The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has failed to carry out basic on-site Covid-19 safety assessments, which put hundreds of workers at risk of coronavirus infection in the meat slaughter and processing industry in England and Wales, says UNISON today (Monday).
The union has written about its concerns to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which is now investigating whether there have been breaches of safety regulations over the failure to carry out proper workplace risk assessments.
It comes as a number of sizeable outbreaks have been reported recently involving dozens of workers at meat processing firms, including in Anglesey and West Yorkshire.
UNISON has been repeatedly pressing the FSA for detailed risk assessments of food business operators throughout the coronavirus pandemic. However, the union says only generic assessments have been completed on a region-wide basis that don’t look at the arrangements in individual businesses.
Within the meat industry, people are often working in places where it can be difficult to keep an adequate social distance, says UNISON, which represents hundreds of meat safety inspectors and vets that work in slaughterhouses, as well as environmental health officers who visit processing firms.
Additionally, when the FSA has attended meat factory premises, union health and safety representatives were not allowed to accompany the body’s inspectors, says UNISON.
UNISON national food safety officer Paul Bell said: “It was clear from the beginning of the pandemic there were potential and serious dangers in the meat industry. Recent Covid-19 outbreaks have shown attention was needed from the start. Urgent action is required to make sure meat preparation businesses are safe.
“Staff and consumers will understandably be worried, particularly as the two metre rule is relaxed. All employers must have proper safety measures in place and the FSA needs to visit each and every workplace to protect staff and restore confidence in the food on our plates.”
Notes to editors:
– A copy of the letter to the HSE can be found here.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.