Coronavirus – Workplace Advice

By Steve Cooper, Branch Chair and Health & Safety lead officerSteve Cooper

For some months to come Covid-19 will remain an immediate health and safety risk and many UNISON members are working in settings where we are on the frontline. Our members range from hardworking school support staff working with students in school, care workers looking after vulnerable people in care homes – at times feeling anxious and concerned about both our own health and the health of those we live with.

If you are worried, it is important to contact your health and safety / trade union representative. They are likely to have knowledge of the law as it applies to your specific type and place of work. They can advise on practical next steps, access legal opinions where necessary and make the demand for safe working a collective one – taking the onus off you as an individual.

Here are some basic points about workplace safety in the pandemic and some places you can go for detailed and up to date information:

“Should I be leaving home to go to work?”

  • I obviously don’t need to remind anyone we’re in national lockdown and this means wherever possible we Stay at Home. We may all think we know what this means but please see the clarification on the government website www.gov.uk which states:
You can only leave home for work purposes where it is unreasonable for you to do your job from home. This includes, but is not limited to, people who work within critical national infrastructure, construction or manufacturing that require in-person attendance.”

How do I make sure I am safe if I do have to go to work?:

  • Where we do have to ‘go to work’ we should all be working to Risk Assessments – these include Individual Risk Assessments and Workplace Risk Assessments. If this is something that you are not aware of or something that was completed some time ago please speak to your manager and/or let UNISON know your concerns.
  • As a health and safety rep can I encourage you to work to your risk assessment guidance. You should ensure you have read (and contributed) to these risk assessments, particularly your individual assessment. These Risk Assessments should be regularly revised and updated as the information out there is constantly changing!

Where can I get information about Coronavirus Health and Safety?:

  • Unison have an excellent web page- ‘Coronavirus: your rights at work’ https://www.unison.org.uk/coronavirus-rights-work/ with has sector specific guidance available to cover most areas.
  • For those who work for Southend Borough Council you can access all things Coronavirus related on the SBC Intranet. Use the Coronavirus button (top centre) on homepage – scroll down to  Covid-19 Secure Risk Assessments  and then scroll down to the bottom of that page or click http://seattle/Pages/Covid-19-Secure-Risk-Assessments.aspx
  • We also publish Covid- related advice, information and campaign details on the branch website www.unisonsouthend.org.uk  as well as on social media

What is Section 44 and how can I use it to help me?:

  • You have the right to safety at work. Under section 44 of the Employment Act 1996, it is a legal requirement for management to carry out a workplace risk assessment and for them to be written down.
  • If, after voicing concern, a serious or imminent danger persists, you and your colleagues are protected by law if you leave work (or – if you wish – propose to leave work).
  • Getting advice from your union first is always recommended! A number of our members have already successfully used this law to make a big difference to their workplace safety.
  • The precise wording of the law is:
Section 44.1

(d) in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent and which he could not reasonably have been expected to avert, he left (or proposed to leave) or (while the danger persisted) refused to return to his place of work or any dangerous part of his place of work, or

(e) in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent, he took (or proposed to take) appropriate steps to protect himself or other persons from the danger.