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PROSPER MAGAZINE: DIGITAL EDITION

EDITORIAL FEATURE

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PROTECTING EMPLOYEES FROM COVID-19

As workplaces with more than fifty employees across the region are set to be offered the opportunity to access testing for their employees unable to work from home, Prosper takes a look at some of those who have been forced into work with bosses unwilling to follow guidelines.

 

The largest workplace outbreak of Covid-19 happened last month at the Government organisation Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s (DVLA) office sparking questions over how strictly coronavirus rules have been implemented.

Shockingly, more than 500 cases have been recorded at DVLA offices in Swansea as a new, more deadly strain of coronavirus circulates and despite Boris Johnson’s work from home where possible rules.

In fact, employees claim that people with symptoms were encouraged to return to work, vulnerable workers had work from home requests turned down and workers were asked to turn off test and trace, so phones did not ping.

But there are concerns that bosses are breaking Covid safety rules, with the head of the UK's unions calling for tougher enforcement.

 

Between 6th and 14th January, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) received 3,934 complaints relating to coronavirus and took enforcement action in 81 cases.

 

What are the rules on going to work?

Under current lockdown restrictions, people across the UK who can work effectively from home should do so. They should only travel to their workplace if they cannot do their job remotely.

 

This includes healthcare professionals, teachers, childcare providers, transport workers, people who work in construction or manufacturing, funeral directors, and essential retail workers.

 

For workplaces that remain open in England, employers must "carry out an appropriate Covid-19 risk assessment" to develop a "specific" strategy to stop the virus's spread.

 

In England, guidelines set out strict measures which employers must follow, such as minimising the number of unnecessary visits to the office, frequent cleaning of workspaces and ensuring that staff observe 2m (6ft) social distancing wherever possible.

 

The HSE, which has done 33,000 site visits since March, told the BBC it continued to "scale up" its checks on employers.

 

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) wants the government to strengthen enforcement and give the HSE more resources.

 

Some say nothing will change unless the government changes the rules to ensure only people doing essential work go in.

 

A spokesman for the government says it has worked with trade unions, businesses and medical experts to produce "comprehensive Covid-secure guidance", so that businesses permitted to remain open can do so safely: "This is kept under review as our understanding of the virus develops."

 

So, What Are Black Country Businesses Doing to Protect Their Staff?

Prosper spoke to those rolling out rapid testing across Wolverhampton to protect their own staff and customers. 

 

Rapid Covid-19 testing is being piloted by several Wolverhampton businesses to help keep their staff, contractors and customers safe from the virus.

 

They include Black Country Chamber Platinum Group member, Ansaldo Nuclear Limited, which has set up facilities at its Spring Road site which will enable it to carry out weekly testing of people without symptoms of the virus.

A total of 79 tests were completed during a pilot among staff on 14th January, with all employees testing negative for Covid-19. Ansaldo Nuclear began regular testing of all staff who are not able to work from home, as well as visitors and contractors, at the end of January.

The Wolverhampton company engineer unique machinery and components for nuclear decommissioning, new build and defence markets and has over 60 years’ nuclear experience.

Keith Roeton from Ansaldo Nuclear told Prosper, "We have implemented stringent control measures to protect our workforce right from the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and gone above and beyond Government guidance.

“Our 200 staff are one of our greatest assets and their commitment has ensured the business has remained operational during the Covid-19 pandemic. We want to do everything we can to keep them safe and place great importance on promoting health and safety at work.

"We also realise the importance of identifying asymptomatic people who are unknowingly spreading the virus, not only around the workplace but also the general population.

“We are therefore delighted to work with the City of Wolverhampton Council to introduce routine testing for our staff who cannot work from home at this time.

"We completed the first round of testing on Thursday; thankfully all the tests came back negative, but we have already seen the benefits that it will bring, both to our workforce and to the NHS by helping to reduce the spread of the virus as and when positive cases are found.

"We plan to continue testing our employees, visitors and contractors on a weekly basis and would encourage all other business to follow suit in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic."

