The water isn’t safe - Health & Safety briefing 1st July 2020
The water isn’t safe
You may be aware that in the middle of June 2020 tests on the water within schools gave a positive result for Legionella and Pseudomonas.
What are Legionella and Pseudomonas?
Legionella is a type of bacteria that can be the cause of Legionnaires' disease, a severe form of pneumonia. Pneumonia is inflammation usually caused by infection. Older adults, smokers and people with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible to Legionnaires' disease.
Pseudomonas is a type of bacteria that can cause lung infections. It mainly affects people who already have a lung condition or who have a problem with their immune system. It doesn’t respond to commonly-used antibiotics, which means infections can be hard to treat.
The council have advised that NHS Forth Valley’s Public Health team have reviewed the sampling results and their view is that the risk of anyone becoming unwell is very low.
The risks of becoming unwell from the hazard posed by these diseases, combined with those already associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have led the Council to temporarily close all early learning, childcare centres and primary schools, other than for essential access.
Childcare hubs were relocated to secondary schools, which had at that stage been confirmed as clear from Legionella and Pseudomonas.
The schools that were confirmed as affected are;
- Bantaskin Primary School,
- Camelon Nursery,
- Carrongrange High School,
- Deanburn Primary School,
- Larbert ELCC,
- Maddiston Primary School
- St Patrick’s Primary School,
Results are pending for the remaining sites.
And there is more
The announcement about schools was quickly followed by a similar one reporting that Council Headquarters had also been affected. A test there for Legionella and Pseudomonas was positive and this lead to the subsequent closure of the building
Now it’s the turn of Social Work and offices in the south west including Brockville and Sealock House being the subject of testing. Watling Lodge, which is proposed as a place to allow contact for families is also affected.
Any Council building that has had limited use over the lockdown will have high possibility of having the presence of these bacteria. The warm summer temperatures and the fact that water is not regularly circulating turn the pipework of empty buildings into an ideal breeding ground for these nasty bacteria.
Rather than err on the side of caution, staff and unions are being advised that the council are using advice which was specific to schools for different buildings such as offices.
The council health and safety advice is that it’s ok for staff to enter these buildings provided they don’t go near the water.
UNISON flags up serious concern
We feel that the council position has resulted in staff being given contradictory advice. On one hand staff are expected to stay vigilant, follow national health advice and regularly wash their hands using soap and water.
If adhered to, the advice from the council on avoiding Legionella and Pseudomonas would discourage this regular use of water for hand washing.
UNISON feels that this is an unacceptable gamble between members being put at risk of one disease over another.
UNISON is also concerned, that lockdown maintenance programmes put in place by the Council were clearly insufficient.
This poor situation management has put the health of employees and service user’s at needless risk.
Advice to members
The Council are aware that UNISON has already advised local members on how to stay safe. UNISON will continue to issue advice to members who are facing this situation.
Our advice is as follows;
Should you find yourself in a situation where you are being asked to choose between; putting yourself at risk of an airborne bacterium, or having the proper hygiene facilities to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, the branch advice is as follows.
UNISON advises that members take the following steps;
1. Do not to place yourself at risk.
2. Advise your manager of your concern and request to work from home or a suitable and safe and tested alternative environment.
Whilst the Council have failed to close these buildings they have thus far responded positively to this approach.
Health and Safety Rep Recruitment
The branch knows the uncertainty education workers like you are facing during the pandemic.
We want to ensure we remain in close contact with you and your colleagues so we can deploy support quickly if serious health risks arise. Additionally, UNISON reps will play a key role in declaring workplaces as "Covid Secure"
Across Scotland, the number of union safety representatives has dropped. With this in mind, UNISON branches are keen to develop and support some of our education colleagues as safety contacts.
UNISON has been working hard to develop some online training and webinars for members interested in helping the branch by being a Safety contact. Information on our new short 2 hour online course can be found at https://www.unison-scotland.org/coronavirus-online-short-health-and-safety-courses/
If you are interested in one of these roles, the training or want to find out some more information, please get in touch with the branch or our Local UNISON Organiser Adrian Moore firstname.lastname@example.org