Health, Safety and Wellbeing in a post-pandemic working environment

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2021 Virtual Special Water, Enviroment & Transport Conference
14 April 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about many health, safety, and wellbeing issues for WET Service Group members. We ask that this Service Group Conference aims to secure a post-pandemic working environment that supports the needs of all our members, on a COVID secure basis, with employers meeting their full range of health and safety responsibilities towards their workforces.

We know from research commissioned by the TUC that at the start of the pandemic outbreak, most employers risk assessments were inadequate, especially in dealing with a health pandemic.

We know from members in our branches across the Service Group that working in isolation, whether that is in the home environment or out on site, has caused anxiety, uncertainty and stress including mental health issues in some cases.

Many of our members have been working from home since March 2020 and have borne the additional costs of their regular working activity in terms of heating, lighting, and powering up the essential work equipment.

In 2021, workplace lateral flow testing is being rolled out across many workplaces in our Service Group. Members have concerns about the confidentiality of this test data, plus about the potential for this to be a regular, compulsory workplace activity into the foreseeable future. However, the reliability of these tests is still unclear, and although they may have some, but unproven, benefit in reducing rates of transmission, they are no substitute for robust risk assessments, and implementation of necessary precautionary measures.

Looking ahead to the future, we know that the vaccination programme is being rolled out across the UK, with the aim of moving us into a post-pandemic social and economic environment. WET members have concerns about the potential for COVID-19 vaccination being compulsory to be able to continue to undertake their jobs. For example, water sampling technicians who visit customers’ homes.

We call upon the Service Group Executive to support our members and our branches by undertaking the following actions:

1. Ensuring that guidance and best practice in homeworking, working in isolation, working in the field, and returning to indoor workplaces is shared across the Service Group.

2. Supporting bargaining across our Sectors to be sure that our members are not individually expected to meet the full costs of flexible working (including homeworking) into the future.

3. Ensuring sector specific best practice is collated about the handling of lateral flow testing, both in the home and/or work environments and shared across the WET Service Group.

4. Ensuring that guidance and support about the importance of workplace risk assessments is shared across the Service Group, including the new UNISON H&S review tool and to improve the recruitment and retention of H&S reps in the WET sectors.

5. Ensure that the SGE continues to support and promote the Be on the Safe Side campaign ensuring that guidance and support about the issue of COVID-19 vaccinations is shared across the Service Group. The aim of these actions is to support our members as we enter a post-pandemic world of work.

6. Re-emphasise the importance of regular and focussed joint-union meetings with the HSE that include representatives from the UNISON WET SG. This will help ensure that all important Health & Safety issues are discussed directly with those who have the power to enforce remedial action by employers in WET.