UNISON urges employers to review staff safety due to new COVID variant

Union writes to Health and Safety Executive urging updated guidelines to protect workers in light of new variant of coronavirus

two hospital chefs

UNISON is urging employers to review their workplace risk assessments and safety measures in light of the increase in the more infectious variant of COVID-19. This is in order to keep staff safe.

The union has written to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to underline the increased risks to staff, urging the body to update their advice.

Improved safety measures would include working from home, change to duties to less hazardous duties

Disabled, Black and other vulnerable workers with underlying health conditions who are still in the workplace could be at particular risk of the new variant.

In the letter to the HSE, assistant general secretary Christina McAnea says: “Despite some of the measures recently announced by the government, it remains the case that many of our members working in key public services will be required to attend their workplaces and work with clients, potentially putting themselves at risk of infection.

“I am sure you will appreciate this has led to growing and understandable anxiety among our members, regarding their own safety and that of their friends, family and the public they serve.

“This is particularly the case among disabled, Black, older, and those workers with underlying health conditions, who are at greatest risk of dying from the disease or having serious life changing outcomes.

“It is essential that these workers know that everything that is reasonably practicable is being done to keep them safe. Employers should be reviewing their risk assessments and the safety measures required.”

UNISON believes that measures should include:

  • allowing staff, especially those most vulnerable, to change duties so that they could work from home or carry out less hazardous duties
  • improved testing of both staff and service users
  • moving services that involve face to face transaction to remote/virtual platforms
  • improved social distancing and significantly reducing the number of people using indoor spaces
  • improved air conditioning and ventilation
  • wider spread use of PPE, where other measures are deemed insufficient.

UNISON welcomes some of the measures the HSE has put in place in recent months, including the use of spot checks in some sectors, and the guidance it has available on its website. However, the union now believes the HSE needs to:

  • improves its guidance to employers to ensure that they are aware of the need to review their risk assessments and the safety measures they have in place
  • work with the governments of England, Scotland and Wales and the relevant bodies to improve public health guidance for employers across al sectors
  • increase and widen the use of spot checks, and other enforcement activities.