Limiting the number of contacts, reducing number of contents indoors, increasing ventilation, reducing contacts with those who may be infectious are key considerations for all employers to address as they make workplaces Covid secure. As concerns about the availability of testing and the effectiveness of track and trace increase, all education settings must review the risk to staff and students and consider the increased risk to individuals who are particularly vulnerable. Under government guidance, your employer is required to plan systems of control to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19. They are also bound by their duty of care to employees to consider the level of risk to you as an individual and put in place measures to reduce that risk to a level that is acceptable. They have a duty to discuss that with you, and to ensure that you are reassured by the protective measures that they have put in place.
Staff may feel particularly vulnerable because of health conditions, but also other factors including factors including age and sex, where people live, deprivation, ethnicity. Your employer has a duty under equalities legislation to consider any additional risk that you might face.
We advise any members who are concerned about the measures in place to request a meeting with their line manager or HR to look at the risk assessment and discuss the protective measures that have been put in place for you. If you are not sufficiently reassured by that discussion, you should ask for additional measures to be considered, including the continuation of your remote arrangements. If your school say they are not able to consider additional measures that you request, they need to explain clearly why that is not possible. Cost, or fear of setting a precedent are not acceptable reasons to not put additional protective measures in place, though practicality and impact on students may be.
When looking at the system of control, it is important to look at what is in place under point 6 of preventative controls:
1) Minimise contact with individuals who are unwell by ensuring that those who have coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms, or who have someone in their household who does, do not attend school.
2) Where recommended, use of face coverings in schools.
3) Clean hands thoroughly more often than usual.
4) Ensure good respiratory hygiene by promoting the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach.
5) Introduce enhanced cleaning, including cleaning frequently touched surfaces often, using standard products such as detergents and bleach.
6) Minimise contact between individuals and maintain social distancing wherever possible.
7) Where necessary, wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
Numbers 1 to 5 must be in place in all schools, all the time.
Number 6 must be properly considered and schools must put in place measures that suit their particular circumstances. This provides that ideally, adults should maintain 2 metre distance from others, and where this is not possible avoid close face to face contact and minimise time spent within 1 metre of others.
Number 7 applies in specific circumstances.
When looking at prevention measures in the systems of control your trust has in place, you should have detail that is specific to your site, to your routines and to your level of health risk. The 2 metre distance should be treated as non-negotiable.
A basic principle applies: no member of staff should be subject to detriment, sanction or dismissal because they do not feel safe in the workplace. No employee should be asked to choose between their health and their job.
The DfE states that staff who are classed as Clinically Vulnerable should work from home where possible. Where an individual is required to be in the workplace the school should discuss this and hear your concerns. A written record of the discussion should be kept. A risk assessment to address your needs should be put in place.
It may be that the school feel that they are unable to support working from home arrangements for particular roles or individuals. If this is the case, you should ask for the reasons why, and a copy of all documentation supporting their case for why they are unable to support working from home.
Schools have the discretion to place staff who feel that the risk to them is unacceptable on Authorised Paid Leave, if no other arrangement can be made. This should not be treated as sick leave.