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April 12, 2021

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return to work

Safe return to the workplace guidance for employers

Trades Union Congress has published a document which sets out the union approach to keeping workers safe as the UK Government eases restrictions following the third lockdown.

The report suggests the steps ministers and employers should take to keep people safe at work and to prevent another spike in workplace infections. These include:

Coronavirus office screens1) Making workplaces COVID-Secure: The TUC says all employers must update their risk assessments to take account of what we now know about the importance of ventilation. As the UK unlocked in summer 2020, more emphasis was placed on surface disinfection – but the guidance has since changed to make effective ventilation the priority.

The TUC says that any activity which can be conducted outside should be, and that employers should invest in ventilation systems, as well as continuing to enforce social distancing and the wearing of face coverings.

A TUC survey of more than 2,000 union safety representatives published this week revealed that one in four reps are unaware of a risk assessment taking place in their workplace in the last two years. This is despite it being a legal requirement for employers to have an up-to-date risk assessment and to consult safety reps and involve staff in writing it.

In addition, the TUC notes that the guidance on working from home has not changed. Everyone who can work from home should continue to do so until at least 21 June. Employers should assess the ability to work from home at the level of individual jobs, and should not require workers to travel to workplaces where they do desk-based jobs, even in sectors that are allowed to be open.

2) Decent sick pay for all: According to the TUC, decent sick pay remains critical to ensuring a safe return to work.

The union body says it “beggars belief” that a year into the crisis ministers still haven’t fixed the problem of workers not being able to afford to self-isolate – despite repeated warnings from the TUC and the government’s own head of Test and Trace Dido Harding.

A new TUC poll of private sector employers reveals that of those who intend to use workplace testing, 28% pay only statutory sick pay. SSP is now £96.35 per week, which the TUC says is too low to live on and will cause hardship. Only 47 % of those employers surveyed who propose to use workplace testing provide full company sick pay.

The TUC says ministers should increase statutory sick pay to at least the rate of the real Living Wage and extend eligibility to the two million low-paid workers who currently don’t qualify for it.

3) Supporting workers to get vaccinated: The TUC suggests that employers must step up and help the national health effort by giving their staff paid time off to get vaccinated. But recently published polling reveals less than half of firms surveyed (45%) give their workforces paid time off to get the jab.

The union body says companies should seek to persuade staff to get the vaccine, but not make it a condition of employment. The TUC says that making vaccinations compulsory will damage employer-staff relations and could result in legal cases on the grounds of discrimination.

The TUC says that there are still questions to be answered about COVID status passports, including how testing data will be collected, and how any scheme will maintain the confidentiality of workers’ personal health information. The TUC believes any COVID status passport scheme must require employers to consult with recognised unions at sectoral and workplace level and will only work where employers provide decent sick pay.

4) Cracking down on bosses who risk workers’ safety: As England reopens, the TUC says that the government must start cracking down on employers who break the rules on workplace safety.

Despite thousands of workplace outbreaks, not a single employer has been fined and prosecuted for putting their staff in danger. And the TUC notes that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has still not amended its much-criticised designation of coronavirus as a “significant” rather than a “serious” workplace risk, which limits the enforcement options open to inspectors.

The TUC says the government must take a much harder stance with companies who flout health and safety rules and provide the HSE with a long-term funding boost.

The report is available here.

Sleep and Fatigue: Director’s Briefing

Fatigue is common amongst the population, but particularly among those working abnormal hours, and can arise from excessive working time or poorly designed shift patterns. It is also related to workload, in that workers are more easily fatigued if their work is machine-paced, complex or monotonous.

This free director’s briefing contains:

  • Key points;
  • Recommendations for employers;
  • Case law;
  • Legal duties.
Barbour EHS

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