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Covid safety breaches at University of Oxford put October reopening plans at risk

3 August 2020 | last updated: 11 August 2020

The University of Oxford has been accused of flouting government guidelines on reopening universities. The university has refused to share health and safety risk assessments as staff try to ensure the university is able to reopen safely in October.

UCU wrote to University of Oxford vice-chancellor Louise Richardson last month formally requesting that the university share risk assessments about staff safety after trying to raise the issue on multiple occasions with the university.

The university responded to the request saying "it is not practical or useful to share all risk assessments with Oxford UCU". The university has previously claimed that staff and student health was its top priority.

An agreement between universities and unions on working safely on campus through the pandemic says that universities must consult with trade unions on staff health and safety, and about how the institution will manage risks from Covid-19 when re-opening.

It makes clear that universities must undertake risk assessments and review them 'in consultation with trade union health and safety representatives.' Government guidelines for reopening universities mention the agreement as part of efforts to 'help ensure campuses are as safe as possible and protect the health and wellbeing of staff, students and visitors to campus'.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'It is shocking to see the University of Oxford flouting health and safety guidelines in the middle of this pandemic, whilst claiming the health of staff and students is its highest priority.

'The statutory duties and government guidance regarding risk assessments and consultation over health and safety are clear. The university now needs to work with us to ensure it can safely reopen in October, rather than putting the safety of staff and students at risk.'

UCU has set out five tests that it says must be met for a safe return to working on campus. One of the tests calls on universities to work with unions on health and safety risk assessments. The union also wants to see a reduction in cases, planning for social distancing and protection for the most vulnerable.

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