The Keele UCU Committee submitted the questions below to Keele University’s Director of Human Resources and Trade Union Oversight Committee, 16th July 2020.
We have now receive a reply with the following answers (received 13th August 2020)
If you have any comments on these responses, or if you have further questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- There is widespread recognition that for most staff, students are the most significant hazard. What is being done to ensure that this hazard, not just the physical environment, is controlled and staff are protected from what students may bring into a classroom and other shared space?
- Notes that infection rates amongst 20-29 year olds are increasing at the fastest rate
- Notes that significant number of 20-29 year olds are asymptomatic, significant number have mild symptoms that may present as a cold or allergies
- Notes that students are expecting a return to social life on and off campus, and that effective physical distancing should not be assumed (evidence emerging on impact of this amongst 20-29 year old age bracket)
- Notes that risk of serious disease increases at a significant rate starting at age 40, and that most staff on campus are above the age of 40.
The Covid secure group is overseeing the risk assessment processes across campus, making provision for 2m social distancing in most cases, or by exception 1m+ with additional measures to mitigate the risk of infection. Staff will be able to wear face coverings and/or a visor. The University will provide visors to all staff who wish to have this additional form of protection.
Students will be asked to wear face coverings in and around buildings and in learning environments where 2m social distancing is not possible.
A comprehensive communications campaign will commence at the end of August which will remind students (and staff) of the importance of good hygiene, maintaining a physical distance from others, wearing a face covering and being considerate to others.Keele University Senior Management
- What will the messaging be for students to remind them that ‘just a cold’ might not be just a cold? Students don’t have the best track record of not going to class when ill, and many of us can tell stories about students coming into our offices to tell us they have the flu and won’t be in their tutorial.
It will be the responsibility of all campus users, staff and students to ensure that if they display any symptoms of covid-19, or are contacted by track and trace, that they self-isolate, get a test and follow the guidance. We will use national campaign material to make clear the importance of organising a test if an individual has symptoms.Keele University Senior Management
- What are the arrangements for on-campus isolation of students with symptoms/exposure/positive test results?
As was previously the case before lockdown, campus accommodation is arranged to enable the self-isolation of students who live in campus accommodation where required. We will follow PHE instruction on managing any student isolations and will make appropriate arrangements to ensure food and other provisions are supplied to the individual in a safe way.Keele University Senior Management
- How will students access testing? Esp. for students without cars. Postal test means breaking self-isolation to collect, so what will process be?
The University is developing an approach to the management of post services to minimise contamination risk; these will be subject to a full risk-assessment process. A process for supporting students to access testing facilities is also in development.Keele University Senior Management
- What will the testing regime be following confirmed cases on campus/of students, staff or visitors to campus?
This will be determined by Public Health England and will be dependent on the number and nature of any cases on campus. We are in regular discussion with the Director of Public Health at Staffordshire County Council and have established links with the local response team, consisting of PHE and Staff CC colleagues. We have agreed to plan our joint responses via the development of several scenarios and how both parties would work together to respond in those. If required, the University will adopt all and any measures necessary to prevent or manage an outbreak, this may include a pop-up testing centre, isolation of students in residence for a period of time and/or a reduction in on-campus activities for a period of time. Action taken will be highly dependent on the specific circumstances of any case on campus.Keele University Senior Management
- Who will be responsible for the care and welfare of any students who experience significant (debilitating) illness within student accommodation? (medicine, food, home based medical care, welfare checks, etc).
As was the case pre-lockdown and during lockdown, Student Support will manage the support of any students who are unwell in student accommodation, as it manages any student welfare case. We have in place well-established services to support students in self-isolation.Keele University Senior Management
- What are plans for contact tracing/test, trace, isolate? Are we depending on government provision, or are we developing something more effective?
- How will this take place?
- Who will run it?
- How to factor in student accommodation/social spaces? Public transportation? (45 minutes by bus from station to campus)
Should a case on campus be confirmed, the University will work with PHE to manage the case, including the track and trace process. The University will have a number of data sources that it can provide to PHE, where appropriate, to support track and trace, this would include classroom participants for in-situ teaching, fellow housemates for campus residences etc. We are in regular discussion with the Public Health team at Staffordshire County Council and are working with them to establish a number of scenarios and how both parties would work together to respond in those scenarios. If required, the University will adopt all and any measures necessary to prevent or manage an outbreak, this may include pop-up testing centre, isolation of students in residence for a period of time and/or a reduction in on-campus activities for a period of time. Action taken will be highly dependent on the specific circumstances of any case on campus.Keele University Senior Management
- Given it is likely that airborne, aerosol transmission is a primary source of infection (and that there is no documentation of infection through fomite transmission), the university must do more than tell us to wash our hands and provide hand sanitiser. Are the measures they’re putting in place demonstrating that they understand the scientific evidence informing changing knowledge of what the risks are? If not, can they speak with staff members who can help them with this?