Chamber CEO Corin Crane said, “We absolutely welcome the roll-out of the tests to businesses with more than 50 employees but know there is much more to do in this area. 

 

“The Chamber has been contacted by a number of businesses who want to implement regular lateral flow testing as a means of keeping the employees safe, identify asymptomatic infections and keep their businesses open but are encountering difficulties due to the operational complexities and costs involved.  

 

“We are in discussions with authorities and agencies to raise these issues and any member experiencing issues should get in touch.”

 

Councillor Jasbir Jaspal, the City of Wolverhampton Council's Cabinet Member for Public Health and Wellbeing, said, "When it comes to the safety of employees who need to be physically in work at this time, ensuring they are able to practice social distancing and are provided with the necessary PPE is a great start.

"However, we're helping businesses to go one step further by enabling them to offer staff who cannot work from home routine rapid Covid-19 testing to check whether or not they have the virus. "It's great to see that Ansaldo Nuclear has embraced the opportunity to provide routine testing to its staff and I am pleased that several more businesses will be taking part in pilot testing in the coming weeks.

Rapid testing, which uses lateral flow test technology to provide results in under an hour, can identify cases in people who don't have any symptoms of the virus but who could still be infectious.

Businesses interested in setting up a workplace testing site are encouraged to email employee.testing@beis.gov.uk and firms with 50 or more staff can register to order rapid lateral flow tests for their employees here as part of the government’s National Workforce Testing.

 

REVEALED - Occupations with the highest coronavirus risk

 

New data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed the occupations suffering the highest number of deaths involving coronavirus.

Men working in ‘elementary occupations’ – which includes processing plant workers, security guards, chefs and taxi drivers among others – had the highest number of deaths involving coronavirus in this category in the last year with 699 deaths.

The data found that men working in process, plant and machine operatives saw 827 deaths last year, with men working in caring, leisure and other service occupations seeing 258 deaths.

Elsewhere, sales and customer service occupations (156 deaths) and administrative and secretarial occupations (186 deaths) were also included in ONS’ data. 

For women, ONS’ data found that caring, leisure and other service occupations (460 deaths) had the highest rates of death involving coronavirus when looking at broad occupational groups.

Women working in ‘elementary occupations’ saw 227 deaths last year with 57 deaths among those working in process, plant and machine operatives.

The figures cover 7,961 deaths, of those aged 20 to 64-years-old, in England and Wales between March 9th and December 28th, 2020.

In addition to this, the data found that there were 139 deaths involving COVID-19 in teaching and educational professionals aged between 20 and 64-years-old.

The study found that for both men and women, the rates of death involving COVID-19 for this group were statistically significantly lower than the rate of death involving coronavirus among those of the same sex and age.

Those working in close proximity to each other continue to have higher COVID-19 death rates when compared to the rest of the working population, according to the data.

Ben Humberstone, Head of Health Analysis and Life Events at ONS, said, “Today’s analysis shows that jobs with regular exposure to COVID-19 and those working in close proximity to others continue to have higher COVID-19 death rates when compared with the rest of the working-age population.

“Men continue to have higher rates of death than women, making up nearly two-thirds of these deaths.

“As the pandemic has progressed, we have learnt more about the disease and the communities it impacts most.

“There is a complex combination of factors that influence the risk of death; from your age and your ethnicity, where you live and who you live with, to pre-existing health conditions. Our findings do not prove that the rates of death involving COVID-19 are caused by differences in occupational exposure.”

The full list from ONS

  • The highest number of deaths per occupation in men (death rate per 100,000)

  • Plant workers - 143.2

  • Restaurant and catering establishment managers and proprietors - 119.3

  • Care workers and home carers - 109.9

  • Chefs - 103.1

  • Taxi and cab drivers, chauffeurs - 101.4

  • Security guards and related occupations - 100.7

  • The highest number of deaths per occupation in women (death rate per 100,000)

  • Care workers and home carers - 47.1

  • Plant and machine assemblers and operatives - 39.2

  • Social workers - 32.4

  • Sales and retail assistants - 26.9

  • Managers and directors in retail and wholesale - 26.7

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