Employers must redo risk assessments to fight new Covid strain, says TUC

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Workplace safety rules written following the first outbreak in March 2020 are out of date and ill equipped to protect workers from the more infectious strain of Coronavirus, the TUC has warned.

The union is calling for government to urgently update workplace rules specifically on ventilation, masks, limits on numbers and social distancing.

In a statement from the TUC issued on Tuesday, it said that the scientific understanding of how the virus spreads has changed. “The UK is now battling a strain that is far more easily transmitted. Yet the rules have not been fully updated – and this is putting workers at risk.”

Using floor tape or paint to mark areas to help workers comply with social distancing is one of the measures in current workplace guidance. Photograph: iStock

The TUC wants government to update workplace safety guidance now to:

  • Reduce the number of people permitted in a space at any one time, to aid ventilation and social distancing
  • Require the wearing of face coverings in all indoor workplaces, except for those workers who are exempt
  • Return to the “gold standard” of 2m social distancing wherever possible, removing the confusion about 1.5m social distancing 
  • Require any work activity that can be completed safely outside to be conducted outside

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady commented: “With new strains of coronavirus spreading like wildfire, workplace safety rules must catch up.

“Employers must redo their risk assessments now, and make sure all workers and customers are following the rules to keep everyone safe. And ministers should take a stronger lead on ensuring employers do the right thing to protect workers and control the virus.”

This week, the British Safety Council urged government to draw up a health campaign for workplaces that focuses on getting employers to improve workplace protection and engaging employees in the message.

The British Safety Council statement said that having a greater focus on Covid-19 management protocols in the workplace is more likely to reduce the spread of infection than concentrating on individuals who break lockdown rules.

Lawrence Waterman, Chairman of the British Safety Council, commented: “We are being told by experts that we are in the eye of the storm, and workplaces seem to be at the centre of that eye. 

“We should be discussing this much more openly rather than taking our lead from the Government’s short termism, and then taking more and better action.  It requires more public health messaging to restrict work to where it is really required, so that more people can remain in relative isolation, and better funding to help employers and employees to do this.”

He added that measures could involve much wider shift working, such as half day working, and improving community protection in every workplace, such as requiring the wearing of face masks in indoor workplaces.

Small changes have been made to workplace guidance, including advising the clinically vulnerable not to go to work in some settings. These can be viewed under 'what's changed' sections of government guidance here


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