We would strongly advise any member of staff and members of UCU not to make statements regarding their understanding or belief on how infection is spread unless they are qualified to do so and in a position where their role requires them to provide such guidance to the University or others. Responding to such views via enforcement of policy, practice or guidance, contrary to that provided by PHE, could place an individual or organisation at risk of legal challenge.
The University is following government and PHE advice on how to safely manage the risk of infection. This advice is informed by SAGE (The Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies), the membership of which is constituted from leading members of the academic community in universities and other public bodies.
All buildings will be risk-assessed to be covid-secure and will take all measures that are practical to make the campus safe.
All guidance is provided on the basis that it informs and supports the statutory responsibilities of the University under the Health & Safety at Work Act.Keele University Senior Management
- What is being done to ensure sufficient levels of fresh air ventilation in all rooms where teaching, face-to-face contact, corridors, and gatherings of more than 1 take place? Given the amount of evidence confirming high risk with indoor activity in closed space, this is vital even with 2m distancing being in place
- (please refer to guidance produced by US NiH, US CDC, University of Minnesota Center for Infection Disease Research and Policy on rates of sufficient ventilation; see, for a start, Kumar and Morawska, City and Environment Interactions, 2019; Li, et al, ‘Evidence for probable aerosol transmission of SARS-Co-V-2 in a poorly ventilated restaurant’, 2020. For lay science, there are some very good recent articles in The Conversation on fluid dynamics.)
The University has reviewed its ventilation systems in every building on campus and is maximising the amount of external airflow wherever possible. The evidence on fresh air ventilation is somewhat mixed, but we are currently following HSE and industry guidelines. The University is committed to keep reviewing the latest guidance with regard to ventilation and will respond accordingly.
We would strongly advise any member of staff and members of UCU not to draw on single pieces of evidence to support an understanding or belief on how infection is spread unless they are qualified to do so and in a position where their role requires them to provide such guidance to the University or others. Responding to such informed views via enforcement of policy, practice or guidance, contrary to that provided by PHE, could place an individual or organisation at risk of legal challenge.Keele University Senior Management
- How will rooms be cleaned after use?
Rooms will be cleaned regularly; a new cleaning regime has been put in place in light of Covid. Pool and multi-user rooms will also be furnished with cleaning materials and supplies so that users can sanitise their own workspace, in addition to the revised cleaning regime.Keele University Senior Management
- How much time will rooms be empty (airing) after one session before another session can enter?
Rooms will be cleaned regularly; a new cleaning regime has been put in place in light of Covid. Pool and multi-user rooms will also be furnished with cleaning materials and supplies so that users can sanitise their own workspace, in addition to the revised cleaning regime. The ‘airing’ of rooms is not a required practice with regard to managing infection in the current government guidance.Keele University Senior Management
- What kind of signage will be placed on doors indicating that rooms are not to be entered (e.g. Room being aired – do not enter). Please reference risk assessments that note rooms must remain vacant for set periods after use.
The ‘airing’ of rooms is not a required practice with regard to managing infection in the current government guidance.
There are a suite of signs available for building users to denote spaces not available for use.Keele University Senior Management
- What are the mechanisms for reporting at-work contracting of Covid-19 to HSE? How often will this take place?
If the track and trace procedures identify that cases originated on the Keele campus, then the University would report this under RIDDOR processes as we would any other occupational health issue.Keele University Senior Management
- How is travel to campus via public transport being risk assessed for staff return to on-campus work?
This is included in the self risk-assessment process.Keele University Senior Management
- How will first aiders respond? How will they be protected?
We recognise that maintaining social distancing is not possible when administering first aid. Therefore, we plan to provide first aiders with a pack of appropriate supplies to manage a first aid case. These will include appropriate PPE, such as masks, hand sanitiser etc. First aiders will be contacted about these processes in due course.Keele University Senior Management
- Will Keele be providing all required PPE for staff and students, including disposable face masks?
Where Risk Assessments identify that PPE is required, these will be provided in the same way that we already provide lab coats, goggles etc for specialist teaching environments. Face coverings are not PPE, but will be encouraged in public spaces. Staff who choose to do so, may request a visor for use when at work, which will be provided.Keele University Senior Management
- What is Keele doing to ensure that people do not have to choose between their jobs and the safety of their family? Please ask management to remember that Keele is full of very intelligent people who are able to read the evidence, so they would benefit from not assuming otherwise in their answers to any questions.
