22 July 2021

Defence workplace safety

Extreme caution must be exercised about any workplace return.

PCS Defence sector group is clear that the removal of Covid restrictions in England is reckless and premature, given the rapid increase in the infection rate across the UK.

PCS members in defence need not be confused by mixed messages from government and Defence. There may well be pressure being put onto individuals who have been working from home safely to return to the workplace.

In response to changes PCS has drawn up the following demands:

  • National law and guidance in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must be followed.
  • There must be no arbitrary targets or dates for staff to return to workplaces.
  • All relevant Departmental units must consult the unions in advance of any plan for staff possibly returning to the workplace.
  • Social distancing must remain in place, face-coverings should be used in communal areas and in any setting they are currently being used, 
  • Proper ventilation is vital in buildings and unions must be reassured on this before any return to the workplace.
  • Vulnerable employees, including those not vaccinated, to remain working at home unless on the balance of risk (impact on their mental wellbeing of working from home) it would be better for them to return to the workplace.
  • Risk assessments, both individual and collective, should include travel to work and must be undertaken in advance of staff returning to the workplace and subject to advance TU consultation

These are sensible mitigations and provide measures to reduce the risk from the Covid-19 hazard to as low as reasonably practicable in line with remaining Health and Safety legislation.

In anticipation of the announced changes, the MOD trade unions called for and attended special meetings of the Department's Joint Health and Safety Committee. The employer heard our concerns; we called for full and proper consultation on any changes seeking the above demands. We were provided with a draft COO message, now published, which makes it clear that local management should not relax current Covid controls pending application of the revised Defence Notice 15 and that full consultation on any changes, including who should return to work and when must be the subject of Trade Union consultation.

The revised Gov.UK workplace guidance is very clear; despite the removal of  temporary COVID 19 legal restrictions there is never a removal of Health and Safety law and the legal requirement for employers to manage the COVID hazard and this allows PCS to make and achieve the demands above. All reps and members must note all MOD announcements, ensure that Health and Safety law is applied and report any issues or concerns to us via DSG@pcs.org.uk. If there are any issues there is a laid down escalation route for safety issues and this should be used. The principle with health and safety is that the problem is resolved as soon as possible at a local level and not simply moved on up the chain and ignored. 

If you can’t work from home make sure you follow the Covid-19 safety measures in your workplace. If you have any concerns about your health and safety at work, talk to your PCS health and safety rep immediately. You can find their details by logging into PCS Digital.

Check out our Covid-19 questions and answers.

Contact our central response team for help.

Not a member? Join PCS online.