The steps housing organisations should take to mitigate COVID-19 risks to BAME staff

BAME housing professionals are at increased risk of coronavirus. Siobhan Fitzgerald sets out the steps that social landlords should take, as staff return to their usual places of work

Linked InTwitterFacebookeCard
A report found people from the BAME community are at increased risk of death and complications from coronavirus (picture: Getty)
A report found people from the BAME community are at increased risk of death and complications from coronavirus (picture: Getty)
Sharelines

The steps housing organisations should take to mitigate COVID-19 risks to BAME staff, by Siobhan Fitzgerald, employment partner at @TLT_LLP #UKhousing

As employees begin to return to work, the housing sector will need to bear in mind the different risk levels from COVID-19 for Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff when compared with colleagues from white ethnic groups.

“As BAME employees are at greater risk from COVID-19, an employer will have an enhanced responsibility to provide a safe and secure system that allows them to work without fear for their imminent safety”

Evidence has shown that BAME communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and suffer greater ill effects and consequences. A detailed report published by Public Health England in June this year found that people from the BAME community are at increased risk of death and complications from the virus, and social and health inequalities are increasing as a consequence.

Housing organisations

This issue will be particularly relevant for the housing sector, given that housing providers tend to have higher than average proportions of BAME staff and residents. The sector also has a reputation for making health and safety and employee well-being a top priority, so this is likely to be a natural concern but also perhaps an expectation as part of any return to work plan.


READ MORE

BAME communities have not been protected during the COVID-19 outbreak, say housing groupsBAME communities have not been protected during the COVID-19 outbreak, say housing groups
G15 launches new programme to increase BAME leadership in social housing sectorG15 launches new programme to increase BAME leadership in social housing sector
Inside Housing names BAME editorial panel membersInside Housing names BAME editorial panel members

Employers will need to bear in mind that BAME staff are more likely to work in roles with higher risk of exposure to coronavirus, and are more likely to need to use public transport to get to work. Research also shows that BAME staff are less likely to speak up about their health and safety concerns, so you should not rely on them to ask for specific measures.

Will social housing providers now face enhanced health and safety responsibilities towards their BAME employees? Almost certainly.

Returning to work

The government guidelines currently say that employees are allowed to return to work, provided the working environment is safe to do so. Employers must remember that they have a duty to consult with their employees, or their representatives, on health and safety matters.

“All employees should be encouraged to raise any concerns around their health and safety in relation to returning to work, PPE and social distancing. Organisations with high numbers of BAME staff could consider appointing BAME health and well-being champions”

As BAME employees are at greater risk from COVID-19, an employer will have an enhanced responsibility to provide a safe and secure system that allows them to work without fear for their imminent safety.

Employers should consider undertaking a bespoke assessment for BAME employees. The NHS has produced guidance on risk assessments for those at an increased risk of COVID-19 due to ethnicity.

Practical steps

Employers may also wish want to consider the following:

  • Understand the risk profile – carry out an audit of the workforce if necessary to ensure you have accurate data.
  • Undertake a return to work risk assessment to highlight any concerns and adjustments that need to be made. This risk assessment should take into account the specific risks faced by BAME employees. The Public Health England report recommended the accelerated development of “culturally competent” occupational risk assessment tools, to reduce employees’ risk of exposure to the virus, particularly for key workers.
  • Offer support and advice to employees. Have individual discussions with employees with increased risk, as well as discussions with any employee representatives’ groups. Make clear that the organisation appreciates the increased risk for BAME staff, and ask those employees to contribute to return to work arrangements. Ensure that those contributions are recognised and taken seriously – this will encourage engagement.
  • Consider specific briefing sessions for managers dealing with health and safety, well-being and whistleblowing issues to advise them about the particular risks to BAME colleagues.
  • All employees should be encouraged to raise any concerns around their health and safety in relation to returning to work, personal protective equipment (PPE) and social distancing. Organisations with high numbers of BAME staff could consider appointing BAME health and well-being champions.
  • Review company policies and update them as necessary to incorporate the additional requirements and obligations implemented as a result of coronavirus. There will be some common issues that arise under equalities and health and safety requirements when BAME staff are returning to the workplace. Make sure that all staff are aware that the organisation will take a zero-tolerance approach to racism and harassment.

Siobhan Fitzgerald, employment partner, UK law firm TLT

Sign up for the IH long read bulletin

Sign up for the IH long read bulletin
Linked InTwitterFacebookeCard
Add New Comment
You must be logged in to comment.