The University is making the campus Covid-secure in line with government advice. Staff guidance is available for members who are living with individuals who are deemed to be a higher risk.Keele University Senior Management
- Who is doing the risk assessments? Who is saying what needs to be done in order to be safe? If not a scientific or medical specialist, how are they qualified to do this for a highly contagious virus that can severely affect anyone, regardless of whether or not they have a health condition?
Risk assessments are being conducted by a building user group, mainly consisting of designated building users who understand the activities taking place within a building and also include Estates and Health and Safety representatives. The approach follows established government guidelines.
All risk assessments are being shared with the Trade Union health and safety representatives for their comments in advance of the activity taking place, providing an opportunity for the Trade Union to raise any concerns they may have with the content of the risk assessment.Keele University Senior Management
- Are risk assessments for teaching buildings/spaces considering capacity limits for rooms, for corridors, social spaces, toilets, kitchens, photocopy rooms, and transit routes? This must include assessment of accessible routes for disabled users.
YesKeele University Senior Management
- Are risk assessments and determining what is safe informing re-opening plans, or are re-opening plans determining what risk assessments say? I would not be surprised if it was the latter.
The formerKeele University Senior Management
- Multi-use buildings must have processes and physical barriers that clearly separate social/catering from academic use. Movement around buildings must accommodate for this separation. How is this going to happen in buildings like Chancellor’s, David Weatherall, KMS, and the Library, for example?
The risk assessment will inform how movement around buildings is organised and any required separation of activity.Keele University Senior Management
- In terms of ongoing identification of hazards, what are the routes for immediate action on problems/imminent harm?
You should notify the Head of Health and Safety of any health and safety concerns.Keele University Senior Management
- Who is responsible for writing safe systems of work (likely to be multiple per activity/space)? When will these be completed?
Standard Operating Procedures for each building will be developed by building user groups. They will be approved and issued prior to any activity taking place in the building.Keele University Senior Management
- Who is responsible for implementing controls and mitigations? Who is responsible for monitoring and ensuring compliance? For large buildings where there certainly have to be multiple points of control, how are they ensuring that all points are coordinated and working together consistently and regularly?
Building user groupsKeele University Senior Management
- Are all of the people doing risk assessments experienced enough in the spread of viral pathogens? If not, what ‘competent person’ is assisting them? I know many of my colleagues have been working on risk assessments, but I also know they are experienced and have no doubt of their competence. Is this the same for all parts of the university?
Building user groups conduct risk assessments drawing on the expertise of colleagues in Health and Safety and Estates. The process is following government guidelines and advice from PHE.Keele University Senior Management
- Who is responsible for appropriate training of staff and students (please note: this must be an appropriate training activity that is properly designed and taught by trained individuals. It must be mandatory, CANNOT be online – too easy to cheat the system. We all know this because we all do it).
There will be an online programme for all staff, as well as re-induction programmes for all returning to campus staff.
A comprehensive communications and awareness campaign will also be in operation across campus to keep staff and students informed.Keele University Senior Management
- Who is responsible for producing clear instructions documentation for staff?
A communications campaign is being led by the Strategic Communication and Brand Marketing team.Keele University Senior Management
- What I the escalation route for staff if there are concerns in their area?
Any Health and Safety concerns should be raised with the Head of Health and Safety. All other concerns should be raised through the normal line management structure.Keele University Senior Management
- What is the health surveillance system/processes at Keele, and how are these linked to local systems/processes? (local here: not just Newcastle/Stoke, but local area to include commutable areas (Crewe, Derby, Manchester, Stafford, Shrewsbury, Birmingham, etc.)).
PHE are responsible for health surveillance, Keele will support their activity as required. Individuals are expected to follow the government guidelines, which includes getting a test if they are displaying symptoms.Keele University Senior Management
- In terms of competency requirement in risk assessments – who has virology and epidemiology competency in the risk assessment team? If no one, what competent individual/s are being consulted throughout the risk assessment process? (please say they’re not working only off of general guidance. That’s not how you keep staff and students safe).
The University is following government and PHE advice on how to safely manage the risk of infection. This advice is informed by SAGE, the membership of which is constituted from the best of UK Higher Education, and, we are pleased to note, includes a Keele academic.
We welcome any further insight that Keele academics would like to make with regard to minimising infection risk; however, we must comply with government and PHE requirements as a primary principle.Keele University Senior Management
- Who do I sue when I get Covid from work because I’ve been forced into an unsafe work environment when I could have done that work remotely? (Anyone who has been following the evidence lately can see that sitting in an indoor teaching space where people are talking for an hour is going to be unsafe, regardless of how many times we wash our hands.)
Normal procedures would apply. The University intends to comply with its duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act.Keele University Senior Management
So, do you feel more informed and safer? Let us know at email@example.com
Keele UCU Committee