Latest Advice and Updates on COVID 19 for UCU Roehampton Members
News and resources to keep you as up to date as we can on what is a rapidly changing situation. If you need something you can’t find on here please email us.
23 September 2021 – Return to Campus: Advice for Members
We are writing to update you to our ongoing Health and Safety concerns around the return to campus. Interestingly, a recent University policy insists that:
The University will continue to adopt its position since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak of being flexible, supportive, and understanding towards any requests from staff. The University continues to adopt the approach that no staff members are forced to return to work.
Update on Ventilation Report
The branch has been urging a full audit of all shared spaces for several months now. After many delays, and after teaching has started in many parts of the University, branch officers have now seen the Ventilation Report. Unfortunately, UCU and GMB are very disappointed by the timing and quality of the report which does little to enhance understanding of the risks to staff and students with face to face teaching. For our more detailed evaluation of the report, please see the update here.
We cannot therefore assure you that the campus is adequately ventilated. This is concerning as good ventilation is one of the main mitigations that can be put in place to reduce transmission of an airborne virus.
We pointed out to Management last week that in many cases the Covid risk assessments did not actually assess risk, nor mitigating for the risks, which is what they should be doing by law. This week the University Health and Safety team have been urgently reviewing the University’s risk assessments, but there are still some outstanding issues, including with the individual risk assessment. The individual risk assesment has been transformed from an assessment for each member of staff, to which employees are entitled, to a process of allowing some individuals to obtain mitigations if they can convince managers that they have poor enough health.
Most concerning, however, is the fact that there is no guidance to staff and students about how to report a potential risk on campus; when that risk will be assessed; whether the University will report back to staff about the risk; and what to do in the meantime if a class is scheduled in a room which is taken out of action.
What can you do?
The branch is concerned about the fact that the onus is on us as individual staff members to adopt less risky practice. We believe that management have not properly assessed the risk to staff and students, nor have they mitigated for those risks.
Any staff member with concerns regarding the risks that they are facing should ask for a proper individual risk assessment in the first instance. For our example of what should be included, see here.
Members should remind managers that the University is still claiming a policy of ‘flexibility, understanding and support’ towards colleagues’ requests for adjustments and that ‘no staff members are forced to return to work’ (a telling slip there: we have all been working harder than ever!).
For specific concerns about safety on campus, report them to firstname.lastname@example.org and copy in Frances Coleman, Head of Health and Safety, and the branch at UCU@roehampton.ac.uk. If members need advice regarding concerns that they have about their safety on campus, please contact Natasha DuRose at the branch email address above and you will be put in touch with someone who will be able to advise you.
If you believe that you are in “serious and imminent danger”, you have the option to cite Section 44.1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, which says that in this situation an employee has the right to withdraw from the unsafe environment, and s100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 which protects workers from detriment if they assert their right to a safe working environment. More informtion on this can be found on the TUC website here. This may involve not entering a particular room or session or not attending campus depending on the particular danger identified. Please remind your manager that you are not refusing to work and will complete the task remotely.
13 September 2021 – UCU Safe Return to Campus
Scientific advice suggests that a safe return to full on-campus work this autumn would require a total population vaccination rate of at least 90% and even then would require control measures to protect members of staff and students. In fact, the vaccination rate of younger people remains under 50%.
In order to ensure the health and safety of staff, students, visitors and the local community, as well as take its social responsibility to stop the spread of Covid seriously it is vital that the University takes precautionary measures, including:
- Following urgent SAGE advice, encourage all staff to work off campus where they can and where they wish to do so. The question is not only whether the campus is apparently free of cases but also the responsibility of the University towards staff and students who use public transport. The fewer people attend campus, the safer it is for those who do.
- Continue to conduct all non-essential services online, including all meetings, lectures and training. This will not only reduce the number of events where people gather in larger numbers, but will also continue to ensure that teaching is as inclusive as possible.
- Urgently conduct, update and publish all University risk and Equality Impact assessments, to ensure that they are suitable and sufficient. Update whenever new factors (new risk factors, new variants, new advice) are identified.
- Provide clear, transparent advice to staff and students explaining what the University has done to keep staff and students safe, i.e. what ventilation and spaces checks have been undertaken, what was involved in the ventilation survey, how staff and students should report ventilation or other safety concerns, how staff and students will know occupancy rates in rooms etc.
- Focus on generating a culture of strong collective social norms of care and inclusion.
- There should be a strongly reinforced norm to not attend work or study on campus with symptoms or without a negative test result, and clear communication about what the symptoms are (including the distinctive ones of the Delta variant)
- Create a workplace culture of shared responsibility for those who are clinically vulnerable and minimizing their chances of becoming infected with COVID as well as protecting everyone from infection leading to Long Covid.
