Management seem to be in an undue hurry to demonstrate that the jobcentres are open and working on the high street to bow to a political dictat. This feels like civil servants are being thrown under a bus to prove it’s safe, regardless of the evidence
The Covid-19 pandemic is still here which is why it’s important that all risk assessments and safety measures are fully implemented in all our offices.
This undue haste to further open our jobcentre network demonstrates the importance that we check all safety measures are in place. Considering the way management have been pushing for this they barely seem to acknowledge that the jobcentres have been open for the most vulnerable claimants since the start of the pandemic and unprecedented numbers of claimants have been fully supported over the phone or electronically. PCS believes this haste is uncalled for and that our members are being put at risk.
The fact that all targets have been surpassed and everyone who has needed to be seen has been seen, PCS indicated that it was reasonable that prior to any further opening that plans should have involved doing all the risk assessments to ensure members safety before DWP went down this route.
DWP management initially held discussions with the unions regarding model offices to trial processes before mass opening of jobcentres. Instead of the trials taking place and being properly evaluated and risk assessments updated to fully take into account all the findings from the evaluation, we were plunged into the hasty opening of the jobcentres starting with England. We keep being assured that our safety is paramount but actions don’t demonstrate this.
JCFRA needs to be done first
We have emphasised the work that our members have been doing to support vulnerable claimants and that time should have been taken to consider the JCFRA review prior to moving to open the doors. One minute we were told that there was no need to start this work straightaway as it would be some time in the future, to suddenly be told that jobcentres would start reopening the following day with no time for proper consultation on an amended JCFRA, which we only received the day before the start of the rollout. This is unacceptable and we made that clear to the department and this also explains why the jobcentres have had so versions of the JCFRA to do as it takes some time to review the risk assessment to discuss the measures that are needed to keep everyone safe. Unfortunately, there are still a couple of issues that we can’t agree in the most up to date JCFRA but it is far better than the original one.
Sneeze Guards not Screens
You will all be aware that screens have been placed in all the jobcentres. Many have smashed on installation, some quite dramatically with people getting injured which has worried members. PCS queried why DWP had not used security glass as there are 2 risks that need to be dealt with for these Covid 19 and UCB Claimants. We were told these are not security screens but sneeze guards and that they were temporary as they did not want screens in jobcentres. Of course the Peterborough Agreement says that jobcentres should have access to a screened area for UCB customers and these should not be seen from behind sneeze guards as they are only for stopping covid-19 droplets.
We have other concerns about these sneeze guards as we have been told that sometimes the clamps holding the sneeze guard frame to the desk can loosen. Therefore, it’s important that there is an inspection of the sneeze guards every day to check that they are securely fixed. We have confirmed with management that if anything causes concern about the safety of the sneeze guards, the desk should be taken out of action and a work order raised to rectify the problem.
We have also raised our concerns about the additional sneeze guards being installed as this could increase the risk of social distancing being compromised. There should be discussion about where there further screens are installed and ensure this does not affect safety. It is essential that the JCFRA is reviewed to how the screens could impact the flow of people around the office and ensure all measures are put in place to keep everyone 2 metres apart and ensure that capacity levels are kept at a safe level. All routes around the office for members and the public should ensure that no one can walk within 2 metres of anyone else. In some sites this may mean installing further measures to keep everyone socially distanced.
Management have bought sanitiser units for claimants to use. Unfortunately, these have been introduced into the workplace without checking the safety markings of the unit. There are no CE markings on the units and management are checking re BS marking.
A number of units have fallen off the wall the reason for this has not yet been established. Another issue is that if the battery is not inserted properly it starts to smoke. This is why these can only be changed by the IFM. PCS is worried about the smoking units especially as the sanitiser that goes in them is highly flammable. This is why there is an agreement to have signs stating this by the units for customers and signs in the staff area by the sanitiser units letting staff know the danger and advising them not to smoke after using the sanitiser. If the unit in your office drips raise a work order as this is a fire risk.
