We have learned a lot since the last time we exited lockdown, and we now know more about how to keep people safe at work.
A new TUC report sets out the steps ministers and employers should take to prevent another spike in workplace infections as the hospitality and non-essential retail sectors prepare to reopen.
Vaccines and testing offer protection and confidence, but they are not a Covid cure.
The success of the vaccine roll-out must not be used as an excuse to slack on safety in the workplace: it is still possible to catch and carry the virus.
As shops, pubs and restaurants prepare to reopen, it is vital that safety measures are introduced, observed and properly enforced.
Recent TUC polling shows many bosses are still flouting the rules and failing to take steps to reduce the risk of infections.
We surveyed more than 2,000 trade union safety representatives, and one in four told us they were not aware of a risk assessment in their workplace having been carried out.
This is a breach of law. Employers are legally required to consult with unions on their safety plans. This lax approach to health and safety could cost workers’ lives.
We all want this lockdown to be the last. But if the necessary measures to reduce the risk of transmission are not put in place we risk a rebound in infections.
Ventilation, ventilation, ventilation
We now know ventilation is one of the most important factors in reducing risk of transmission from Covid aerosols.
When the UK unlocked in summer 2020, more emphasis was placed on surface disinfection.
But now we know Covid travels in the air guidance has changed to make effective ventilation a priority.
Any activity which can be conducted outside should be, and employers should invest in measures to improve airflow indoors.
Social distancing, thorough cleaning regimes and where appropriate PPE are all still key control measures.
Decent sick pay for all
It beggars belief that over a year into this crisis we are still expecting workers to self-isolate on statutory sick pay (SSP) of just £96.35 per week.
And millions of low-paid workers are still excluded from access to this measly sum because they earn too little to qualify for SSP.
It means too many simply cannot afford to self-isolate.
This should concern us all. Our research shows that 28 per cent of private sector employers who intend to use workplace testing will only pay statutory sick pay.
It is unacceptable to force people to choose between doing the right thing and paying their bills, and cases will rise unless self-isolation is universally-observed.
The government must fix this problem now and raise SSP to at least the rate of the real Living Wage.
Educate, Agitate, Vaccinate
We want everyone who is eligible to get the Covid vaccine. Supporting that process must mean offering access to professional health advice and providing paid time off for appointments.
Recent TUC polling reveals less than half of firms (45%) are planning to give workers time off to get their Covid shot. But unions will continue to demand it.
Persuasion, not coercion is the answer. Vaccination status must not be made a condition of employment. This will not build confidence among the workforce, and it could result in legal cases on the grounds of discrimination.
Bosses who break the rules and put workers’ health at risk must feel the full force of health and safety law.
Despite thousands of workplace outbreaks, and hundreds of Covid deaths reported as occupational, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has not fined and prosecuted a single employer for putting staff in danger.
It’s time to get tough. Hoping employers will do the right thing by asking them nicely just won’t cut it.
The government must provide the HSE with the long-term, sustainable funding boost it needs to invest carry out more inspections and hold employers to account.
Ministers must listen to union concerns. Covid infections at work will remain a serious threat unless working people are able to work without risk of infection, isolate without risk of hardship, and report bad bosses with confidence.
Trade unions fight for safety at work because no life should be disposable, no work should be unsafe, and no boss should be able escape being brought to justice for thinking otherwise.
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