- Make it easy for staff and students to voice concerns without raising concerns of being victimised or stigmatised.
- Support staff and students to make choices that keep them physically and psychologically well. Clinically vulnerable staff and students may not wish to reveal that they are vulnerable.
- Encourage vaccination through measures such as notices and paid time off to obtain the vaccination and boosters.
- Ensure adequate ventilation in indoor spaces, including shared offices, meeting rooms, teaching and learning spaces, and food and other social spaces, and communicate clearly what each space does and does not provide and the maximum capacity for each room.
- Undertake CO2 sensor sampling in all shared rooms. Ventilation levels should be constantly monitored in all shared rooms to ensure that students and staff are kept safe throughout the day. (Carbon Dioxide (CO2) sensor sampling gives an indication of the current air quality within a room and an indication of the efficiency of the room’s ventilation in use). Continuous sampling will allow the University to check that ventilation is adequate and that staff and students are not put at risk.
- Provide HEPA filters for all shared spaces.
- Calculate occupancy rates for each room individually. A reduction in room occupancy by a one-size-fits-all 20% is not acceptable. In some sessions there will be students exhaling at a faster, deeper and more rapid rate than ‘normal’, e.g. Dance and Sports Students, in the gym, etc. Sessions later in the day may have poorer ventilation than earlier, and each room will have different ventilation. These situations need to be taken into account to ensure that the associated risks are properly mitigated.
- Where ventilation relies on windows opening, modify them to allow adequate ventilation (at the top rather than the bottom, creating cross currents etc.) and to prevent their being closed; increase heating to compensate.
- Where there are no effective cross currents, provide fans situated to create them.
- Inform staff and students how to report problems in rooms such as when windows won’t open. And how long it will take to resolve issues. Also explain to staff and students in advance that there may be last minute room changes needed if ventilation levels drop and are deemed inadequate.
- Prepare students and staff to be in a colder environment by asking them to wear layers/warm clothes to University.
- Mandate the use of face coverings, physical distancing, and hand and respiratory hygiene (including strongly discouraging in-person attendance if symptomatic or with a positive test). a. Mandate face coverings at all times inside. b.Provide microphones for teaching to stop staff having to project their voices and causing more aerosol transmission in classrooms c. Stop ‘hygiene theatre’ (e.g., use of small plastic screens, face shields or hand sanitizer but no masks). d. Provide face masks to everyone and clear signage as it makes it easier for everyone to adhere to the rules e. Provide medical grade masks (preferably FFP3 but at least FFP2) for all staff and students, not only for their time on campus but also for their journeys to and from work f. Maintain clear publicity about rules for distancing (min 1m apart) and promote ‘Give me Space’ materials throughout the campuses
- Urgently review and improve the Individual Risk Assessment form which currently does not assess risk and also requests personal information from staff which isn’t needed for that purpose.
- Maintain an inclusive environment for students and staff working and studying at home, so that vulnerable and disabled members of our community are not isolated or excluded from meetings, training, social events, etc.
- Provide clear instructions to staff and students about what to do if they feel an area is unsafe or if people are acting unsafely. Who is this reported to and how? How quickly will it get acted upon?
- Ensure that all one-off events, such as welcome back to campus events, are risk assessed and Equality issues are considered BEFORE a decision is taken to go ahead
- Require regular testing (min of twice weekly if Lateral Flow) and reporting of results. Maintain rapid and accurate tracing of contacts and instructions to self-isolate for those identified.
- Urgently develop a policy to support staff and students with Long Covid. Display understanding and support by listening to staff and students who have Long Covid, and how it is affecting them, rather than relying on OH. Staff should be given paid time off to attend medical appointments
- Pay close attention to case rates locally, regionally, and nationally and plan for maximizing online teaching and learning in a timely rather than last-minute way. Ensure plans are in place for outbreaks and self-isolating staff and students, including new arrivals from overseas. Ensure material support, social support, and flexible learning support are available to them. All extra support being expected by staff should be included in their workloads.
7 September 2021 – Meetings on Campus
We understand that a number of colleagues across both academic departments and student support service teams have been asked to attend in-person meetings and one-to-ones in the coming weeks. Some of these meetings have been scheduled to take place in non-ventilated rooms and UCU is concerned that ventilation in others may be inadequate.
Understandably, colleagues are deeply concerned by the implication that the return to campus is compulsory for staff.
UCU’s position on the issue of return to campus has, for the most part, been in line with the official university position i.e. that there can be no compulsion for staff to come onto campus if they feel unsafe, and that it is a matter of choice.
In a recent meeting, HR confirmed to us that most meetings will continue to be “digitally-led” and that there would be no blanket insistence on holding them in person, especially where the meeting could take place on Zoom or Teams. In the medium term, there may be a move to hybrid attendance. In either case, there would be no need for those who do not wish to attend campus to do so. Moreover, HR confirmed that they wish to continue their policy of approaching attendance “flexibly, sensitively and with understanding”.
