Urgent letter to Royal Mail regarding skin cancer and heat exhaustion risks
With the cost of Climate Change being more frequent excessive weather, heatwaves are now going to be a regular occurrence in the UK. Gone is the once in a 'blue moon' when rail tracks melt, the public goes crazy on the beach and sunburn and heat stress cases end up in A&E; and the great British employer does absolutely zilch to ensure health & safety law (what little there is) is implemented and workers are not forced to work in baking offices and industrial workplaces.
Two major employers, both of whom, have the CWU as their Trade Unions; do perhaps very little in terms of protecting their outside working staff, and indeed their staff working in offices and distributions centres in temperatures that are often dangerous to pregnant women and men and women over the age of fifty.
Both groups are at risk of heat exhaustion given the state of many RMG and BT buildings which lack adequate air conditioning. Simply providing safety advice to ensure staff keep hydrated during the day in order to combat the risk of heat exhaustion, is not enough!
Much more needs to be done says the CWU, and employers BT and RMG could at least provide sun screen for their external workers. Yet, they both seem opposed to doing so!
Both Royal Mail and the CWU have issued joint advice via 'Z Cards' previously, whilst this website has ensured its E-Library contains information and advice amongst the 1,700 plus documents it contains on dealing with high temperatures in the workplace both indoors and out.
Further it also contains documents on what the law says employers MUST Do to prevent injury and illness as a result of risky temperatures.
This week, Dave Joyce, the Unions National Health Safety and Environment Officer has published RMG Outdoor Workforce - Sun Safety and Working in Hot Weather Health Risk Controls documentation; which included the very sad news item from 2013 which reports on the death of Postman Graham Bennet who died whilst delivering mail in a heatwave of temperatures above 29C degrees in Lincoln that July.
Worse still between 540 and 760 people died within the first nine days of the 2013 heatwave according to records and newspaper reports.
Since 2013 both the CWU and Royal Mail have worked together in providing information and advice in coping with heatwaves and staying safe in the sun. The Union's SunSafe campaign has featured on the pages of Unionsafety every since it began.
Check It Out 'Z Card' was issued by both the RMG and CWU. Click on the image to the right to see details of the insert that is part of the card. You can also download it and the above Be Sun Smart poster above.
But for the CWU all the advice in the world will not address the real risks of both skin cancer, heat exhaustion and sunstroke that its members working outdoors and in badly ventilated buildings. For some years now, the Union has been asking Royal Mail to provide its delivery staff with appropriate protection from UV rays which is the main cause of sunburn, and skin cancer.
On 11th July, Dave Joyce National Health, Safety and Environment Officer wrote to Royal Mail's Interim Global Health & Safety Director:
"Re: RMG Outdoor Workforce - Sun Safety and Working in Hot Weather Health Risk Controls:
Further to our earlier discussions and meetings, I write in relation to the above subject which is now
Detailing the issues involved, Dave said in his letter:
A Level 3 Heat Alert warning has been issued by the Met Office for next week, highlighting the potential health impacts of these high temperatures. High temperatures are predicted for a prolonged period, so Royal Mail Group must ensure the workforce are safe and health advice is followed to beat the heat.
Skin cancer is the most common and fastest rising cancer in the UK, almost all of which is caused by over exposure to UV radiation from sunlight. No UK employer has anywhere near the number of outdoor workers that we have in Royal Mail Group. Therefore, the need to act is imperative for this organisation.
UK Met Office Heatwave Temperature Forecasts and Level 3 Heat Alert Warning:
Dave followed these opening paragraphs with a blunt resume of the health risks that ALL outdoor workers are now facing on a yearly basis, and on a more than once per years basis as our weather spirals into extremes:
Firstly, Outdoor workers who have a lot of overall exposure to the sun (even without burning) are at increased risk of skin cancer. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can cause damage to the skin and lead to skin cancer.
Secondly, During hot and humid weather, people/workers are at higher risk of dehydration and heat- related illnesses, including cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. In severe cases, dehydration and heat stroke can result in shock and even death.
Hot Weather and Sunlight Exposure Health Risks:
Climate change means we’re experiencing longer and more intense heatwaves, but a worrying number of people aren’t aware of the risks around hot weather. In England alone there were more than 2,500 excess deaths in the summer of 2020, and unfortunately it’s predicted that heat-related deaths in the UK could treble within 30 years.
Many health organisations such as the British Heart Foundation, and the British Skin Foundation have given out repeated advice to workers and their employers concerning the health risks for outdoor workers, and Dave listed their advice which you can read in his letter pictured to the right.
Dave now turned to the question of the employer's responsibility:
Royal Mail Group must help keep the workforce hydrated by ensuring they all staff are distributed with the new re-fillable red water bottles and advised on keeping hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day, even when not thirsty. Royal Mail should ensure that all Delivery Offices have ordered them from the Stores and have started distributing the re-fillable, environmentally friendly water bottles to staff which they can carry with them and which has the Royal Mail Group logo on them as well as the important message about hydration.
The interim Royal Mail Group Safety head was also reminded by Dave Joyce of their responsibilities to their workforce as stated by Health & Safety legislation:
Health and Safety Legal Requirements:
RMG are obliged under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (S2) to provide a safe place of work and safe system of work. It must not be forgotten that the workplace for outdoor workers is 'any place or places that a worker works or frequents or incidentally to it during the course of their duties' as set down in health and safety regulations.
The Workplace (Health Safety and Welfare) at Work Regulations 1992 set out the law on water
provision for workers. Regulation 22 requires an adequate supply of drinking water for all persons at work in the workplace which shall be readily accessible at suitable places for reasons of health and
safety and there shall also be provided a sufficient number of suitable drinking vessels. If re-fillable,
containers should be suitably enclosed to prevent contamination and refilled at least once a day.
Bottled water/water dispensing systems may be provided as a supplementary source of drinking
It is imperative that Royal Mail Group (RM, PFWW, RMSS, RMPFS, RM Fleet etc.,) discharge their duty of care, in particular in relation to outdoor delivery staff and ensure full compliance at every Royal Mail Delivery Office with the Severe Weather Risk Assessment (SWRA).
In past years too many
delivery units and other operational units just haven’t bothered to comply with the mandatory
requirements of the SWRA and have unnecessarily exposed the workforce to risks of sunlight UV
exposure and dehydration risks by sending people out regardless of the effects on a ‘see how it goes’
approach and the workforce has continued to ‘roast’ and suffer in the short-term with long term risks
The full letter to Phil Graham, Royal Mail Group Interim Global Health & Safety Director also gave details of the deaths of postal workers due to the heat in which they had to work:
Past Cases of Postmen Deaths on Delivery in Hot Weather
Phil Bentham (56), a Postman working at Barrow-in-Furness Delivery Office in the LA postcode
area collapsed and died in severe heat following the conclusion of his delivery round, whilst cycling
home. Phil recently returned to work after 17 weeks shielding due to an underlying health condition.
Graham Bennett (47), a Postman working at Lincoln DO in the LN postcode area collapsed and died in severe heat whilst on a delivery round, during the heatwave. Graham normally worked indoors due to a underlying health condition but was sent out on delivery on the day in question because the Delivery Office was short-staffed. There was no individual risk assessment carried out, There was no‘Mandatory’ Severe Weather Risk Assessment carried out for the Office and no consultation with the RM SHE Safety Advisor or CWU ASR.
Source: CWU LTB
The plastics in these bottles will leach out into the water contained within when exposed to sunlight or heat. Such chemicals are carcinogenic.
This applies to ALL fluids contained in plastic bottles!