COVID 19: Health and Safety of members

27 Mar 2020

Many members are now working from home or staying away from work, in addition to those already self-isolating and those in "at risk" categories not coming in.

Agency Workers

Most agency workers will have now been asked to now stay away from work.  Guidance published by the Cabinet Office has confirmed that any agency worker not coming in should be paid 80% of their normal wage.  This is reassuring to some of members in the most precarious circumstances.

Essential Workers

Of course, the work of all our members is essential to the running of the Home Office – the work we do is important work.  However, the purpose of the current guidance is to minimise those in work to the bare minimum; those critical to the running of the country in the immediate term.

This has led to some concerns that too many members are being required to come in to work.  PCS acknowledge that there are services that are critical and require a skeleton staff coverage.  However, we have asked all managers to be realistic about their continuity plans taking into consideration the health and welfare of our members but also their wider responsibilities around public health.  The measures to reduce the spread are of vital importance.

Health & Safety in the Workplace

Members who are required to work should still have measures in place during these times. We expect the following provisions to be made for members in work;

  • Updated risk assessments should be completed for any areas or operations where staff are working, with specific attention to identifying actions necessary to prevent dangers in regard to the spread of COVID-19. Any member has the right to see a copy of the risk assessment for the work area they are expected to working in.
  • Social distancing – members should not be sitting next to, behind, or in front of other colleagues.  Desk sharing should be halted.
  • In an operational environment, wherever practicable social distancing should be maintained when dealing with passengers/members of the public. If necessary, physical changes to the workplace to enforce this distancing should be considered and actioned.
  • Meetings – face to face meetings should not be held and skype should be used.
  • Break out areas – social distancing should be observed in these areas, and adequate space must be provided for this to happen.
  • Cleanliness – office cleanliness is of vital importance and desk areas, break out areas, and toilets.
  • Anti-bacterial cleaning wipes should be provided.
  • Alcohol gels should be provided, there should be enough of these and they should obviously be in-date!
  • Tasks requiring extra PPE to be fully risk assessed in consultation with local Safety Reps.
  • Appropriate PPE to be provided. If it is not available, then the relevant task should not be undertaken until it becomes available
  • Local/regional managers to exercise flexibility and pragmatism in terms of deployment lengths, locations and staffing numbers required for essential tasks.
  • Official car use – wherever practicable only one person per vehicle.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states it is the duty of every employer to ensure, so far is possible, the health, safety and welfare of all its employees. Effective and prompt introduction of PPE equipment, high cleaning standards and a consistent and fair approach towards paid time off for affected staff, form part of measures that can be taken to minimise the risk on staff and members of the public and reduce the risk of this becoming a bigger problem in a couple of months.

PCS has been working with the Home Office to make sure measures are in place to protect the health and wellbeing of members. We are pleased that Home Office have been positive in their engagement with PCS and have stated that the health and wellbeing of our members is of paramount importance to the Home Office.

If you have concern with a delay in PPE equipment, poor cleaning standards in areas or a lack of support for staff to self-isolate and remove themselves from danger which is placing the health, safety and welfare of staff and visitors to our buildings at risk this needs to be reported to your line manager immediately and notify your local PCS rep.

Health and Safety regulations give specific protections to staff particularly if in imminent danger.  These extend to members having the right to remove themselves from situations that they reasonably believe pose a serious and imminent danger to themselves or members of the public. If you believe that this is the case then you should notify your line manager immediately, inform them of the risks, and let them know the actions you believe need to be taken to protect yourself, colleagues and the public. 

Members concerned that this advice is not being applied should speak to their line managers, contact their local reps or if they are not present email Homeofficegroup@pcs.org.uk.

Health & Safety Working from Home

For many of us this will be the first experience we have of working from home, especially for an extended period.  It is important that proper processes are followed in the home and the department still has a responsibility for our Health and Safety.

All members are advised to follow good ergonomic practice in their homes, much of this is summarised in this document.  PCS has also provided some advice about home working on the website here.

For those members who have reasonable adjustments in the workplace these should also be provided in the homes.  Standard IT can be ordered via IT Now online.  However, items such as chairs will need specific applications.

Conclusions

As more and more of us are working at home it is important to keep in touch.  We need to be able to contact our members. Members can register for and log in to PCS Digital and update their contact details.

The health and safety of our members at work or working from home is of paramount importance to PCS.  Please ensure you follow guidance and raise concerns with your local reps if there are problems.

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