of concerns about the rising numbers of Covid infections, especially amongst the school age population and the age group of their parents.
Wales investment in school ventilation welcomed
An announcement by the Welsh government of a £3.31m fund for ventilation in schools and colleges has been made, with the Welsh minister for education Jeremy Miles saying: “This investment for ventilation improvements, along with the rollout of CO2 monitors, will help keep transmission rates low. However, it is still really important that we all do our bit to reduce the spread of Covid-19, and this includes regular handwashing and maintaining distance where we can.”
We are pleased to see investment towards promised ventilation equipment. We know the importance of schools staying open for pupils, but it is imperative that they receive the financial support to provide for these necessary mitigations, so this news is welcome.
Safety professionals call for menopause action
Employers should develop more inclusive and supportive workplace cultures and managerial styles to help menopausal women feel comfortable discussing their symptoms and requesting support, the top UK safety professionals’ organisation has said. The call is among a series of recommendations from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) in response to a UK government inquiry into menopause and the workplace.
The inquiry was launched after a survey found that three in five menopausal women were negatively affected at work by their symptoms, with nearly 900,000 women in the UK leaving their jobs because of it.
IOSH is calling for measures including the scrutiny of existing policies and procedures to ensure they cater for the psychosocial needs of menopausal women at work. It also wants risk assessments to consider specific risks to menopausal women and to identify any necessary ‘reasonable adjustments’.
The safety body is urging employers to “follow the advice of health and safety professionals based on age – and gender – sensitive health risk assessments, including potential changes in functional capacities.”
Women make up the significant majority of the teaching staff and TA’s across the Education Sector, yet they are under-represented in many school management and leadership roles. It is essential that workplaces and workplace leaders are knowledgeable on how to address work-related menopause issues and the preventive role that occupational health and safety can play. NSEAD members should query whether their employer has a specific policy on the menopause.
School unions call for more safety measures
Education unions have written to the education secretary asking him to urgently reconsider the reintroduction of additional safety measures in schools, in the light of rising rates of Covid infection and absence among school students. The said they will also be writing to all local authorities and directors of public health asking them to consider measures in their local areas. The letter to education secretary Nadhim Zahawi points to measures now being readopted in several local authority areas in response to rising cases, including social distancing measures, reintroduction of bubbles, avoidance of large gatherings such as assemblies and meetings, and reintroduction of face coverings in secondary schools. The unions have warned that without such measures, students’ education and the health of students, their families and school staff will all be damaged unnecessarily.
as you will be aware posted a message regarding these very salient points on NSEAD Online – our dedicated member Facebook group back on October 5th. Search for this post using ‘Principal caseworker NSEAD’
‘Scared’ staff deserve better school safety
“Scared, over-worked and exhausted” teachers and school staff in Wales are calling for immediate action to address Covid safety concerns. The call on the Welsh government to strengthen its approach to Covid safety in schools came after hundreds of school workers joined a 7 October Keeping Schools Safe and Open event organised by Wales TUC. The education trade unions said they are in agreement with the Welsh government that continued learning in school should be a priority. However, they are pushing for greater mitigation measures to help protect staff and pupils. Wales TUC general secretary Shavanah Taj said: “The whole school workforce is in agreement that mitigations need to be stronger throughout Wales to keep schools open. Teachers, teaching assistants, headteachers and support staff are scared, over-worked and exhausted. Welsh government needs to listen to them and recognise that they’re the experts on what’s happening in schools.”
With the growing number of positive Covid cases amongst pupils, staff and ancillary staff in schools across Wales, it is imperative that these people are protected by the more widespread use of measures that can mitigate against the spread of this disease. When people attend the workplace, they do so to provide the continuity of education that is so important to the children, but it should not come at the cost of increased worry and anxiety and heightened risk of acquiring the virus whilst at work.
Women teachers express safety concerns
Women teachers have concerns about their safety inside and outside of work, a teaching union has said. There was discussion about the increasing problem of sexual harassment and violence against women with a poll finding 1 in 10 feel “not safe” at work or “concerned and anxious about my safety at work.” 49 per cent said they are not aware of any policies or processes in their workplaces to address the problem of increasing sexual harassment and violence in schools with 1 in 5 saying they feel “not safe” outside of work or “concerned and anxious about my safety outside of work.”
There has rightly been much media coverage and outrage in recent times with regards to the shocking deaths of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, preyed on by predatory murderers. This has naturally caused much focus on women’s issues nationally, but as a union we cannot be satisfied by platitudes or promises that don’t materialise into action. All teachers want to see an end to violence perpetrated against women. Employers have a large part to play to address fears and worries women have in the workplace.
FBU wins landmark Covid discrimination ruling
Firefighters’ union FBU has won a ‘landmark’ discrimination case against a fire and rescue service. The union argued successfully that forcing staff with disabilities to use annual leave or time off in lieu (TOIL) when shielding because of Covid amounted to discrimination. The case is thought to be the first where an employer has discriminated as a result of employees following government Covid health guidance. The union said that despite the successful discrimination ruling from the Employment Tribunal, there has been no sanction on the employer and no instruction that they should reinstate the annual leave.
This is a very interesting ruling in light of it being the first ruling made against an employer for discrimination because of their interpretation of Covid health guidance. If any NSEAD member feels that they have been the victim of discrimination in this vein (remember that discrimination must be based on the protected characteristics as defined within The Equalities Act 2010), then please contact NSEAD for further advice.
Spiders shut second school on safety grounds
Around 1,500 pupils have had to be taught online after a school closed on safety grounds due to a suspected infestation of false widow spiders. The Duston School in Northampton informed parents on the closure on the evening of 28 September. It came of the heels of the 17 September temporary closure of another school in the town, the Malcolm Arnold Academy, for the same reason. The false widow spider, which is Britain’s most venomous, is said to have a bite on a par with a wasp’s sting. Duston's head Sam Strickland confirmed both the primary and secondary parts of the state school would close, while the extent of the outbreak was assessed and the school was cleaned. “I cannot apologise enough for the inconvenience that this may cause you, especially in terms of organising childcare arrangements,” he said. “However, the health and safety of the school community must come first and foremost. Work will be set for all of our pupils to complete at home via Microsoft Teams."
BBC News Online.
Is it appropriate for pupils sent home because of a spider infestation to be set work at home which is ‘web’ based?
Issue 1016 30 Sept 2021
After 18 months of disjointed and unsettled education, it’s vital every effort is made to minimise transmission among pupils – most of whom will not have been vaccinated – in an attempt to keep as many as possible in class.
It is accurate to say that disadvantaged children have experienced the greatest loss and subsequently the greatest inequalities during the pandemic and that positive action is essential for all pupils as they seek to recover from the breaks in their education.
Measures that should be operating include improved ventilation to limit infection spread.
The starting point however for all H&S in school is the Risk Assessment. Please ensure that you are happy that…
- the RA has been updated to take into account the most recent government advice
- it has been subject to consultation with staff
- this document is a live working document that is being updated and implemented, being reviewed frequently.
- all staff and named persons within the Risk Assessment are aware of their specific responsibilities?
- all staff are encouraged to report occasions where the RA is deficient or where it is not being implemented fully
With the new academic year finally up and running, caution and vigilance should be key elements of the school response.
All employment settings are workplaces and it is essential that risks are minimised. This can include measures such as mask wearing and proper ventilation, alongside testing.
In Scotland, there has been a growth in cases since pupils returned to school settings.
If schools are to prevent further disruption to pupils learning, government must ensure they are supported to take effective measures in response to any outbreaks or transmission in the school community.
Issue 1013 - 8 September 2021