No Going Back To Work Unless Workers Say It Is Safe Says Hazards
This is the headlined warning from the UK's major campaigning group on workplace health and safety, issued today and just as the Government have indicated that people can go back to work from this coming Monday. Boris Johnson is yet to publicise details of how this will be done, but the assumption is it will be done gradually.
However, as Hazards warns, there is no point in relying on the employers to ensure your safety is not compromised and that full and appropriate procedures will be put in place by businesses and blue-chip companies - without stringent risk assessments having been made prior to the return of workers.
For many businesses's in the UK - it will be proceed as normal!
Pressure too will be on workers to improve their productivity and little if any account will be taken by most employers of the private live responsibilities workers may be left with after Covid-19. Expect too for there to be pressures on employment contracts and even arbitrary changes made to them. In Canada, it has been reported that full-time contracts have been amended and even changed to make them temporary or even zero-hours equivalent, or self employed! Working from home too may become a norm irrespective of the wishes of individual employees effected.
But all that may be conjecture, we will have to wait and see. But in the meantime, Hazards Campaign is rightfully warning the workers of the UK, that their safety at work may well be compromised.
Janet Newsham, Hazards Campaign spokesperson said in their press release today:
“It is clear we cannot trust the UK Government, Public Health England or the Health and Safety Executive, HSE, to protect workers and also public health in a safe return to work. It’s only collective action by workers and their unions that will keep us safe and we need Government to make this explicit in their conditions for relaxing the lockdown.
They must make it an enforceable goal that employers’ legal duty is to prevent work-related Covid 19 infections, that employers must consult workers and their representatives who must sign off on risk assessments and safe systems of work, and for the HSE and L.A.s [local authorities] to be funded and empowered to police employers to do this. The most important point is that there should be no return to workplaces unless workers agree it really can be made safe to do so, and all the checks we lay out are put in place and enacted.”
The Hazards Campaign accuses the UK Government of having:
- misled the UK to the highest number of deaths from COVID-19 of any country in Europe, second only to USA in world and astonishingly high rates of deaths amongst workers in NHS, Social Care, Transport and other essential and public-facing jobs, and amongst BAME and women workers;
- failed to prevent the spread of the virus by locking down late and incompletely, encouraging non-essential work in construction, manufacturing, distribution and call-centres to continue to put workers and public at greater risk of virus transmission;
- failed to ensure the provision of sufficient PPE for all NHS, Social Care and other essential workers who need it;
- failed to provide the highest level of health protective PPE by allowing Public Health England to downgrade guidance to fit supply not WHO health-based specifications;
- failed to make prevention of work-related Covid infections and deaths a specific and enforceable aim;
- broken the UK health and system by deregulation, slashing budgets and powers of HSE and Local Authorities and
- abandoned workers to their fate by failing to enforce their legal and human rights to safe healthy workplaces free from risks, including of exposure to COVID-19.
Janet Newsham adds:
“Now the Government publishes proposals on relaxing the lockdown and allowing a return to work outside of the home. These are weak, ineffective and reproduce all the bad working conditions that helped to spread the virus in the first place. They do not inspire trust amongst workers who are justifiably afraid for their own, their families, and their community’s health. Covid-19 has exposed the failures of austerity, of inequality, insecurity and low pay alongside poor health and safety conditions at work, and made clear the connection between workers’ health and public health which show that unless the workforce is protected public health cannot be protected.
“The Hazards Campaign sets out seven preconditions which must all be met before any relaxation of lockdown can be contemplated, and 12 more detailed requirements to be fulfilled at work before workers and their union representatives say it is safe to return. The Seven pre-conditions:
- Proven sustained low level of COVID-19 infections and deaths.
- Testing, Tracing, Isolating via a demonstrably effective intelligence gathering system for infection rates
- Hospital, Care and Residential settings have proven capacity and ability to cope with normal demand of all illnesses and injuries plus COVID-19 infections without being under excessive pressure.
- Strict maintenance of social/physical distancing rules of 2 metres minimum in public spaces backed up by hand washing, sanitisers and cleaning of surfaces
- Safe for workers to use public transport and public spaces including: In all workplaces the prevention of work-related COVID-19 infections must be the enforced goal.
- Complete closure of all non-essential workplaces for at least 3 weeks before easing of the lockdown
Requirements for employers to fulfil:
- Ensure consultation and involvement of trade unions safety reps, workers’ reps, trade union officers and where possible HSE inspectors or LA EHOs and health and safety officers, to ensure the safety and health of the workforce and of the public.
- Review all risk assessments in light of the continuing health risks of the COVID-19, make new risk assessments and develop safety systems of work which are fully consulted upon and agreed, approved by health and safety regulators, and for which training and monitoring are organised. Pay specific attention to risk for those groups of workers who are disproportionately represented in illness and deaths figures such as BAME and women workers.
- Review safety of premises and equipment.
- Deep clean work premises before work is reopened and then maintain high standards of cleanliness and hygiene.
- Review staffing levels and work-loads.
- Review safe travel to and from work.
- Support for the mental health for all workers.
- Provide supportive occupational health services and health surveillance.
- Ensure no disciplinary consequence or detriment for taking sick/caring leave/self-isolation.
- Provide mental and physical disability/ill health support.
- Provide additional measures in higher risk essential workplaces to ensure the safety, health and welfare of workers in specific essential occupations arising from risk of COVID-19 exposure.
- Wider worker protections must be ensured.
Further information available here:
Hazards Campaign: Wo go back to work safely or not at all
Professor Andrew Watterson:
Covid19 in the UK and occupational health and safety. Predictable but not inevitable failures what can we do now
Hazards Magazine: Exposed Coronavirus issue 149
TUC: Risk Assessment Guide for Safety Reps - available from the unionsafety E-Library
TUC: Preparing for return to work outside the home available from the unionsafety E-Library
Hazards Campaign: http://www.hazardscampaign.org.uk
Facebook: We didn’t vote to die at work
Briefings, statements on CV19 Hazards Campaign Detailed briefing on Risk Assessments for CV19 coming soon.
Source: Hazards / unionsafety