Update on Corona Virus - action for safety reps

03 Mar 2020

We have secured an emergency meeting with the Cabinet Office on 12 March where we will be pressing the need for pay protections for all staff, including in privatised areas, to take the necessary precautions if they are infected, have travelled to one of the affected areas, been affected by school or other office closures or have flu like symptoms, with no detriment. We will also be calling for full union involvement in safety planning and response teams.

Guidance for managers and staff has been issued by departments to staff in the response to the Covid-19 (Corona Virus). In certain areas, rapid response teams have been set up and the Governments’ Cobra (Civil Contingencies committee convened when there is a national emergency) is meeting daily to discuss the issue. Differing approaches have been taking place towards implementation of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), cleaning standards and HR policies in relation to special paid leave and sickness absence.

In their guidance on infection prevention and control advice for healthcare providers, Public Health England (PHE) states:

“Emerging information from these experiences has highlighted factors that could increase the risk of nosocomial transmission (originating in hospital), such as delayed implementation of appropriate infection prevention and control measures combined persistence of coronavirus in the clinical setting…in the absence of effective drugs or a vaccine, control of this disease relies on the prompt identification, appropriate risk assessment, management and isolation of possible cases, and the investigation and follow up of close contacts to minimise potential onward transmission.

Effective infection prevention and control measures, including transmission-based precautions (airborne, droplet and contact precautions) with the recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) are essential to minimise these risks. Appropriate cleaning and decontamination of the environment is also essential in preventing the spread of this virus.”

In addition, BEIS advice and guidance from 11 February states: “Assuming the reproduction number and doubling time of Covid-19 in the UK is similar to what has been seen in Wuhan, an epidemic in the UK could be expected to peak in the region of 2-3 months following the start of sustained transmission, but there is low confidence in this.”

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’ time.

Where there is a delay in implementing PPE equipment, high cleaning standards in all areas and the maximum support staff to self-isolate and remove themselves from danger, then this is placing the health, safety and welfare of staff and visitors to our buildings at risk. PCS are currently taking legal advice on protecting members who may wish to use these regulations to remove themselves from serious and imminent danger.

This also reinforces the need for the civil service to act corporately, meaning all permanent secretaries and ministers demonstrate a clear commitment to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of all staff.

We have secured an emergency meeting with the Cabinet Office on 12 March where we will be pressing the need for pay protections for all staff, including in privatised areas, to take the necessary precautions if they are infected, have travelled to one of the affected areas, been affected by school or other office closures or have flu like symptoms, with no detriment. We will also be calling for full union involvement in safety planning and response teams.

This is not a matter that should be left to delegated arrangements, with departments acting alone and separately. The current lack of a central team with responsibility for co-ordinating policies and an ability to implement action on health, safety and welfare arrangements in all workplaces and outside, needs to be resolved.

This is not a role which GPA are pursuing and it will be crucial, particularly in light of the increasing co-location of staff from different departments, that the current threat is tackled properly, so that members know what to expect, what assistance is available and what safeguards will be put in place.

Matters should not have to be handled in an ad hoc, localised manner – in particular the provision of suitable sanitisation products in all workplaces should be mandatory, and other aspects of current, or changing, medical advice, should be observed, including ensuring that all steps are taken to implement these.

Summary / Information requested

That all PCS safety reps and safety structures prioritise this issue in their areas:

  • Where employers/departments have declared workplaces low risk with little action required, ie it’s been decided that an office doesn’t need to close– safety reps must be insisting on seeing sight of any risk assessment carried out. Where this hasn’t been done, for this to be carried out as a matter of urgency, with full involvement of the union.
  • For safety reps to conduct union health and safety inspections to identify health, safety and welfare concerns in relation to corona virus and for these to be raised immediately with management. This to include privatised workers, contractors and visitors to buildings.
  • Where applicable, safety reps to issue a Union Improvement Notice (UIN). This is where a breach of health and safety law has been identified and been brought to the attention of the employer, that the employer has failed to act in a reasonable time.

 As part of these inspections, the minimum to be identified:

Under the Health and Safety at work act 1974 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations, the employer is legally obliged to, as far as is practically possible, reduce the risk of exposure to biological hazards amongst their staff. As a minimum employers should:

  • Identify who may be harmed and how they may be exposed. Any member of staff who has been identified as having travelled to China or any affected area in the past month does not come into work until after a 14 incubation period has been passed – and is granted special paid leave and not made to feel pressurised into coming into work.
  • Draft and implement isolation procedures and policies – such as negative pressure ventilation and the provision and safe use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Clear policies on handwashing with hot water and soap provided, alcohol hand rubs.
  • Accurate, up to date information on control measures that are being implemented to protect staff, to alleviate any concerns.
  • For safety reps to be kept informed of all control measures in place and a consultation mechanism to raise concerns with senior managers.
  • Facilities and time off for members and reps to meet and discuss with HSW reps on enforcement and clear routes for HSW reps to report any issues/concerns.

 We will keep you updated. Please keep us informed of developments in your areas and email healthandsafety@pcs.org.uk with updates or further support and assistance.

PCS supports the TUC demand that every worker should be paid from day one and that no one should have to suffer a detriment as a result. By refusing to pay full paid time off or support to recover and stay away from work, then employers are placing us all at risk of infection.

We will meet with other trade unions on Thursday 5 March at the quarterly health and safety officers meeting, which is a subcommittee of the TUC. We will discuss with our colleagues the latest information from across sectors and a union wide response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Share PCS:

Visit PCS social sites:

FacebookTwitterYouTubeFlickr