Returning to work

Coronavirus Health and Safety

As government guidance changes and the University moves to asking a greater number of staff to return to work, we wanted to give everyone some advice on the key safety aspects of returning to work on campus.

As part of this we’ve shared the University’s guidance but also highlighted where we feel it falls short and what all staff and particularly those who are at higher risk from Covid-19 should expect the University to do to keep them safe.

Key points:

  • All staff should have a good understanding of the measures being taken to keep them safe before they return to work
  • Clinically vulnerable staff should have extra measures put in place to keep them safe and this should be recorded on an individual risk assessment – we’d advise anyone classed as clinically vulnerable to request this before they return to campus
  • You have the fundamental right to be safe at work – if you have any concerns you feel aren’t being listened to, or any questions about this we want you to get in touch with us (see below for contact details)

What approach is the University taking when reopening buildings?

At present a building by building approach is being taken to reopening campus. A proposal has to be made and approved at a very senior level before plans to reopen a building move forward. Following this, specific safety documentation needs to be completed and trade union safety representatives need to be consulted on the risk assessments.

This intranet page has a lot of information on the process, though note that a log-in is required to access most documents. While the current goal is to have most buildings open in one way or another by September, this does not mean everyone and every activity should be back on campus by then. The key risks from Covid-19 are all related to the numbers of people on campus and so the numbers on campus need to be kept as low as possible.

What approach is the University taking when asking staff to return to work?

If staff are unable to work from home and are required to support on campus activity the University is now gradually asking them to return to work. This guidance document summarises the approach being taken (while some areas are circulating it to all staff, others are only providing it to managers). Those who are “shielding” are not expected to return before the 31st July, while those with less severe underlying health conditions (“clinically vulnerable” in terms of government guidance) are in some cases being asked to return if their role cannot be done from home.

There are some key issues with the University’s current approach that the trade unions have highlighted:

  • Even if you are clinically vulnerable, they wait for you to raise a “concern” before your manager puts any additional measures in place for you. This is contrary to best H&S practice and the wording of all of the risk assessments the trade unions have seen which state that an individual risk assessment needs to be carried out for anyone who is clinically vulnerable.
  • The process says far too little regarding the higher risk to BAME staff, other than mentioning “emerging evidence” of those also at higher risk from the virus. We need to be sure that all staff feel confident in raising concerns and that these concerns will be listened to – while the evidence is incomplete structural inequality and racism is likely to play a part in the disproportionate risk Covid-19 poses to BAME individuals, so mitigating against this is an important part of any approach.
  • The guidance gives too little guidance/instruction on supporting clinically vulnerable staff to remain at home, such as identifying alternative duties or deploying them into other roles where home working is possible.
  • There’s no requirement on managers to share the entire document when going through the process with a member of staff, meaning many staff won’t get to see information on the sort of controls their manager should be putting in place.
  • The document should also include other sources of support and advice such as safety co-ordinators and trade union safety representatives.
  • No attempt has been made to survey or question those returning to work to attempt to discover undisclosed health conditions or other factors that might make staff more vulnerable. This leaves the University unable to respond to changes in government guidance or the scientific advice.

What should all staff expect from the University when returning to campus

All staff should expect to have both a general induction (the canvas course) and a building-specific induction before starting work. The results of the building risk assessment should be shared with you – a risk assessment is not just a box ticking exercise but should be a focused and methodical attempt at understanding the hazards and identifying what needs to be done to minimise the risks. In particular:

  • You should be able to socially distance yourself from others except in very limited circumstances (and other controls need to be put in place then)
  • Regular handwashing is very important, with sanitiser also available to cover those occasions when this isn’t possible
  • If you need amended working hours to help with transport and caring responsibilities they should do their utmost to accommodate this
  • University policy still makes allowance for paid dependent leave at the moment, so if a caring responsibility prevents you from working your normal hours you should not be expected to lose pay or need to make the time up

Trade unions have recently visited campus to get a better understanding of the measures being put in place and can see that a careful and methodical approach is being taken to buildings in general. It’s vitally important that standards do not slip as numbers on campus increase. If something doesn’t feel safe to you please speak up or contact us if you are worried about speaking up yourself.

What should clinically vulnerable staff expect from the University when returning to work?

UNISON are clear that an individual risk assessment needs to be undertaken for anyone classified as clinically vulnerable before they return to work.

We would strongly encourage anyone with an underlying health condition to ask to see their risk assessment before they return to campus, so they can better understand the measures put in place to keep them safe.

Key measures that should be in place for anyone classified as clinically vulnerable include stringent social distancing and only working within the smallest possible number of other staff to reduce the risk of transmission. The first question is always whether you need to come back at this time or can someone else be asked instead? Is there work you could be doing from home instead?

Can I be disciplined or otherwise punished for not returning to work?

If you have a reasonable, evidence-based reason for refusing to return to work no action can be taken against you. It is important that this right is only exercised when absolutely necessary and where we have been unable to address the safety concerns through engagement and discussion. Speak to your union representative if you really don’t feel safe in returning and feel you aren’t being listened to.  

Contact us…

If you need any advice about returning to work, or if you have safety concerns about either working on campus or continuing to work at home please get in touch! You do not need to be a union member to get safety advice. You can email us at unisonbham@contacts.bham.ac.uk, message us on Facebook, or call us on 07964926949 or 07709583856.

 

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