Preston campaigner says: 'COVID didn’t cause a workplace health crisis- it exposed it.'
Preston-based campaigner Janet Newsham said workers have contacted her about a ‘whole gamut of issues’ surrounding COVID-19 in their workplaces.
She works for the Greater Manchester Hazards Centre which supports workers and trade unions with health and safety concerns.
“Some workers are being asked to return to workplaces but the risk of transmission is not being controlled,” Janet said.
“Shops, buses, schools and offices are all workplaces which are supposed to be controlling the risks of transmission.”
Janet has had reports of no social distancing and a lack of PPE in some workplaces exactly one year on from the World Health Organisation classing COVID-19 as a pandemic.
“Early on in the pandemic we knew there wasn’t a precautionary level of PPE available due to supply but still that has not been changed,” she said.
“Some workplaces have not even reviewed their risk assessments.”
Janet is particularly concerned about poor ventilation in workplaces which she says is a continuing issue which predates COVID.
“We learnt last year about aerosol transmission and the need for ventilation but even now, a year on in the pandemic, there are workplaces who haven’t reviewed risk assessments to take into account aerosol transmission and increased ventilation.
“Before COVID lots of our buildings didn’t have proper ventilation and we knew there were problems before. If anyone got a cold or flu or anything it would go round.
“Schools are one example; when you put children and teachers in bubbles without mitigating against all the risks then you’re putting them at risk.
“Some schools don’t have opening windows and some don’t have the resources.
Janet says that people are ‘frightened’ about infection numbers increasing, and said that if her two university-aged sons were younger, she would be frightened too.
The Hazards Centre claims that official statistics do not capture the true number of workplace-related deaths from COVID-19.
“Employers are discouraged from reporting infections and deaths because it is difficult to prove it is work-related,” Janet said.
“This is difficult to determine and so cases go unseen.
“Even paramedics are struggling to have deaths marked as COVID-related. Even with such a high level of exposure.”
Janet is joining the call for a day of remembrance for those who lost their lives to COVID-19.
She has also called for us to remember those who suffered a workplace-related death and those who continue to suffer from ‘long COVID’.
“It’s not just about deaths,” she said, “It’s about long COVID, it’s about the enormous long-term ill-health being suffered.”
“We have always held an event in Preston around International Workers’ Memorial Day on April 28 to remember all those workers that have died.
“That’s the day that we remember the dead and fight for the living so there’s always a theme for the day in addition to remembrance.
“In addition to this, in the last twelve months, there are thousands of workers who have died from COVID so we will remember all those workers.”
The World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 as a pandemic on March 11 last year and Janet thinks this is a fitting date to remember the people who have died.
“I think March 11 should be the day we should remember all of those who have died,” she said.
In the meantime, Janet wants to see more regular inspections from local authorities and health bodies to make sure employers are following safety guidelines.
“COVID-19 didn’t cause an occupational health crisis, it exposed it,” she said.
“Generally speaking, there are laws in place but it’s all about enforcement.”
“I’ve lost words to describe how I feel about it all because you never would have thought this could happen in the UK, you never would have thought we could have at least 130,000 deaths because of COVID.
“It is mainly because the risks haven’t been controlled."
More information about the Hazards Centre can be found at this website.