'Workers' safety must always come first'

As Storm Eunice batters UK, UniteLive highlights what you and your employer should do to stay safe

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Millions of people were told to stay home on Friday (February 18) as Storm Eunice battered large swathes of the UK, with record-breaking 122mph gusts recorded on the Isle of Wight this morning.

Storm Eunice is set to be the worst storm the UK has seen in decades, as a rare ‘red’ weather warning – the highest alert – was widened to include Greater London, Kent, Surrey, Essex and east Sussex this morning, joining Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, and the south coast of Wales in being covered by the red alert through the afternoon. Amber weather warnings are in place for most of England until at least 9pm.

Transport has been heavily disrupted, with all trains in Wales having been cancelled, and train services operated by Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry and Great Western greatly reduced. All transport authorities have advised against all non-essential travel on Friday, and several major roads have been closed in response to the storm.

Two lorries were blown over on the M4 this morning in Wales, where gusts reached nearly 90mph, highlighting the dangers of working outdoors as Storm Eunice wreaks havoc.

Conciliation and arbitration service Acas issued advice for employers and workers affected by Storm Eunice, with the service noting that employees should inform their employer as soon as they are able if they cannot get into work safely because of the storm.

Acas also highlighted that employers should agree flexible working arrangements with their staff, such as working from home or arriving and leaving later.

From a legal standpoint, there is no automatic right to be paid if work is missed due to bad weather, unless it is stipulated in your contract or covered by a trade union agreement. On the other hand, if you’re ready and available to work but your workplace is closed because of weather disruptions then you are entitled to be paid.

Working parents should also note that if their child’s school is closed because of bad weather, then they are entitled to take unpaid emergency leave to care for their dependents.

The Health and Safety Executive has highlighted that workers in particular sectors, including agriculture, transport, electrical, construction and any job which involves working at height, are at increased risk in severe weather.

Employers must carry out a health and safety risk assessment to ensure a plan is in place to protect workers and the public on any work carried out before, during and after a storm. The HSE advises that all working at height should be avoided in winds over 23mph. Extreme care should be taken with wind damaged or fallen trees, and all work should be stopped if there is any risk of falling objects or collapse of temporary structures.

Unite national health and safety advisor Rob Miguel highlighted that above all, workers’ safety must always come first.

“Severe weather like we’re seeing now from Storm Eunice must be taken very seriously –the Met Office has warned that ‘danger to life’ is likely. Those who work outside or are commuting to work are at particular risk.

“At this time we remind all workers that they have a clear right to withdraw their labour without sanction if they feel they are in serious and imminent danger at work – this is governed by Section 44 of the Employment Act 1996 and it covers all workers. If workers feel at risk, we advise them to first speak to their employer and trade union rep about their concerns.”

By Hajera Blagg

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