Rush to open Jobcentres to the public risks health and safety

03 Jul 2020

With their drive to rush through the re-opening of job centres to the public, management are liable to be breaching health and safety legislation.

The government guidance on what employers must do to protect the safety of the workforce are very clear that kit should be provided to maximise the numbers of staff who can work from the safety of their home in the first instance. Not only is there a reluctance to do this management want to increase the risk in Jobcentres of the spread of the virus and make the public leave the safety of their homes to travel to the Jobcentre to receive services that our members can provide to a better and safer standard remotely through phone and digital channels. 

The guidance is very clear about the requirement for employers to consult the unions on the risk assessments in a meaningful way and this goes on to cite some of the penalties when employers are found to be breaching H&S legislation up to and including 2-years imprisonment.  

DWP management have failed to follow health and safety guidance to consult in good time on the risk assessment and to give us an opportunity to express our views and to take account of any responses.

No agreed Risk assessment

Guidance and a JCFRA has appeared on the intranet. None of these have been agreed with PCS.  In fact there is a meeting next Monday to try to sort this out.  We have had a number of meetings with management and DWP senior managers have all assured us that Jobcentres will not open until it is safe to do so.

When PCS finally received a copy of the JCFRA management had already set in train their plans to issue the risk assessment and all the other guidance out to the business.  There was absolutely no interest in even taking on board the extensive union comments on the risk assessment process to protect the lives and the safety of our members and all the staff working in Jobcentres. The response we have received to our extensive comments fails to recognise the duty of care DWP has to protect the health, safety and welfare of all staff and everyone within our workplaces.

In fact undue pressure is being put on site reps to sign off an inadequate risk assessment which is designed to only pay lip service to our health safety rather than properly discuss all the issues. No documents that are published on the intranet or being issued in sites have had the serious issues that PCS has raised incorporated, let alone agreed 

Management have unilaterally rushed out their poor material with undue haste and put pressure on PCS reps to agree plans that would put our members in serious and imminent danger. PCS would have preferred to have had the opportunity to properly discuss the process and plans and allow for union comments and suggested improvements to be incorporated.  We have no option but to publish the issues we have raised with management to reps as all of these issues need to be properly discussed at site level

The stage managed opening of Marylebone was done without an agreed national generic JCFRA and without a locally agreed JCFRA.  Some of the PPE that they said was required was not on site but they still insisted on opening as they had arranged a visit of the minister. Clearly media coverage for Tories is more important than the health safety and wellbeing of our members and also the public.

It is important that all reps challenge any attempt to open the jobcentres prior to all the safety aspects being put in place.

As well as wanting meaningful consultation on the JCFRA and supporting documents we have asked for the risk assessment of the PPE that they are planning to use. In particular we want the specifications and risk assessment for the screens. We have grave concerns about the safety of the screens given that 4 of these glass screens have already shattered whilst being installed making a mockery of management’s claim that the screens are shatter proof.

We asked for risk assessment on the visors and masks that they planned to use and we have already had sight of inadequate fashion masks that have been given to guards.

This does not instil confidence that the safety of our members is being taken seriously.

As this is a safety issue reps should be given an opportunity to speak to their site members on this.  It's important that the strength of feeling of all our members is taken into account.   Meetings can be organised electronically or if you have a safe place (like the fire muster point) where you can meet with members whilst maintaining the 2 metre social distancing this could be done.

All H&S reps should make clear that

  • we are opposed to unsafe opening of jobcentres to the public
  • we are worried about the safety of the screens that are being installed badly and with no regard to health and safety control measures or proper discussion about what is required. The potential for the screens to be an additional hazard and a risk to staff is huge
  • a proper cleaning regime needs to be put in place that ensures regular cleaning of equipment after every user
  • social distancing of 2 metres should be deployed at all times, in line with PCS' position

Reps should continue to use the 5 tests agreed by PCS nationally to ensure safety in our offices and to engage with members.

Please escalate any issues re this to group office via leeds@pcs.org.uk.

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