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
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.
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.
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.
Employers may also wish want to consider the following:
Siobhan Fitzgerald, employment partner, UK law firm TLT
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