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Employers warned to ensure workplaces are Covid-safe or face penalties

By Alan Beresford

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A NORTH-east safety consultant has warned local employers to adhere to new TUC guidelines to keep their workplaces Covid-safe and avoid unwanted fines.

Safetynet managing director Craig Cooper.
Safetynet managing director Craig Cooper.

Craig Cooper, managing director of Aberdeen-based Safetynet, has urged north firms to heed the recommendations made by the trade union organisation, which includes urgently updating all risk assessments.

A TUC survey of more than 2000 safety representatives revealed that only a quarter believed risk assessments had taken place in their workplaces during the previous two years, despite it being a legal requirement to keep up to date records.

Mr Cooper said: “As a country, we know so much more about coronavirus than we did a year ago, and our processes need to be changed to take that into consideration.

"For now, we are of course all still expected to work from home, and particularly anyone with a desk-based job should not be attending their workplace.

“But when we are back in the office, factory or retail environment, there are a number of steps which can be taken by employers to keep their workplace as safe as possible and reassure staff that it is safe to return.

"One place to start is cleaning – the TUC survey showed that over a quarter of people do not think their workplace is cleaned adequately, which is something employers can look at straight away. New and different cleaning processes may need to be implemented, with employees informed of the additional practices.”

A key recommendation from the report is to ensure there is adequate ventilation to avoid the spread of coronavirus.

“Managing the flow of air is a necessary precaution," Mr Cooper continued.

"From using monitors to simply keeping windows open, it is vital that employers ensure enough fresh air is coming into the building.

"This amounts to 10 litres per second of outside air into workplaces, with unoccupied rooms given time to ventilate. Along with this of course, is an employer’s obligation to maintain a minimum working temperature of 16 degrees Celsius – not always easy in a the changeable north-east of Scotland.”

Businesses who do not adhere to the guidance risk being faced with workers refusing to return.

Mr Cooper said that TUC research conducted last November showed that over a third of workers were worried they would not be able to socially distance from colleagues, and 26 per cent of people thought they might be asked to come back to the workplace when it is not safe.

He went on to stress that employees have the right to refuse to return to an unsafe workplace.

Businesses who do not comply could face HSE inspections, as the TUC has called for increased power for the government organisation.

Mr Cooper added that the TUC has queried the Health and Safety Executive’s classification of coronavirus as a significant, not a serious workplace risk.

“Employers who break the rules on workplace safety, such as asking people to come to work when they could work at home, or failing to provide the correct personal protection equipment, should be fined and prosecuted say the TUC.

"However, the classification of Covid-19 by the HSE limits the options inspectors have when it comes to enforcement. Now, however, the TUC has argued that, after years of funding cuts, health and safety inspections are a major priority to enable the economy to rebuild, in a safe and sustainable manner.”

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