TUC demands tough new safety measures before lockdown lifts

COVID-19 advice

The information in this blog is correct as at 6 May 2020. For the most up-to-date Employment Law and Health & Safety advice to support your organisation through the COVID-19 pandemic, visit our Coronavirus Advice Hub, which is updated daily and contains a variety of free guidance notes, letter templates, checklists, risk assessments and more.

The Trades Union Congress is demanding that every UK employer conducts a specific coronavirus risk assessment before the lockdown restrictions are eased.

The TUC – the “voice of Britain at work” – says “tough new measures” must be put in place to protect workers returning to workplaces.

The trade union body has released a report outlining what government and employers need to do to keep workers safe at work after the lockdown is eased. In order to give staff “confidence”, the COVID-19 risk assessment must:

  • Identify what risks exist in the workplace;
  • Set out specific steps to mitigate the risks, including via social distancing;
  • Be agreed with the staff trade union, where there is one;
  • Be signed off by the union health and safety representative or by a HSE inspector to make sure it is robust; and
  • Be “completed and communicated” to staff before their return – meaning employers should start work on their assessments now.

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”.

She added: “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”.

Potential for prosecution?

Ms O’Grady called for employers who fail to properly control COVID-19 risks within the workplace to face enforcement action.

She stressed: “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”.

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Almost half of workers fear returning to the workplace

Scared to return

The TUC’s demand comes as a YouGov poll of workers revealed that:

  • 40% of workers are worried about returning to their normal place of work due to the risk of contracting the disease.
  • 39% are fearful about not being able to fully socially distance from their colleagues when returning to the workplace.
  • 28% are concerned about not being able to stay two metres away from customers or clients.
  • 34% are concerned about exposing others in their household to greater risk.

Nearly 17% of workers across the economy are also concerned about not having access to appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) at work.

The TUC has issued a full report on preparing for the return to work.

Nick Wilson

Director of Health & Safety Services

Expert Comment

When conducting your COVID-19 risk assessment, it is important to involve others in the process, including your competent health and safety person(s), managers, supervisors and employees. Such collaboration will ensure that the control measures being implemented are suitable and sufficient and effective in mitigating risk. This approach is far more effective than writing a table of measures and then asking everyone to follow them. The risk assessment can then be signed off by management and the trade union.

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To help you meet your safety obligations during COVID-19, our team of qualified Health & Safety specialists have created a series of sample COVID-19 risk assessments that can be downloaded and adopted straightaway. To get your sector-specific risk assessment template plus a range of other free guides and checklists, visit our Coronavirus Advice Hub.

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