UNISON seeks ‘clarity’ on removal of COVID-19 from risk assessments

Union says that government’s ‘potentially dangerous’ Living with COVID-19 plans could undermine health and safety regulations in England

Microscopic view of the Coronavirus

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea has written to the chief executive of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), expressing the union’s fears over the imminent removal of COVID-19 as a requirement in risk assessments.

Ms McAnea has asked HSE chief executive Sarah Albon for “clarity” on what the union believes to be “a potentially dangerous move” that could undermine existing health and safety legislation in England.

As part of the government’s Living with COVID-19 plan, from 1 April, it will remove the health and safety requirement for every employer to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their risk assessments, with the exception of those who specifically work with the virus, such as in laboratories.

Its intention is “to empower businesses to take responsibility for implementing mitigations that are appropriate for their circumstances”.

But UNISON is concerned that the move will contradict employers’ existing duties under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, to a make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of employees while at work.

Ms McAnea writes: “As a highly transmissible airborne virus, SARs-CoV-2 will continue to present a foreseeable risk to the health of workers regardless of their working environments.

“Whilst the consequence of an acute COVID infection may vary from individual to individual, there is a real risk to some of developing longer term health problems and long COVID as a direct result of a workplace exposure.”

The union intends to share its concerns in its response to the Department for Business, Energy & Industry Strategy (BEIS) consultation on the removal of the requirement.