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Boost for Government as unions throw weight behind back-to-work rules telling bosses to do Covid-19 checks

Boost for Government as unions throw weight behind back-to-work rules telling bosses to do Covid-19 checks

A new ‘Covid Secure’ poster which the Government wants firms to display.

4 min read

New government guidance ordering bosses to redesign workplaces, stagger start times and publish coronavirus risk assessments to get people back to work have won the support of the TUC.

The union umbrella group said the batch of new guidelines, covering eight different types of workplace, marked "a step in the right direction" after days of wrangling with the Government over their contents.

Under the new guidance, employers will be asked to take all “reasonable steps” to help people work from home.

But, with ministers saying that “those who cannot work from home” should begin to head in this week, the plans set out a series of “practical steps” firms should take when reopening.

Companies have been told they must carry out a “Covid-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions” to work out what measures to put in place, with employers asked to publish the results of that work on their website “if possible”.

The Government says it expects “all businesses with over 50 employees to do so”.

Businesses must also “re-design workspaces to maintain 2 metre distances between people”, with the Government recommending staggered start times, one-way walkthroughs and more entrances and exits to avoid unnecessary contact. 

Where the two-metre rule cannot be followed, the new guidance says employers “should look into putting barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams minimising the number of people in contact with one another, or ensuring colleagues are facing away from each other”.

Firms are also being told to make sure workplaces are cleaned “more frequently”, with a particular focus on “high-contact” objects including door handles and keyboards in a bid to cut the risk of infection.

In a boost for the Government, the new guidance on has now won the backing of the union umbrella group.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “These safety guidelines are a step in the right direction.   

“All employers must now carry out and publish risk assessments in consultation with unions and their workforces.”

But the union boss added: “After the confusion of the last few days working people will only feel confident if government and employers act now to make safer working a reality in every workplace.   

“Getting this right is in the national interest. If rogue employers cut corners it puts us all at risk of another spike in infections. 

“And government must get to grips with the ongoing crisis in PPE, as more workers start to require it.” 

'PRACTICAL STEPS'

Launching the new advice, Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “These are practical steps to enable employers to identify risks that COVID-19 creates and to take pragmatic measures to mitigate them.

“And as we are able to reopen new sectors of the economy, we will continue our collaborative approach working with a wide range of stakeholders, to provide guidance for additional workplaces.”

Carolyn Fairbairn, director of the CBI business lobby group, said: “Safety is at the heart of business thinking. Unless people feel safe, employees won’t return, customers will stay away and the restart will falter, harming livelihoods and public services.

“This guidance will help. It gives firms a clearer picture of how to reopen safely and gradually.”

'RANGE OF ACTIONS'

The new guidance covers a range of workplaces including construction sites, factories, homes, labs, offices, restaurants offering takeaway, shops and vehicles.

Each document makes clear that the Health and Safety Executive - which is being handed a £14m funding boost to help it enforce the measures - will “consider taking a range of actions to improve control of workplace risks” if firms do not comply.

“For example, this would cover employers not taking appropriate action to socially distance, where possible,” it says.

“The actions the HSE can take include the provision of specific advice to employers through to issuing enforcement notices to help secure improvements.”

All employers that reopen are meanwhile told to display a ‘Staying Covid-19 Secure’ poster, confirming that they have carried out a risk assessment; shared the results with staff; put in place proper cleaning and hygiene procedures; taken 'all reasonable steps' to help people work from home; and made plans to either maintain the two-metre distancing or if not possible, “done everything practical to manage transmission risk”.

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