Despite asking numerous times over the summer to see the report from the updated ventilation audit, UCU is still waiting to see it. Until we have had a chance to review this documentation, UCU is presently still unable to confirm that we agree that the University has taken adequate measures to make the campus safe for staff.
UCU believes that the essential criteria to ensure a safe return to work should include the following: maintaining social distancing of 2 metres; twice weekly compulsory lateral flow tests for everyone who needs to be on campus; compulsory mask wearing on campus; adequate ventilation, which may require reduced numbers in rooms; and comprehensive risk assessments.
UCU reminds members that they are entitled to a personalised, comprehensive risk assessment from their Line Managers, which for academic staff is their Head of Schools/Departments, for everywhere they are being asked to go for work. This risk assessment should include your journey travelling to and from your workplace, as well as where you need to be at work. UCU advises colleagues to ask line managers for a personalised risk assessment regarding your return to campus. If you haven’t had a risk assessment, you are entitled to one. If you have had a risk assessment before and it hasn’t been recently updated, then you are entitled to ask for a new one.
UCU would also like to remind colleagues that members are entitled to refuse to return to campus if they feel unsafe and should report to UCU any attempts by management to “strong-arm” colleagues into compliance.
Finally, members might like to contribute to the following, a call from the Guardian newspaper for University staff to share their experience working on campus and in person.
September 2020 – Health and Safety Officers Report
Over the past few weeks, there has been a flurry of activity as management pushed to reopen the campuses; our two Health and Safety officers have been representing members’ interests on both the ‘Return to Campus’ and ‘Return to Teaching’ committees. We’ve pushed for numerous changes over the last two months and made the University improve everything from the signage to the level of communication. We have been concerned that management was not taking our role seriously or displaying adequate understanding of the dangers of an outbreak of Covid-19 on site after students return. Even now as teaching starts, there is still a lot to do and many COVID-specific safety issues which still need to be addressed. Nonetheless, there have been some significant victories in addition to the improvements mentioned above. The most important of these is a clear, repeated statement that no-one has to come on campus if they do not wish to do so. If despite this, your Head of Department is pushing you to teach or work on site, please let UCU know.
The last two months have been about details but we’d identify the following as major successes by UCU on those committees.
- Confirmation that no-one will be forced back to campus.
- Consideration of ventilation as an issue.
- Teaching spaces on campus will be cleaned by cleaners before every teaching session.
- Improved risk assessments, especially Individual risk assessments.
We will continue to monitor and, when necessary question, the University’s management of safety during the pandemic.
What you can do:
- Contact your line manager or HR immediately if you feel that returning to campus may put you and/or your family/household at risk.
- Check all the relevant risk assessments for buildings, rooms, activities including your own. You are entitled to see all risk assessments that are relevant to you at work. If you feel that issues have not been taken into consideration or that it has been largely a tick-box exercise raise it with your Head of Department. If that is not successful, inform one of us.
- Ask your Head of Department to press for improved ventilation in all teaching spaces and shared offices and press them to ensure that there is regular testing for staff and students.
- Ask your Head of Department to press for the University to be completely transparent with staff about the total number of cases at the University.
Please let us know if you see or experience problems with health and safety during the coming year. Report issues to your Head of Department but feel free to copy us in. You can email UCU Roehampton Health and Safety officers at UCU@roehampton.ac.uk.
June 2020 – Health and Safety Officers Report
The branch H & S reps have been regularly attending the meetings of the ‘Return to Campus’ working group in order to press the university to have a clear and safe campus policy. Unfortunately the level of consultation with the H & S officers has been minimal, and the branch still has many concerns with the lack of an evident safe plan by the University. As the branch did not received a satisfactory response to numerous very specific concerns raised in these meetings, the H & S reps wrote the following letter to Mike Hall (CIO ITMS Information Technology) and Frances Coleman (Head of Health and Safety) on 22 June. Letter to Management about UCU’s concern’s regarding the plan to Return to Campus.
Unfortunately the branch received an unsatisfactory response to this letter regarding our concerns, so the H&S reps will be following this up.
This was communicated in an update to members on 25 June. UCU Safe Return to Campus Report (25 June 2020).odt
The branch has written to the Director of HR about remote working; pay, sick pay and Caring Responsibilities; Strike Deductions and online teaching materials. The main body of our letter can be found here.
The branch has written to the Vice Chancellor and Head of HR to express our concerns about the response by the University to the Covid 19 pandemic. You are able to access the letter here.
If you have any concerns about the University’s response to Covid 19, working at home or the moving to teaching online, please email us at email@example.com.