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  • International Workplace
  • 30 April 2020
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No one should return to work without “tough new measures” on safety, says TUC

The TUC is calling on government to introduce tough new measures to ensure that, before lockdown restrictions are eased, all employers assess the risks of their staff returning to work outside the home. In a new report, the TUC outlines what government and employers need to do to keep workers safe at work after lockdown is eased, and to give staff the confidence they need. 

 

Risk assessments in every workplace 

The union body is demanding that every employer in the UK be required to carry out a specific COVID-19 risk assessment, developed in consultation with unions and workers. 

The assessment must: 

  • identify what risks exist in the workplace and set out specific steps to mitigate them, including through social distancing; 
  • be agreed with the staff trade union, where there is one; 
  • be signed off by one of the UK’s 100,000 trade union health and safety reps, or by a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector, to make sure that it is robust; and
  • be completed and communicated to workers before they are expected to return to their normal place of work, which means that employers should start work on their assessments now. 

 

Employers who fail to complete their risk assessments or put the appropriate safety measures in place should face serious penalties, including prosecution, the TUC argues.

These are demanding measures, which represent a step-change in the UK’s approach to health and safety at work, says the union body. But the TUC believes that too many workers have already been put at unnecessary risk during the pandemic, including through lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and inadequate social distancing procedures.  

 

Safety concerns 

New TUC polling, also published this week, shows that two in five (40%) workers surveyed, along with those who have recently become unemployed, are worried about returning to the normal place of work, including half (49%) of women.

Asked about their specific concerns: 

  • Two in five (39%) are concerned about not being able to socially distance from colleagues when back at work, and over a quarter (28%) are concerned about not being able to socially distance from customers or clients. 
  • Over a third (34%) are concerned about exposing others in their household to greater risk. 
  • Nearly one in six (17%) workers across the economy are concerned about not having access to appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) at work. 

 

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: 

“Many employers have struck sensible deals with unions to protect workers’ health, safety and wellbeing. But too often decent employers are let down by those who play fast and loose with safety. 

“We need tough new measures from government to reassure working people that their health and safety is a priority. Too many workers have already been forced to put their health on the line during this pandemic. We all want everyone to get back to work and start rebuilding Britain. But workers need confidence that they won’t have to put themselves or their families at unnecessary risk.

“Government must ensure that every employer performs a comprehensive risk assessment before asking staff to return to work. And bosses who don’t take steps to protect workers should be prosecuted. If workers are asked to work in conditions they think are unsafe, they can refuse. And they should know that their unions will have their back.”