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Warnings of ‘infection rebound’ if workplaces relax rules

Employers are being warned that they risk new COVID-19 outbreaks if they let their guard down amid the ongoing vaccination programme, following widespread evidence of existing safety failures.

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According to a survey of more than 2,000 workplace safety representatives by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), employers in many sectors are failing to follow COVID-secure rules and keep their workers safe.

More than a quarter of respondents said they were not aware of a formal risk assessment being carried out in their workplace in the last two years - including during the pandemic, despite this being a regulatory requirement for businesses employing more than 50 people. In food and drink manufacturing, risk assessments had only been updated in 77 per cent of surveyed workplaces.

Of the respondents who said their employer had carried out a risk assessment, more than a fifth (23 per cent) said they felt the risk assessments were inadequate.

In terms of preventative measures, only around half of respondents (53 per cent) felt that sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) had always been provided in their workplace, although the figure rises to around two thirds (62 per cent) in the manufacturing sector.

Only 29 per cent of respondents said appropriate social distancing was being maintained at all times, rising to 38 per cent in manufacturing.

Furthermore, nearly a quarter of respondents (22 per cent) from the manufacturing sector said there had been no improvements made to ventilation in their workplace.

This is particularly concerning, given that safety advice in recent months has shifted in emphasis from earlier priorities like surface hygiene to ensuring effective ventilation, the TUC said.

Separate research has previously shown that only 31 per cent of manufacturing staff are satisfied with hygiene practices in their workplace.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, said:

“Before reopening, every employer must run a new risk assessment, prioritising good ventilation – and act to make sure their workplace is Covid-Secure. And they have to publish their risk assessment to reassure their workers and customers.

“Employers must still make sure that everyone who can work from home continues to do so. More people are getting vaccinated every day – but that does not mean that employers can skimp on safety measures at work.”

Read our COVID-19 guidance for manufacturers

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