GUCU EMERGENCY BRANCH MEETING WEDS 23 SEPT: SAFETY FIRST

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Emergency Branch Meeting to discuss campus health and safety: Wed 23rd Sep, 2-4pm (online meeting details circulated to all members)

Urgent calls to scale back the “return to campus” are multiplying. Across the board there is clear agreement that opening campuses fully will pose a serious risk to staff, students and local communities. SAGE has identified the “significant risk” that HE could “amplify local and national transmission”. Independent Sage advises that online teaching must be the default option, and has drawn up a series of recommendations for reducing risks. UCU’s national officers are calling for these recommendations to be taken up.

Grave findings from the United States’ experience of reopening campuses in August reveal an inconvenient truth for the UK Higher Education sector. Most concerning, from this study, is the medical impact of this coronavirus on the 18-34-year-old age group, even including asymptomatic carriers, which should give the current face-to-face business model pause for thought. Long-term illness was experienced in at least a quarter of cases and asymptomatic myocarditis, which can have long term and serious consequences, was detected in a team of healthy footballers. These were students who were otherwise in good health or had ‘no underlying health conditions’.

For all its optimistic demagoguery surrounding the ever-multiplying measures for a protective lockdown, the UK government has added Covid-19 to the list of notifiable causative agents under the Health Protection (Notification) Regulations 2010. In addition, under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, coronavirus has been identified as a biological agent as part of the HSE’s supplementary list of defined agents (Pinsent Masons Out/Law briefing 5th August, 2020).

Yet Goldsmiths, like many other institutions, has not given a substantial public response to the large-scale scientific reports. GUCU and other unions have not been included in meetings where these are considered and debated and we call on them to rectify this. Not only have students been promised face-to-face teaching across the vast majority of programmes, but our members are increasingly concerned that Health and Safety measures being put in place are insufficient, not monitored and lack any means of addressing situations where protective measures are flouted. Members have reported to us a range of troubling issues, including: 

  • the use of insufficient or late risk assessments
  • being asked to attend campus prior to risk assessments being sighted
  • staff building their own PPE
  • being threatened with job loss / programme closure unless they come in or commit to certain hours on-site
  • being asked to explain individual ‘vulnerability’ as part of a post-shielding process
  • workplaces that are not deep-cleaned
  • dangerous machinery and chemicals being accessible to students without designated supervisory person
  • evidence of students sharing and handling the same equipment without appropriate hygiene protocols
  • medium-to-large scale events on campus with members of the general public invited and no risk assessment shared with Trade Unions
  • manipulation of the student voice – managers briefing students against staff (their own colleagues) who raise Health and Safety concerns

Members from across Goldsmiths have become increasingly concerned and anxious and are contacting us with their misgivings too. We will therefore hold an Emergency Branch Meeting to discuss how we can collectively push for a safer approach to working and learning together. Wednesday 23rd September, 2-4pm via Zoom. In the meantime, you can find our advice and additional resources on Health and Safety on campus during the second wave of the pandemic here, including the GUCU Covid-neutral self-assessment and the ‘I Object’ Health and Safety pledge.

USEFUL LINKS

UCU Reopening Guidance

GUCU Health & Safety advice

Section 44 Employment Rights 

HSE Talking Toolkit