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TUC posts report on returning to work

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TUC, report, return to work, COVID-19, coronavirus, HSE, consultation, unions, workers, employers duties, safety at workNo one should have to return to work without tough new safety measures having been put in place.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has called on government to introduce tough new measures to ensure that before lockdown restrictions are eased all employers assess the risks to their staff of returning to work outside the home.

And in a report, the TUC outlined what the government and employers need to do to keep workers safe at work after lockdown is eased, and to give staff the confidence they need, and is calling for every employer in the UK to be required to carry out a specific COVID-19 risk assessment, which should be 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 representatives, 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.

These are demanding measures, which would represent a step-change in the UK’s approach to health and safety at work, the union body said.

The report sets out what the TUC believes the government must do now to ensure a safe transition from lockdown, looking at how to safely return to work outside the home, the enforcement measures needed to protect workers, and how best to protect workers’ livelihoods.

The government, it says, must ensure that workers’ mental health and wellbeing is prioritised alongside physical safety; and:

The government must run a public information campaign to ensure working people can be confident that health and safety at work is a priority as they return to work;

Every employer must carry out a specific Covid-19 risk assessment;

Personal protective equipment (PPE) must be provided where necessary, and no-one should be asked to re-use PPE inappropriately;

The government must provide specific advice and protection for those groups most at risk;

The EHRC must ensure that the return to work strategy seeks to prevent this disproportionate impact and complies with the public sector equality duty;

Unions should be consulted when the government prepares sector-specific guidance, and when employers seek to implement it;

The Health and Safety Executive must act quickly to sanction employers that do not risk-assess for Covid-19 or fail to provide safe working arrangements;

The HSE must run a public information campaign to ensure workers know their rights;

No worker should face a sanction for refusing to work in an unsafe workplace;

The government must ensure the job retention scheme continues to protect jobs;

Those who lose their jobs must be protected by a strengthened safety net;

The government must ban zero-hours contracts, tackle false self-employment, and guarantee all workers day-one employment rights; and

We need decent sick pay for all.

But the TUC believes that too many workers have already been put at unnecessary risk during the pandemic, through lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and inadequate social distancing procedures, and so is concerned for the future.

New TUC polling, published on 27 April, showed that 2 in 5 (40 per cent) workers surveyed, along with those who have recently become unemployed, are worried about returning to the normal place of work, including half (49 per cent) of women.

Asked about their specific concerns:

2 in 5 (39 per cent) were concerned about not being able to socially distance from colleagues when back at work;

Over a quarter (28 per cent) were concerned about not being able to socially distance from customers or clients;

Over a third (34 per cent) are concerned about exposing others in their household to greater risk; and

Nearly 1 in 6 (17 per cent) workers across the economy are concerned about not having access to appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) at work.

The NHS Confederation and NHS Providers have already publicly criticised the government for announcing personal protective equipment deliveries that failed to materialise.

Their concerns have been echoed by bodies including the Royal College of Nurses who warned that inadequate supplies of personal protective equipment could force staff to stop treating patients.

The TUC has also called for government to set up a public inquiry into the “grotesque failure” to provide frontline workers with PPE.

The TUC’s 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.

“[The] 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.”

To read the TUC’s full report ‘Preparing for the return to work outside the home’, click here.

To read a more detailed overview of the processes required to ensure that comprehensive risk assessments and safe working practices are put in place over the period ahead, click here.

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