Last reviewed 6 January 2021

Essential workers and those who cannot work from home could be at risk from workplace safety rules that have not been updated since March 2020 and which do not take account of new Covid-19 strains or new scientific knowledge about how the virus is spread.

Accordingly, the TUC has said, it is time for the Government to bring the rules in line with the latest scientific findings and to crack down on employers who put their staff at risk.

As the Prime Minister and his scientific advisors have repeatedly emphasised, the UK is now battling a coronavirus strain that is far more easily transmitted. Yet the rules have not been adapted to meet this new threat and the union body says that this is putting workers at risk.

Transmission of Covid-19 is now understood to be mainly through infectious aerosols suspended in the air, rather than contact. This means current protective measures recommended for many, particularly public-facing workers, are inadequate, the TUC insists.

General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Airborne transmission is the biggest danger. But little has been done to update safety rules in response. Too many workers are still in indoor spaces without adequate ventilation, or proper social distancing from other staff or customers”.

Unions hear daily from workers whose employers are putting them at risk, she went on. But there have been far too few inspections and too little enforcement.

“Nearly a year into this pandemic, and in our third national lockdown, it’s time for the Government to stop letting bad bosses get away with it,” Ms O’Grady concluded. “Health and Safety Executive inspections must increase dramatically, to root out dangerous practice that spreads the virus.”

Recommendations to update workplace safety guidance

As a matter of urgency, the TUC is calling on the Government to:

  • reduce the number of people permitted in a space at any one time, to aid ventilation and social distancing

  • require the wearing of face coverings in all indoor workplaces, except for those workers who are exempt

  • return to the “gold standard” of two metre social distancing wherever possible, removing the confusion about 1.5m social distancing

  • require any work activity that can be completed safely outside to be conducted outside

  • set a safety threshold for ventilation of indoor workplaces with outside air — CIBSE (the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers) recommends at least 10 litres of outside air in offices per second per person

  • update guidance on workplace face coverings to the WHO standard of three protective layers

  • expand the number of jobs where workers should use FFP3 face masks, removing 99% of particles, and ensure enough are available.

The TUC also wants the Government to launch a major communications campaign to employers, workers and customers to cut the risks to essential workers and those working outside the home.