It has called for risk assessments, staff training and clear guidance on safe working practices, with trade unions involved in local planning to ensure agreement around the safe opening of schools and early learning centres.
This call comes on the back of a UNISON survey of over 5,000 education staff in Scotland which showed that 83 per cent were anxious about returning to work or, if they are at work, increasing the numbers of children returning to education. Thirteen per cent are losing sleep worrying about it. Only three per cent said that returning to work or increasing the amount of children in schools and nurseries is safe.
UNISON is also calling on education members to consider becoming health and safety reps. in their schools to ensure the risks to staff and children from COVID-19 are assessed and managed.You can find further information on the UNISON Scotland website at unison-scotland.org/help-defeat-covid19-by-becoming-a-health-and-safety-rep/
Lorraine Thomson, chair of UNISON’s education issues group said: “UNISON’s survey shows the vast majority of education staff are anxious about plans for more children to return to schools and nurseries.
“A lot more work needs to be done to ensure safe return. The Scottish government and COSLA must work with UNISON to develop guidance, implement new rules and undertake risk assessments. We cannot send more children back to school until we all know it is safe for them and all staff.”
She reminded that education staff can’t avoid close contact with children, especially young children. They change nappies, comfort children, give medicines, support children with disabilities, support children in the dining room and playground and classroom.
“The safety of all is vital and we need to all be properly prepared,” warned Lorraine, calling for trade union involvement to be a reality on the ground.
“Staff have skills, they know their jobs and health and safety expertise. They must be included at the start of any local planning of expansion and reopening. Risk assessments and then action to mitigate risks need to be in place to ensure that children and staff are safe. This is no time for shortcuts.”