21 May 2020, 09:11 AM
  • The GMB union says the Government’s new published guidance for food and drink sector workers “substantially waters down” safety measures
Food and drink worker safety in the spotlight as lockdown restrictions ease

Earlier this month, the Food and Drink Federation came together with unions in a first-of-its-kind agreement on worker safety. In a joint statement, the FDF and unions Unite, Usdaw, BFAWU and GMB detailed the industry’s efforts to keep the nation fed and maintain the UK’s food security amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“If you can’t feed a country, you don’t have a country. Workers in food and drink are the hidden heroes, making everyday sacrifices so fellow citizens can access the food and drink they want and need,” said Ian Wright CBE, chief executive of FDF.

The groups said that key hygiene and social distancing measures were being recommended to employers, including ensuring effective and regular cleaning and disinfecting and the correct use of appropriate PPE.

However, the joint statement came just days before the Prime Minister announced a plan for easing England’s lockdown restrictions.

Eamon O’Hearn, GMB National Officer, criticised the newly published guidance for Covid risk in the food and drink sector, saying the union was “extremely disappointed”. “It substantially waters down measures GMB has negotiated with employers or distributed in the absence of clear positions from the Health and Safety Executive, and the lack of detail and generally weak approach could cause major problems where employers are less scrupulous and looking to cut corners.”

For example, Eamon said that the guidance that “additional PPE beyond what you usually wear is not beneficial” had not been backed up with scientific evidence. “The guidance also implies workers can work face-to-face with no protection for sustained periods with the need for a risk assessment, only if there is more than a small group.

“Given that many food and drink workers will attend work with no symptoms but presenting as a live contagion risk, and face-to-face working cannot achieve a two metre social distance, the only possible ways to reduce the risk are to eliminate it by not performing the work, or by the provision of personal protective equipment,” Eamon says. “Without PPE there is no way to avoid this exposure risk, and the guidance only states that: ‘No one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment’.”

“Therefore our position remains that all close working should require PPE, so GMB cannot support this guidance unless compelling evidence is provided by Public Health England/SAGE that the transmission risk at close quarters is negligible.”

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