COVID19 - Safety in the Workplace

The Government is relaxing the lockdown and encouraging workers to go back to work. We all need to know our rights.

Employees

If you find yourself in the situation of having to work without measures in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19, what should you do?

  • Make detailed notes about the situation. They can be written down or recorded on a smart phone. If you need help taking notes, perhaps ask a colleague, friend or family member for help.
  • The action you take depends on the type and size of employer - you could ask for a distanced meeting to be arranged involving colleagues, Health and Safety representatives and the HR department to explain your concerns. Talking to other employees (at a distance) can help in working out what to do.
  • Always make notes about discussions or meetings with your employer and any changes agreed.
  • If agreed changes are not made or still fall short, you should contact either the Health and Safety Executive or your local authority. See the Health and Safety Executive's website for more information on who you should contact.
  • The Acas helpline can provide more information. On most phone tariffs it is free and you do not have to provide identifying information.
  • Exercise your rights (see below).

Keep all notes you make as they may be vital in any legal action that follows, including claiming compensation for victims and families.

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Employee Rights

  1. An employee who leaves a workplace where there are serious and imminent dangers should not go unpaid, be dismissed, or be subject to any disciplinary measures under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act (1996)
  2. Employers have a legal obligation to make employees aware of any risks they face doing their job. Employers should also explain how they are managing those risks and take the appropriate action. If an employer cannot explain the risks and measures in place due to COVID-19 they are in breach of the Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999)
  3. Workplace Health and Safety legislation also applies to canteens, rest rooms, toilet facilities, vehicles and business travel. Employers have a duty to protect employees during lunch and bathroom breaks, and when travelling for work, for instance when meeting customers or making deliveries.
  4. The duty of providing and maintaining Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) rests with employers. Staff members do not have to bring their own PPE to work. Employers should provide instruction and training on using the equipment effectively. Employers that do not provide PPE when it is required are in breach of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations (1992)
  5. If you can afford to, join a union. When it comes to returning to work in the current crisis, unions are taking the fight to the Government. If you are experiencing problems with your employer, the union's helpline and/or local representative will be able to help you make your case and get an employer to take the necessary action.

For more advice about unions, visit the TUC website

Employers

This is an anxious time for everyone. Please take the time to listen to and act on the concerns of employees returning to work.

  1. If you are an employer, the Health and Safety Executive's website - https://www.hse.gov.uk/ provides a great deal of guidance and information, with a section dedicated to COVID-19.
  2. Everyone has the legal right to a safe workplace. Health and Safety at work has to be the priority, over and above generating profit.

Acknowledgement: this piece was inspired by 'Another Angry Voice' over on Facebook.

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