2020-05-15 18:50

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Government Issues Guidance On Safe Working In Contact Centres And Offices
During Covid-19 Pandemic

But, CWU internal and external workers remain concerned

Government has finally issued guidance to employers with offices and call centre workers on how to ensure the health & safety within their organisation, in an ear of Covid-19 pandemic in the UK.

In the introduction to the guidance document, the Government says:

‘This document has been prepared by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) with input from firms, unions, industry bodies and the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and in consultation with Public Health England (PHE) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Public health is devolved in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales; this guidance should be considered alongside local public health and safety requirements and legislation in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. For advice to businesses in other parts of the UK please see guidance set by the Northern Ireland Executive, the Scottish Government, and the Welsh Government.

 
Pic: Working Safely in Contact Centres docuemnt coverWe expect that this document will be updated over time. This version is up to date as of 11 May 2020. You can check for updates at www.gov.uk/workingsafely

If you have any feedback for us, please email workingsafely@beis.gov.uk

This document is one of a set of documents about how to work safely in different types of workplace. This one is designed to be relevant for people who work in or run offices, contact centres and similar indoor environments.’


In a section entitled, How to use this guidance, it is made clear that employers have legal obligations, which have not been superceded, to employ a risk assessment before their employees come back to work or in the event they are already in work; it must also be done.

‘This guidance does not supersede any legal obligations relating to health and safety, employment or equalities and it is important that as a business or an employer you continue to comply with your existing obligations, including those relating to individuals with protected characteristics.

It contains non-statutory guidance to take into account when complying with these existing obligations. When considering how to apply this guidance, take into account agency workers, contractors and other people, as well as your employees.

Contrary to what the media is stating by slagging of Unions with regard to the need for risk assessments (Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and others), the Government makes it clear that risk assessments are crucial in ensuring safe working at all workplaces, and especially now with Covid-19 pandemic in the UK:

To help you decide which actions to take, you need to carryout an appropriate COVID-19 risk assessment, just as you would for other health and safety related hazards. This risk assessment must be done in consultation with unions or workers.’


The document further states:

‘Employers have a duty to consult their people on health and safety. You can do this by listening and talking to them about the work and how you will manage risks from COVID-19. The people who do the work are often the best people to understand the risks in the workplace and will have a view on how to work safely. Involving them in making decisions shows that you take their health and safety seriously.

You must consult with the health and safety representative selected by a recognised trade union or, if there isn’t one, a representative chosen by workers.

As an employer, you cannot decide who the representative will be.'

However, concerns exist amongst staff and Union Safety Reps working for BT and Openreach Ltd; both of which employ contact centre and office based staff, as well as those working in the 'field'.

The CWU represents both clerical and engineering staff in both companies, with their Union Safety Reps are unhappy with the lack of consultation in many local areas with regard to several work processes and methods of working which need to be risk assessed and changes implemented to working practices and the work environment in respect of the possible transmission of Covid-19.

The need for Social-distancing is just one element of major concern for the Union's USRs, both for their members working inside as well as in the 'field'. Whilst this guidance from the Government is welcomed it only covers working in call centre or office based environments.

In the area of maintaining and repairing the Broadband and Telephony backbone of the country and providing services to the NHS, Government Depts and businesses across the UK, there exists hazards which are risk assessed appropriately and specific methods of working and the use of personal protective equipment is designed specifically with the associated health & safety risk in mind.

That cannot be said for working in the age of Covid-19 with the need to ensure social-distancing, avoid cross contamination of clothing and equipment and the risk of picking up the virus from exposed parts of the body.

It all needs to be risk assessed.

Derek Maylor, CWU Health & Safety Co-ordinator and member of the North West BT Unions Health & Safety Co-ordinators Committee, told Unionsafety:

"The Coord have requested further information from all parties involved in any mass return to our workplaces as we are not comfortable with the guidance currently being given.

Much of it appears to be getting left to the individual member to find their own level putting them into a situation where they can be coerced by their manager into an unsafe position."

Making the point about the difference in working in times of Covid-19, Derek added:

"This is not like an old fashioned situation where an individual member is being put into an unsafe position that affects them soleley. But they have concerns for others; the customer, the person nearest to them if they need to use public transport, their family when they get home and so on."

Speaking with the voice of a very experienced Union Safety Rep, Derek made his penultimate point:

"We want to work cooperatively with all involved in Risk Assessing workplaces, the work itself and work related travel to lessen any danger to the lowest possible level practicable, for the benefit of our members and their families as well as providing the best possible services that are used extensively by the NHS and others."

He concluded with reference to his work with his local NHS Trust:

"As an elected Governor of a NHS Trust I have followed such work closely over the last few months and I know they value their communications enormously, it is essential that we continue to keep it up to the highest level and that can only be done by protecting our members, who are classed as key workers, and who are providing these services."  

You can download the Government guidance document from the Unionsafety E-Library here

Source: Derek Maylor / Gov.UK



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