​Some employers only paying lip service to Black staff’s fears

The stakes are too high for employers to get this wrong

Employers in the public sector must ensure all staff have robust, up to date risk assessments to protect the health and lives of Black workers as coronavirus infections rise, says UNISON today (Friday).

It follows newly published UNISON research showing more than half of Black* staff (60%) working in the NHS, care homes and schools weren’t given Covid-19 risk assessments, even after the height of the pandemic.

The poll of more than 10,000 employees also found over a third (35%) of those who had gone through the process – to identify the hazards staff face and decide if the risks to health are too great for workers to be in those roles – felt they didn’t identify the unique threats Black workers face, UNISON says.

Staff have been very concerned employers aren’t taking the risk assessment seriously – despite evidence from Public Health England that Black people are more likely than white ethnic groups to be hospitalised or die from the disease, says UNISON.

Nearly four out of five workers (79%) reported that they hadn’t had a conversation with their manager about the workplace Covid risk, leaving staff anxious and scared, the union says. ​(Data was gathered from workers over a 16-day period up to 5 July, long after cases had peaked and the increased risks for Black staff had become apparent.

Underlying health conditions and older age – two factors associated with increased likelihood of Covid-19 deaths – were high among Black staff who took part. One in three (31%) reported having an underlying health condition.

More than two fifths (45%) were 50 years old or more, and 30% were between 40 and 49, putting them in the age categories ​more at risk from ​the disease, adds UNISON.

Worryingly, almost one in seven (15%) employers didn’t take these additional vulnerabilities into account. This is despite the disproportionate number of Black staff working in high-risk frontline health, social care and local authority jobs, the union says.

The use of personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, gloves, and aprons, has been widely recognised as a way for staff to protect themselves from the virus.

But the survey reveals some Black workers who felt they needed PPE weren’t getting it, leaving them dangerously exposed, the union says.

More than two-thirds (67%) said they needed PPE to keep safe at work, but only half reported being issued with the correct level of kit.

UNISON head of equality Gloria Mills said: “Lives depend on employers doing more than the bare minimum to keep staff safe.

“Mandatory, robust risk assessments need to be in place. They should be policed by the Health and Safety Executive and rogue employers named and shamed.

“The stakes are too high for employers to get this wrong. As we see Covid infections rising once again, managers must commit to listening to staff and making changes that will protect health and save lives.”

Notes to editors
– UNISON uses the term Black in a broad, political and inclusive way for people with a shared history and experience of racism and reduced opportunities. The use of the term Black is broadly consistent with the term BAME.
– A total of 10,286 UNISON members from across the UK completed the survey which ran from 19 June to 5 July ​2020.
–  The majority of respondents (77%) were women, more than half (51%) work in healthcare, and the rest in local government (29%) and social care (20%).
– Black workers shared their experiences (names have been changed)​:
– Council worker John (39) said: “I have underlying health issues but am being bullied to come back into work when it’s not clear what changes have been made to keep me safe. I’ve not had a risk assessment. I’m worried about creating a fuss, I’ve been called a whinger for raising concerns. I’m stressed and anxious about bring the virus home.”
– Henry (55), who works with young people, said: “I’ve not had a risk assessment yet, but I’m not confident it will be robust. I have underlying health conditions and I’m in a high risk category, but I don’t want to let my colleagues down by not going in. Although I’ve been given PPE, doctors who had PPE still died.”
– The survey report can be read here
– Since the snapshot survey was conducted the NHS has completed risk assessments for 96% of Black staff in England​.
– 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.

Media contacts
Garfield Myrie M: 07432 741565 E: g.myrie@unison.co.uk
Anthony Barnes M: 07834 864794 E: a.barnes@unison.co.uk