The department have told us that the HSE has said that they don’t need to provide PPE. However, what the HSE guidance says is that it is important to try and mitigate risk without resorting to PPE. However, if this cannot be done PPE should be provided to staff. PCS have argued that there are some roles that cannot guarantee to maintain 2 metres social distancing therefore these roles need PPE. These are the security guards, the triage floor walker and the cleaners. We believe the department should provide proper grade PPE and not the lower grade equipment that the department have provided. Although we do welcome that they have said that all staff can wear their own face masks if they want to.
PCS has grave concerns that the department do not seem to check or get guarantees of the safety of the equipment they are installing in our workplace, before purchasing.
We have not yet had the update on the range of solutions for sites to have a screened triage point close to the entrance.
Social distancing of 2 metres should be in place in all our offices. This is clear guidance including legislation in some instances. However, when the Government mentions 1 metre plus what this actually means if you cannot maintain 2 metres then you need to put in alternative control measures to mitigate the risks. This needs to be done via the risk assessment process. In a department the size of the DWP there is no justifiable reason not to have 2 metres between people when they are at their work station. However, there are places where this can’t be done such as tea points which is why other measures are put in place such as a 1 in 1 out system. Areas where 2 metres cannot be achieved they must put alternate control measures in place which could include PPE.
Signage and floor markings have been put in our office but there have been reports of some of them becoming slip hazards as they have not remained stuck to the floor. Work orders should be raised where there are problems with the signage.
Extended Working Hours
Introducing extended working hours during a pandemic and planning to start it during the winter when it gets dark early is another demonstration of staff safety not being a priority. We have been assured that the extended working hours risk assessment will be done for all sites and that offices will only open these hours if it’s safe to do so. PCS believe that they should not start the 1-2-1 process prior to the risk assessment being done. The current one on the intranet is not fit for purpose and we have been informed that consultation on the national generic risk assessment will begin shortly. When this has been completed we will issue guidance until that time no local extended working hours risk assessments should be done.
It’s important to think about the things that need to be considered in preparation for this risk assessment. Is there a sports ground near your office that could cause problems on a Saturday. Are there pubs and clubs close to your office that cause problems in the evening or is the area around the office unsafe for any reason. What is the situation like with public transport and is it safe to go to your car if your site doesn’t have a car park.
Local managers Decision
DWP has passed the decision on whether to reopen jobcentres more fully and whether to extend opening hours onto the local office managers and they have stated that the managers will assess the risk and will not open the offices until it is safe to do so. We have had reports that some managers have had undue pressure from their senior management to make the “right” decision. PCS has raised this as the correct decision needs to be based on what is safe. We do not think it is fair to put pressure on local managers to open sites when this could put staff and claimants at risk and puts the office managers at risk of vicarious liability if they get it wrong and someone gets hurt. Below is the guidance from the DWP intranet.
2.3 DWP discharges this responsibility through its managers at all levels of the management structure. Whilst they can use the expertise of the DWP Health & Safety Team or the H&S qualified professionals of our ‘H&S Integrator Partner’ it remains the legal responsibility of managers to ensure that this is done as they remain personally accountable. If Managers do not comply they may be prosecuted.
We had asked that managers get informed of the consequences if things go wrong and the office is not safe but this has not been done by the department. Vicarious liability is part of the health and safety legislation and as the DWP guidance clearly shows it is the person who makes the decision to open an unsafe workplace which results in someone getting hurt, who could be sued as an individual.
PCS has challenged all these unsafe processes but it’s important that you as an individual do all that you can to challenge unsafe practices. If equipment is faulty raise a work order and don’t use it until it’s fixed. If you hurt yourself or feel stressed complete an accident form via SOARS. This form can be used for accidents, incidents, near misses and workplace health issues which includes stress and Covid. Make sure you send a copy to your local rep as it means they can investigate sooner. If it’s a suspected or a confirmed case of Covid-19 the rep can review the risk assessment to ensure that Social Distancing and cleaning procedures are in place and being adhered to.
PCS do send some information to personal emails. If you have not yet got a personal email registered with PCS, can you please do so.
If there are breaches of safety that cannot be sorted locally please send your queries to email@example.com