PDA reminds employers of their health & safety responsibilities – COVID update 15

The PDA believe that many employers, and the managers who run their operations, need to be reminded that the crisis does not lessen their legal responsibilities towards the health & safety at work of their employees.

Wed 1st April 2020 syndication

In these unprecedented times, governments and NHS bodies across the UK are publishing updated guidance and regulation on an almost daily basis. The whole health service, including pharmacy, needs to unite to fight the COVID pandemic.  However, the PDA believe that many employers, and the managers who run their operations, need to be reminded that the crisis does not lessen their legal responsibilities towards the health & safety at work of their employees.

The pandemic presents a risk to the physical health of everyone, including pharmacists and particularly those who may be at a higher risk due to an underlying health condition.  The pandemic and the extraordinary measures that have been introduced have also taken everyone far away from “normal life”  which also represents a risk to people’s mental health.

The PDA are therefore reminding employers that they have a strict legal duty to protect the health and safety of their staff at work and this extends beyond simply relying upon a government process.  As in normal times, Employers must undertake a detailed risk assessment of their own using relevant expertise and provide the equipment necessary to mitigate against that risk. 

With the whole system under strain, the safety and welfare of frontline staff needs to be considered more than ever and issues of immediate concern to pharmacists include:

  • The provision of PPE and COVID testing for the pharmacy team
  • Arrangements for patients to comply with social distancing
  • Abuse from patients and customers and the employer response to such behaviour
  • Increasing risk from the sheer volume of workload in pharmacies, including storage of items and inadequate resources

The PDA believes that pharmacists, as highly educated healthcare professionals, are best placed to decide on the available evidence about whether PPE is necessary in their working environment.  We are calling on all pharmacies to be provided with PPE to protect pharmacists. Protecting pharmacists means indirectly protecting pharmacists’ families and patients. The benefits of PPE extends beyond an infection control measure and it helps with staff morale and attendance. We’ve also heard from our pharmacist union colleagues across Europe about the positive benefits the use of PPE has on public perception of community pharmacy as a healthcare environment, rather than considering it as a retailer.

However, while matters such as PPE rightly occupy the professional debate and some changes to ways of working have been implemented, nevertheless other safety concerns remain the responsibility of employers and still need to be addressed. For example, the inadequate storage space available for too large quantities of dispensed items generated by the unprecedented demand on pharmacy services which presents a risk of trip injury to employees.  We don’t want anyone to be injured by a fall and with every pharmacist needed to tackle the crisis, the profession simply cannot afford people being absent due to avoidable accidents.

The unacceptable behaviour by some patients/retail customers is the topic of a long running campaign by the PDA to end violence in pharmacies and this crisis has seen an increase in violence and unacceptable behaviour towards pharmacy staff.  Our campaign calls for “A zero tolerance policy for violence towards staff working in a pharmacy, including verbal, sectarian or racist abuse directed towards pharmacists and pharmacy staff” and the PDA is calling on all pharmacies to implement that policy and let patients know that is their position.   

These examples show a small selection of the issues being faced by pharmacists alongside the Coronovirus threat. Negligence towards the health and safety of employees by any employer, whether condoned at corporate level or through the actions of a local manager not only risk the physical and/or mental wellbeing of pharmacists, they also place the organisation at risk of legal action.  The PDA recommend all employers remind their management  teams of their health & safety obligations towards pharmacists and their staff.

The Pharmacists' Defence Association is a company limited by guarantee. Registered in England; Company No 4746656.

The Pharmacists' Defence Association is an appointed representative in respect of insurance mediation activities only of
The Pharmacy Insurance Agency Limited which is registered in England and Wales under company number 2591975
and is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (Register No 307063)

The PDA Union is recognised by the Certification Officer as an independent trade union.

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