University of Birmingham's Aston Webb Great Hall

Health and Safety update, 22 July 2020

Since going public in late May due to our concerns over the University’s lack of consultation over campus reopening plans, management has engaged more closely with union health and safety representatives.

Working closely with representatives from UNISON and UNITE, we have so far made progress in the following areas:

  • Access to building risk assessments. After a shaky start, we are now being consulted on the risk assessments the University is required to carry out to allow the reopening of buildings. 
  • Additional time off to scrutinise campus reopening plans. This will enable our reps to keep up with the volume of documents being sent to us and allow us to carry out checks to ensure safety measures are being implemented correctly.
  • Information and support. In response to our demands, management have agreed to display on the intranet and on posters throughout campus the contact details of union health and safety reps. This will give staff greater confidence to report any concerns they have around health and safety. Historically, management have resisted publicising to staff the existence of independent health and safety reps.
  • Cleaning standards. Effective cleaning is crucial to preventing the transmission of Covid-19 on campus. We have pushed management to provide all visitors on campus with clear information (in the form of posters) about cleaning, especially of toilets, and how they can report any concerns they might have.

While we have made some progress, there remain outstanding areas of concern regarding the University’s approach to health and safety. In particular, we will continue to push for the University to do better in the following areas:

  • Support for safe home working. The University rejected our proposal for a fund to be created so that all staff have fair access to keyboards, mice and other basic  equipment they need to work comfortably from home. We are also calling on the University to make a positive commitment to allowing staff to continue to work from home, should they wish to, as the campus begins to reopen in the autumn/winter period. This is not only important for reducing the transmission of Covid-19; trusting staff to work flexibly supports wider health and well-being. 
  • Clarity on campus working for staff with health concerns. From 1 August, the Government’s shielding scheme comes to an end and legal protections for even extremely clinically vulnerable staff will be reduced. We are pushing the University to update its guidance so that staff know what will happen after shielding ends. We believe the University should not compel staff with health conditions to work on campus where they do not feel comfortable doing so. Instead, every effort should be made to enable staff to work from home.
  • Return to work staff risk assessments. The University Senior Management have said line managers will be required to complete a return to work structured conversation before a member of staff returns to working on campus. In theory, these conversations should ensure staff with health conditions or other risk factors relevant to Covid-19 receive the support they need to work safely. We are pushing management to turn this conversation into a formal risk assessment. We are also working to ensure staff can access information and support independently of their line managers, including contact union health and safety reps. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.