Advice for workers in the Water, Environment and Transport (W.E.T.) sectors on COVID-19

UNISON nationally, and at local level, are working with the employers in the Water, Environment and Transport sectors and have agreed with employers, that wherever possible, staff who can do so, should work from home and continue to do so until further notice.

If you are being pressurised to return to an office when you can continue to work from home, it is important you raise your concerns with your employer and your local UNISON branch

All UNISON members are encouraged to read this guidance on how they can work safely as more workers return to work during this COVID crisis.

Office based workers

If your role involves you working from an office then you should be working from home where possible.

If this is not possible, it is important your employer has ensured that your office or place of work is suitable and that appropriate COVID-19 workplace risk assessments have been carried out. These measures should ensure that at all times social distancing requirements and hygiene standards can be maintained. In addition, other key measures should include:

  • Enhanced cleaning regimes
  • No hot desking arrangements that require the use of any shared equipment
  • Hand sanitiser is always stocked up and available from many locations.
  • Clarity that staff should self –isolate if they have any symptoms and not come into work (and not suffer consequences) If you are a critical worker you can access the COVID-19 testing facility, and guidance on this should be provided by your employer
  • Ensuring that staff working indoors with colleagues attempt to adhere to social distancing wherever possible and understand this requirement
  • Clarity on requirements for the wearing and provision of PPE, based on the best guidance available and workplace risk assessments. We would see the guidance issued by Public Health England (PHE) as the minimum base level.

Field based staff

If your role involves you working at one or more operational sites including going into a person’s home for essential reasons and it is not possible to perform your duties from home, it is again critical that appropriate COVID-19 risk assessments have been carried out by your employer prior to this work being undertaken.

  • Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, legally all employers must undertake an assessment of the risk of COVID-19 transmission in each workplace/location.

It is important that your employer understands that they have a responsibility under law to protect staff and that this includes COVID-19. Generally, employers in water, environment and across transport sectors do have good health and safety systems in place and these often involve trade unions, so if you have concerns please do speak with your local UNISON safety rep.

In addition, if working in the field at operational sites it is important that:

  • If social distancing cannot be maintained at an operational site, the risk of COVID-19 transmission must be mitigated as far as is possible via the use of appropriate PPE, as well as the usual hygiene measures. This PPE must be provided by the employer. The guidance issued by PHE should be the minimum provided.
  • When attending sites if using an employer badged vehicle etc., it is important that you travel alone to maintain social distancing.

For those employers that have furloughed workers under the COVID-19 job retention scheme, UNISON has provided specific advice on furlough and the job retention scheme. You can find our advice here.

Staff employed by private facilities maintenance, catering and cleaning companies will also need appropriate guidance. The guidance produced here for members is in large parts relevant to them and can be used in a general way.

Return to work, quarantine, test and trace

In each workplace that re-opens, a full risk assessment must be carried out, and the results shared with employees. Where individual employees have concerns (for example due to their Black background, gender, age, physical or mental health conditions, other caring responsibilities, vulnerable members of the household or practicalities of uncertain childcare arrangements), employers should seek to address these concerns and carry out individual risk assessments.

Where healthy employees are instructed to self-isolate under the test and trace system, this should not be regarded as sickness absence. Employees should be on normal full pay for the duration of the self-isolation period, including those who cannot work at home.

Foreign Travel

The government has now changed the guidance on foreign travel with some measures relaxed for certain countries, however, there are some strict guidelines that remain in place and you should be aware of these if you are planning to travel abroad.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s warning against all but essential travel has now been listed for some countries. Latest government guidance and the list of countries exempted is here.

Staff with underlying conditions or who are pregnant

Where staff have an underlying health condition or are pregnant, they should work from home where possible.

If they cannot work from home, they should not be asked to use annual leave to cover the period they need to stay at home due to them following government advice on self-isolation and social distancing.

Read our detailed advice for staff who are pregnant

We know that disabled people are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than non-disabled people. The government has acknowledged this and has produced guidance for two groups of workers with underlying health conditions that it calls “clinically vulnerable” and “extremely clinically vulnerable” (or “shielded”).

UNISON guidance for Disabled members is here.

The impact of COVID19 on Black members

In April, The Chief Medical Officer asked Public Health England to investigate disparities in risk and outcomes if COVID-19, a report on the outcome of the investigation has now been published.

This report confirms that the impact of COVID-19 has replicated existing health inequalities, and in some cases, increased them. General Secretary Dave Prentis wrote to the Prime Minister urging the government to implement all the PHE recommendations such as developing comprehensive risks assessments for Black staff to reduce their chance of coronavirus exposure and infection.

Please see below additional guide for Black members, speak to your UNISON branch if you need support or advice.

Template Risk Assessment for Black and other Vulnerable Workers

COVID-19 Know Your Right Guidance for Black Members

Further detail

For any queries not answered above, please contact your branch

If your employer is asking you to return to work but you have concerns about your safety you should also contact your local branch for help and advice.

And if you are experiencing financial or emotional difficulties please contact our charity, There for You. They can provide confidential advice and support for you and your family. You can find out more here.

Advice for reps

We have specific guidance on issues relating to coronavirus on our Advice for Reps page and our Bargaining guides page.