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Research into Covid-19 workplace safety outcomes

Research into Covid-19 workplace safety outcomes

Moore, Sian, Ball, Chris ORCID: 0000-0001-7743-4577, Cai, Minjie ORCID: 0000-0003-1739-0474, Flynn, Matt and Mulkearn, Ken (2021) Research into Covid-19 workplace safety outcomes. Technical Report. Trades Union Congress and University of Greenwich, London.

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The report describes the results of research in the food manufacturing, distribution and retail sectors, focusing on the work of union health and safety representatives during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. The research reported in this report is congruent with a wider study supported by UK Research and Innovation. This research, focusing on the food and drinks sectors, is supported by the TUC. It examines health and safety representatives and management actions in the pandemic, in food processing, manufacturing, distribution and retail sectors. Many workers in these sectors worked throughout the pandemic and increased demand meant increased recruitment in the sector, but also a measure of work intensification.

Case studies suggest substantial increases in the utilisation of agency workers. Four out of five workers in the food industry said they had been identified as "essential workers" by their employers. Over half of workers reported fears about the transmission of Covid19 at work, with the figure rising to 63% for those classed as ‘essential workers’. A third of workers (and 40% of essential workers) worried about the impact of continued attendance at the workplace on their mental health.

The research suggests an absence of health and safety infrastructure in UK workplaces. Under half of managers reported that there was a health and safety committee representing management and workers at the workplace level or at the organisational level. Just over one third of managers in the food manufacturing and distribution sector said there was such a committee at the organisational level and a half at workplace level. (For food retail, these figures are reversed with half of them saying that there is an organisational level health and safety committee and over a third reporting that a committee was established at the workplace level. Under half of managers (34% in food retail and 24% in food manufacturing and distribution) reported a dedicated health and safety officer in their workplace. Under half said that their workplaces had a health and safety management team.

Other than in isolated cases, there was little evidence of expansion of health and safety representation under the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet it is clear from the case studies that existing structures provide a necessary basis for informal and frequent dialogue between union reps and managers under Covid, often on a day-today basis. Workers in workplaces with union health and safety reps were more likely to report that risk assessments had been carried out. Two thirds of workers in a workplace with union health and safety representatives said that a risk assessment had been carried out, while fewer (58% in workplaces with non-union representatives and 43% where there was no health and safety representative) said that a risk assessment had been carried out. Twice as many workers in workplaces with no health and safety rep said that they did not know if a risk assessment had been carried out in comparison with those in a workplace
with a union rep. The evidence points therefore, to the presence of union health and safety reps having a beneficial impact on health and safety in an organisation. These findings from the quantitative survey are supported by detailed case study interviews with managers and union reps, in which safety reps in particular, attest to energetic work which they undertook to keep members safe during the pandemic. The study affirms the value of union health and safety representatives, highlights some worrying consequences of the erosion of health and safety structures and their replacement by direct channels of communication.

Item Type: Monograph (Technical Report)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Health and safety; Union representatives;
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD61 Risk Management
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Business
Faculty of Business > Centre for Work and Employment Research (CREW)
Faculty of Business > Department of Human Resources & Organisational Behaviour
Related URLs:
Last Modified: 27 May 2022 16:25

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