Safety Q and A

03 Apr 2020

We are dealing with a lot of queries and reps at all levels have been working non-stop to support members. We are responding as quickly as we can. We are working to regularly update members on some of the common questions and will keep updating the information as the coronavirus crisis continues.

We are keen to translate the commitment from senior DWP management into reality that the health, safety and wellbeing of staff is paramount and the priority of the department.  As key workers supporting the public then it is vital that our members are safe in our workplaces and everything is done to support members.  PCS is issuing a lot of bulletins to update members on what is being done and the progress that is being made on the issues affecting you.  If you have any issues or concerns you should raise them with your local branch PCS reps who can escalate any problems that cannot be resolved locally to national negotiators. This bulletin deals with some of the common queries that we have been receiving recently.

Q.  I have a recognised underlying health condition and my manager is forcing me to go home when I want to work. Can they do this?

A.  PCS briefing DWP/MB/032/20 confirms government and departmental guidance that all people with underlying health conditions (in the published list) MUST remain at home/go home in a bid to prevent them catching/spreading coronavirus. The union is fully supportive of this measure as vulnerable workers are not only more likely to suffer severe symptoms of this deadly disease, but are also a potential danger to others. The union urges our members who fit in to this vulnerable category to stay at home as we play our part in preventing the spread of Covid 19.  PCS are working with the department to find more solutions so that members can work from home safely.

Q. I have had a claimant come into the jobcentre saying they have Covid 19 and had to come in because we haven't answered their query. What should we do?

A. Jobcentres should now only be open to the most vulnerable customers who cannot contact us online or by phone and all offices should be adhering to mandatory social distancing measures – customers should be seen in a screened area wherever possible.   If a customer attends stating they have Covid 19 they must be told to go home immediately and self-isolate – keeping the 2 metre safe distance, minimal details should be taken to ensure telephone contact can be made to enable the query to be addressed.

Should the customer refuse to remove themselves from the office, the Fast Track process should be immediately implemented, and the police called as this person is knowingly spreading the disease.

Q.  Managers in my office have been ringing staff who are self-isolating and telling them they have to come in as they haven’t taken sick-leave during the year.

A.  Hopefully this process has stopped and all staff with the listed underlying health conditions have been sent home, with no exceptions as they are at increased risk of severe illness from Coronavirus.  If this unreasonable behaviour continues, please notify group office.

Q. I am worried about the way the cleaning is done in my office as a damp cloth is used to clean all the desks, and the door handles are not being cleaned.

A. It has been agreed that the cleaning regime will be enhanced. PCS are aware that our hard-working cleaners require the tools to do the job and the hours to do the work to ensure they can clean to the necessary standard.

Cleaners should be using disinfectant as well as water to carry out the cleaning process; wet cloths should be cleaned regularly, the area should be buffed dry with a dry clean cloth.  Hard surfaces that are touched by a lot of staff are being cleaned on a daily basis such as door handles, push plates, taps, soap dispensers, desks and phones.  In between cleans there must be control measures in place for staff in the form of hand sanitiser or antiseptic wipes – if managers cannot source these products they should discuss with the local TU reps what measure they will take to ensure staff safety whilst they obtain supplies.

Q.  There has been a confirmed case of Covid 19 in my office what is the process?

A.  If someone has the symptoms of a high temperature and/ or a new continuous cough they need to go home immediately and stay home to self-isolate.  Self-isolation is 7 days for all those with symptoms. Other members of the same household as the individual with symptoms will need to need to stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days.  If they in turn develop symptoms they would also need to remain at home for 7 days from the day that they first exhibit symptoms There are some people who have the symptoms for longer and they should take advice from NHS111 about what is safe to do at the end of the 7 days.  The need for every site to rigorously apply social distancing and enable all members to keep apart by at least 2 metres should help prevent the spread in the workplace. Anyone who has provided support to the individual showing symptoms should thoroughly wash their hands.  Any surfaces the individual showing symptoms has come into contact with should be cleaned thoroughly with disinfectant and disposable cloths including the shared areas like tea points, door handles, rails, toilet areas, as well as their workstation area.  Scientific guidance states that the virus can stay on hard surfaces for several days so all measures must be taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Q.  I have been told that I will be needed to do other more critical work I don’t think it will be safe to be trained in a classroom situation.

A.  We have had some consultation on trying to get as many people as possible onto critical work and that means training.  We have had assurances that training will only be delivered in rooms that are big enough to allow social distancing and that the trainer will also maintain the 2 metres distance.  Other training will be delivered electronically and via Skype.

Q.  I have so much work to do that I am feeling extremely stressed.

A.  Stress can be an extremely debilitating condition and measures should be put in place at the earliest opportunity to address the causes.  There is a lot of critical work to be done but you should not put undue pressure on yourself as you can only do what you can do.  It is important that you take your paid breaks and your lunch break.  If it’s safe to get some fresh air or some exercise in your lunch break do so but make sure you keep 2 metres from your colleagues and other people. It is important that managers and members should be alert to the potential signs of stress and managers can be proactive in providing support to team members showing signs of stress.  PCS reps can also assist members to complete the individual stress risk assessment and support members to discuss with their team leader about the key factors causing the stress and potential solutions that can be put in place to remove or reduce these issues in a jointly agreed stress management plan. Whilst the current priority of the department is to deliver payments of benefit to the public there should be no additional pressures being put on individuals that make it harder to deliver services to the public when it is so busy. Members should report instances of a target driven approach or micromanagement that is impeding them doing their jobs to local PCS reps.

Q.  I work in a jobcentre where we are now doing telephone interviews. Should we have headsets?

A.  Yes, headsets should be provided if you are doing mainly telephony work and they should be assigned to the individual - headsets must not under any circumstances be shared with anyone else.  The mouth-piece should be cleaned regularly and processes followed for earpieces, dependant on the type of headset. There is full guidance available on the intranet regarding this.

A number of offices have said there is a delay on headsets - unless you are working in a room on your own and can use speaker phone, you need to take safety breaks between calls. Using a normal handset to take a lot of calls whilst typing without taking regular breaks can cause repetitive strain injuries. The potential consequences of this could be permanent injury, so make sure you are taking regular breaks between the calls.

Q.  My office is not adhering to the 2 metre social distancing rule, what should I do?

A.  We have been assured that the social distancing rule is paramount and the direction has come from the Prime Minister.  If your office is not complying firstly speak to your local manager or local PCS rep.  If no action is taken to solve the problem escalate to DWP Group office

We would like to thank all PCS reps who are doing a sterling job keeping the work places as safe as possible in these difficult times, and thank all the members who are doing their best to get money to those that need it,



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