Covid workplace safety in Wales: Enforce the rules and listen to workers

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Most employers in Wales have not been fully following the Welsh Government’s Covid Workplace Guidance. This is the starkest conclusion from the Wales TUC/YouGov monthly polling of workers.

It is also a key reason why the Welsh Government has recently had to strengthen its Coronavirus Regulations.

Since May last year employers have been told they should:

Carry out a risk assessment through meaningful discussion with staff and/or their recognised trade union and share the results with your workforce.

Yet only 46% of workers say that their employers have carried out a risk assessment. And only one in four say that staff have been consulted.  

The Welsh Government was right to act on this last month and make risk assessments – and worker consultation – a duty within the Covid regulations.

But if this is to have any impact it’s vital that employers get the message – and that it’s backed up with proper monitoring and enforcement.

Health and Safety Measures

We know that the national agencies and local authorities tasked with ensuring workplace safety have been subjected to huge cuts over the last decade. The Prime Minister’s announcement last May of a £14m boost to the HSE to help tackle the Covid threat is less impressive when you realise that annual funding has been cut by £100m since 2010. Capacity within local authorities has been similarly squeezed.    

In this context it is more important than ever that workers’ voices are captured in the enforcement process – so that, despite the limited resources, inspectors can get as full a picture as possible.

Yet our research suggests that fewer than one in five trade union health and safety reps are notified about workplace inspections in advance – and only one in seven report being consulted by inspectors in relation to enforcement activity. All too often information on the results of enforcement activity is also not being shared with the workforce.  

A situation in which it is only the employer that provides evidence on workers’ health and safety or the wider approach to managing health and safety responsibilities is neither effective nor sustainable.

In setting up a national Health and Safety Forum, the Welsh Government has recognised the need for better co-ordination and communication between enforcement agencies, unions and employers. And they have also now repeatedly shown a willingness to lead the way in setting stricter workplace regulations than we’ve seen elsewhere in the UK.  

But ultimately it is the impact of those actions that is the most important thing, and if the most recent changes to regulations are proving effective in Welsh workplaces then we would expect to start seeing that reflected in our worker polling later this month.