What to do if you are feeling unsafe at work
All workers have a right to be safe at work, wherever they work and whatever they do. Coronavirus does not change this.
If you feel that your employer isn’t taking their responsibility for your safety seriously, you have a range of things you can do about it:
Check your employer’s risk assessment
All bosses by law have to carry out a workplace risk assessment. And they must also take the actions that are identified in their risk assessment.
These will include things like enabling working from home where possible, ensuring good hygiene and cleanliness, and making sure workers can be at least two metres apart at all times. Where these actions don’t provide enough protection from the risk, workers may need personal protective equipment.
Employers must also enable extremely vulnerable workers in the shielded category to observe NHS advice, and protect other vulnerable or pregnant workers.
Employers have to share their coronavirus risk assessments with their staff and it’s recommended they publish them on their websites. If your employer hasn’t shown you their yet, ask them to see it. That way you will have a basis for understanding whether they’re living up to the requirements they themselves have identified.
If you’re a union member, you should talk to them straight away. If your union is recognised by your employer, try to speak to your union’s volunteer Safety Rep. Safety Reps have legal rights to investigate risks in the workplace, and can call for inspections or force employers to change.
They will be able to advise on practical steps, get legal help, and make the demand for safe working a collective one – taking the onus off you as an individual.
If you don’t have a local rep, or don’t know who they are, try your union’s regional or national office.
If you’re not yet a member, you should talk to one about joining. Be aware that unions can’t always help you if you’re not already a member. It’s a bit like getting insurance after you have a problem. But the worst they can do is say they can’t help, and they may be able to offer useful advice.
Use the TUC's online union finder tool to find out which union is the best fit for your job, and link to their joining pages.
Otherwise if there is a local Citizens’ Advice Bureau or Law Centre to you, you may be able to get useful free advice from them, though they can’t intercede with your employer for you.
Talk to your employer
Raise your concern with your employer. Talk to your manager or to your employer’s personnel department. This is a step you generally need to attempt first before taking enforcement action.
It’s always best to approach your employer collectively with other workers. There’s safety in numbers. Your employer will see that there’s more widespread concern and it will be harder to dismiss this or to pressure individual workers.
Again this is easiest with a union, where you have more rights to negotiate with your employer, but getting a group together even without a union is always better than going it alone.
Report it to safety inspectors
All workplaces are subject to safety inspection and you can try to involve inspectors if you feel the matter is serious and your employer isn’t acting on it.
Check first who regulates safety at your employer. It’s generally the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) but for some workplaces it could be your local council. You can find out which here.
If you are a union safety rep yourself, there is a dedicated inbox for reporting concerns to the HSE - you can write a report to it using our tool here.
Otherwise visit the HSE website to report a concern. Be aware that the HSE was already underfunded and stretched before this crisis, so your problem might not be resolved instantly. But the government has increased their funding by 10% recently and they are making coronavirus cases a priority.
Use your right to refuse to work
If you feel that your employer is ignoring you and your colleagues, and is putting you in danger with their refusal to implement safety changes, you do have some legal rights.
If after raising your concerns there is still a serious or imminent danger, you and your colleagues may have the right to leave work depending on the specific circumstances. The relevant law is Section 44 of the Employment Act 1996 and it covers all employees (everyone at work who has a contract of employment).
It is important that you seek advice and support on taking action. This article on the TUC website has some useful pointers in the steps you need to take first.