TUC - No one should have to return to work without “tough new measures” on safety

  • TUC demands that all employers produce risk assessments before lockdown is eased
  • New measures needed to give workers confidence as polling shows 2 in 5 workers are concerned about returning to work
  • “Too many workers have already been forced to put their health on the line,” says union boss
 
The TUC is calling on government to introduce tough new measures to ensure that before lockdown restrictions are eased, all employers assess the risks of their staff team returning to work outside the home.
In a new report, the TUC outlines what government and employers need to do to keep workers safe at work after lockdown is eased, and to give staff the confidence they need.
 
The union body is demanding that every employer in the UK be required to carry out a specific Covid-19 risk assessment, developed in consultation with unions and workers.
The assessment must:
Identify what risks exist in the workplace and set out specific steps to mitigate them, including through social distancing. 
Be agreed with the staff trade union, where there is one.
Be signed off by one of the UK’s 100,000 trade union health and safety reps, or by a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector, to make sure that it is robust. 
Be completed and communicated to workers before they are expected to return to their normal place of work, which means that employers should start work on their assessments now.
Employers who fail to complete their risk assessments or put the appropriate safety measures in place should face serious penalties, including prosecution.
 
Workers have been failed
These are demanding measures, which represent a step-change in the UK’s approach to health and safety at work, says the union body.
But the TUC believes that too many workers have already been put at unnecessary risk during the pandemic, including through lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and inadequate social distancing procedures.
 
Safety concerns
New TUC polling, also published today, shows that 2 in 5 (40%) workers surveyed, along with those who have recently become unemployed, are worried about returning to the normal place of work, including half (49%) of women.
 
Asked about their specific concerns:
2 in 5 are concerned about not being able to socially distance from colleagues when back at work, and over a quarter (28%) are concerned about not being able to socially distance from customers or clients.
Over a third are concerned about exposing others in their household to greater risk.
Nearly 1 in 6 workers across the economy are concerned about not having access to appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) at work.
 
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“Many employers have struck sensible deals with unions to protect workers’ health, safety and wellbeing. But too often decent employers are let down by those who play fast and loose with safety.
We need tough new measures from government to reassure working people that their health and safety is a priority. Too many workers have already been forced to put their health on the line during this pandemic.
We all want everyone to get back to work and start rebuilding Britain. But workers need confidence that they won’t have to put themselves or their families at unnecessary risk.
Government must ensure that every employer performs a comprehensive risk assessment before asking staff to return to work. And bosses who don’t take steps to protect workers should be prosecuted.
If workers are asked to work in conditions they think are unsafe, they can refuse. And they should know that their unions will have their back.” 
 
 
 
 
INTRODUCTION
Current international public health activity is aimed at reducing the spread of coronavirus. The two main methods of preventing the spread of infection are hygiene measures and social distancing.
Unite is advocating a risk assessment approach using a hierarchy of control common in good health and safety management and various pieces of health & safety legislation, as recommended by the Health & Safety Executive. We are advising no work should start without an up-to-date risk assessment in place, this is particularly important in workplaces that are ramping up or re-opening based on current UK Gov advice.
There needs to be robust systems in place identified by the assessment with detailed hygiene procedures and control measures for social distancing.
Consultation with the union and our representatives will be the key to formulating best practice, this will include full meaningful discussions around creating and implementing risk assessments and health and safety management systems to protect workers. 
 
PRE START CHECK LIST (not exhaustive)
 Identify those employees that can return to duty
 Deliver a COVID19 Social Distancing briefing to employees
 Ensure office and depots pace have in place social distancing guidelines and infection control measures
 Ensure adequate work vehicles are available to maintain social distancing
 Ensure employees have adequate hygiene products and PPE
 Review safety principles & risk assessments with Trade Union Representatives
 Check if returning employees have symptoms instruct to remain home on full pay
 Confirm whether they have a vulnerable person in the household and discuss whether they need to remain home
 Ensure enhanced cleaning and maintenance programmes are in place prior to ramp up and address the risk of cross contamination with Covid-19 by cleaning staff
 Check all equipment and service to ensure in safe working order
 Ensure cleaning staff have new PPE on a daily basis
 Ensure social distancing guidance and posters are in all locations and prominently displayed
 Reps and mangers to conduct regular site “walkabouts” with workers to ensure employees are complying with social distancing principles
 
WORKPLACE PROCEDURAL INFECTION CONTROLS AND FACILITIES
This will vary depending on the workplace, but below are some examples of workplace infection controls that employers should be implmenting:-
 
WORKPLACE ACCESS
 Visitors to sites should be curtailed unless essential and business critical such as delivery drivers, outside maintenance or repairs, welfare facilities need to be provided.
 Monitor congestion to enable social distancing of 2 metres:
 Introduce staggered start and finish times to reduce congestion and contact
 Remove or disable entry systems that require skin contact e.g. fingerprint scanners
 Promote good hygiene, wash or clean hands before entering or leaving premises
 Provide the necessary facilities to do this, warm water soap or hand sanitiser
 Regularly clean common contact surfaces in reception, office, delivery areas
 Drivers should remain in their vehicles if the load will allow it and must wash or clean their hands before unloading goods and materials.
 Access to toilets and washing facilities needs to be given to delivery drivers.
 
TRAVEL ARRANGEMENTS
 Car sharing would only be recommended if living in same household
 Travel alone in own transport if this is available to you
 Use a bicycle if this is feasible or walk if in walking distance
 Every effort made to provide additional parking spaces for cars and bicycles
 
ENHANCED CLEANING IN THE WORKPLACE
 Enhanced and regular cleaning across all areas of the workplace utilising approved cleaning products includes all building touch points
 Enhanced and regular cleaning of escalators
 Taps and washing facilities
 Toilet flush and seats
 Door handles and push plates
 Hand rails on staircases and corridors
 Lift and hoist controls
 Machinery and equipment controls
 Food preparation and eating surfaces
 Telephone equipment
 Key boards, photocopiers and other office equipment
 Rubbish collection and storage points should be increased and emptied regularly throughout and at the end of each day.
 
WORKING WITHIN 2 METERS
Unite’s position is that social distancing should be applied at all times, within the workplace being no exception.
However current UK Government guidelines may lead to a situation where the employer wants to put in place a system for working under 2 metres for certain tasks. Where this happens reps should insist that a risk assessment is undertaken specifically for those tasks using the following principles. see https://unitetheunion.org/media/3069/009-riskassessandprocedures-2020-05-07.pdf
 Full consultation with union safety reps regards the assessment
 The assessment identifies why the task needs to continue
 Whether the task can be abandoned or postponed
 If the employer advocates the task/job continues:
 Follows the hierarchy of control set out in Unite’s Covid-19 risk assessment guidance and puts in place:
(i) Collective controls as described;
(ii) If barriers are not practical, includes selection of appropriate PPE;
(iii) A full method statement safe system of work is produced
 
ABILITY TO STOP WORK ON HEALTH AND SAFETY GROUNDS: AGREEMENT
Union reps should seek to agree with their organisations an agreed procedure whereby the worker can stop work on health and safety grounds. As follows:
1. Create a safety check list that the worker can fill out prior to start of a job/process
2. Part of the document to contain a stop work element that employee can sign off
3. Supervisor is informed and discusses resolution if not resolved supervisor signs off
4. Task/job is halted
5. Task is reviewed by management and union reps If such a procedure cannot be agreed, there are still protections for members and these are explained in the note on the first page of this document.
 
Members have the right to remove themselves from the risk of serious or imminent danger.