Since the original lockdown last year Scottish Hazards has been amazed at the excuses some employers have come up with to self identify as essential workplaces. Why? we believe in order to force their workers to continue working from business premises instead of following Scottish Government guidance that all non essential work should be carried out from home where possible.
We recognise the impact this pandemic is having on businesses as we recognise that many workers view their work as essential in the context of being essential to provide for their families. However, when the impact of that work, and the way in which a business manages its operations and work activity places workers at risk of harm as well as the public health of the nation,it is perhaps time to take a step back and examine exactly what defines essential work and why the Scottish Government is taking some of the decisions it is.
Genuine essential work is any work that has an impact on our national infrastructure. There are 13 sectors classed as being critical to that national infrastructure, split between reserved and devolved responsibilities. Essential public services are delivered by public, private and third sector employers and includes sectors such as health and social care, energy projects, transport, food as well as central, devolved and local governments. However not all work within CNI sectors is essential work and not all essential work has to be carried out in the workplace and the Scottish Government guidance is unequivocally clear, working from home should be the norm where possible for workers in these essential sectors as well as in others outwith CNI sectors.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 lists businesses that are required to close, by law to reduce the risk of spreading COVID 19 throughout our communities, our local authorities and across Scotland. This is perhaps where most of the controversy lies, while it cannot be disputed that travel tourism and hospitality is vital to our economy there is clear risk associated with these businesses. Yes, licensing arrangements and legal obligations on owners mean that public houses and other hospitality venues are well run businesses; yes, many of these businesses have invested heavily on alterations to premises to facilitate social distancing but there is a risk of virus transmission not associated with time spent on the premises such as travel to and from the venue, perhaps by public transport. In the same vein, no one can argue that taking physical exercise and attending fitness sessions in gyms is good for health and mental wellbeing but, on the other hand, the physical exertion involved may increase the distance infectious droplets can travel, increasing the risk of transmission. Scottish Hazards also have sympathy with hairdressers, barbers and beauticians, many of whom are sole traders or owners of small business as they face further restrictions requiring them to close. Quite a few have contacted us seeking advice on measures they were required to take prior to reopening at the end of lock down only to face further period of business interruption and, potentially more to come, despite doing all they could to manage the risk. There are many others on the list of businesses required to close who could make similar claims their services positively impact on mental and/or physical wellbeing and the majority have doing what is required of them to protect their workers and the general public but this pandemic is like nothing we have experienced in modern times. Desperate measures are required when transmission is on the increase and closure of businesses considered to be of higher risk eliminates the transmission risk, PPE and social distancing only reduce it.
In between the public services and business that remain open as their output is critical to the national infrastructure and those that by law must close are non essential businesses providing non essential services, it is from this group that most of our calls have come from including;
- a team from a contact centre called back to work after working from home as they were not producing targets (non essential energy sales)
- an energy company’s call centre workers called back to work after working from home because that was what the employer wanted (energy may well be CNI but making appointments for service calls is not and can be done from home)
- logistics companies instructing call centre workers back to work after working from home for no reason other than exerting management control over the workers (logistics arguably is CNI but these wrere admin roles)
- numerous examples of workers having to go into domestic properties to carry out non essential deliveries and furniture repairs (urgent replacement/repair of dangerous furniture/household white goods may be essential, cosmetic repairs are not)
- travel agents getting confused between what is essential for the business and what is essential for the good of Scotland’s public health. (tourism is not transport and travel where it could be argued activity is CNI)
Of course the advice given to employers in this category is only guidance free to be followed or ignored as those in charge of businesses see fit, Scottish Hazards were so concerned at the number of employers who appeared to be ignoring the guidance we produced this video.
If this new strain of COVID 19 is 70% more transmissible we have to do more to reduce the risk of workplace transmission, we have to reduce the number of workers having to work in non-essential call centres and offices against Scottish Government Guidance, we have to reduce the amount of workers travelling to non essential work by public transport, we have to reduce non-essential travel across Scotland to carry out non-essential deliveries or carry out non essential repairs in domestic properties.
The most effective control measure is elimination of risk and where the risk is not fully understood taking precautionary measures to eliminate that risk.
Scottish Hazards believes we have to invoke the precautionary principle more often and legislation is necessary to add more non essential businesses to the list of those required to close, protecting workers and their families as well as helping Scotland’s public health battle against COVID 19.
If you have COVID 19 problems at work or any concerns about your workplace safety call us on 0800 0015 022 or by email