Pandemic diary 86: Hindsight is 20-20 on safe working conditions (guest post)

Luscious lettuces at the allotment – sadly not from my plot. Do slugs not like little gems?

As the shops reopen this week, some health and safety set-ups will be better than others. We are highly reliant on people following the rules and, ahem, 'staying alert' to the endless signs and instructions if we are to avoid a second wave.

I'm dubious how compliant people will be. Years of in-your-face adverts have trained us to switch off from the endless signage, while the sense of a lower threat level and inability to maintain an ongoing high threat level is making many blasé and forgetful.

Enforcement of the safeguards will be key. That's why I asked a local friend who works in mental health for the NHS if I could publish her response to the death of hundreds of construction workers when the issue was raised on my Facebook. She and I were due to do a walk together but then she got ill pre-lockdown and it was cancelled. This week she took an antibodies test to see if it was coronavirus.

Heeeere's Jenny!

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This emphasis on safe working conditions can't be emphasised enough. 

I have an NHS worker antibody test booked for just over a week's time to I hope confirm that Nick and I and maybe our child C had Covid-19.

In the five days before I got ill, I was asymptomatic and I sat in the quietest corner I could find of our crammed hot desking office (imagine three people sitting in single desk space and you're close to how little back office space there is despite being in a new building). There are shared landline phones – one between four people – and just one multifunctional device. 

There are also only three loos, pretty much in a cupboard, for 70+ women staff, which we have to share with children and families with often multiple and complex health needs. Loo roll typically runs out before 4pm most days 🙁

I went to university on Tuesday 10th of that week to take a clinical exam based around a role play. One of my marker comments was that I could've sat closer to the student actor in my role play assessment even though pre-exam conversation was mostly about Covid. Handryers weren't working in the loos nearest my exam room and there were no handtowels. 

Thankfully I didn't see any families for face-to-face appointments that week because of a university requirement that I shouldn't see any of my caseload until I'd passed my exam.

But I was gearing up to see families the following week in a separate therapeutic space (a summerhouse-style wooden shed) on a school site. I managed to persuade the office infection control lead to give me a packet of wipes and a bottle of hand sanitiser from her limited stash for basic infection control there.

I washed my hands more than I've ever washed them before. I wiped phones, my limited desk space, keyboard, etc, with antiseptic wipes. Meanwhile a couple of colleagues insisted Covid-19 was a conspiracy theory.

On the Thursday I winced as a colleague insisted on hugging me while merrily telling me throughout she didn't feel well.

On the Thursday and Friday we were being told we should still expect to have to go in to the office the following week, even if we weren't seeing families. Another colleague was told to continue a face-to-face session when a family coughed and spluttered repeatedly throughout it because "they were acting out". Two school nurses, postgrad-qualified in public health, told me it was wrong to look to close schools because Cobra hadn't said they should – apparently unaware that, locally, all secondary schools are academies so can do pretty much whatever their academy trust says to do. 

And then from the evening of Sat 14th I was very ill.

The following week (w/c 16th) colleagues were only advised they *could* work from home after a workmate got a union rep to contact a senior manager to query why staff were still being forced to go in. Face-to-face interviews with external candidates were being held in a tiny office.

And, as much as that might read as a dull version of 'Contagion', what I've recounted is all in one part of a highly regulated Trust service that had been gearing up for CQC inspection. Of course we'd all been briefed we'd be asked about infection control 🤷🏻‍♀️.

I can only imagine what it's been like for labourers with no sick pay, etc.

Jenny received her antibodies test results today. It was Covid-19. Antibodies are no guarantee of immunity so she still has to follow the health and safety guidance but she says she still feels relieved.

Thanks

It's been a busy week, full of work and research and thunder and lightning. I'm thankful to my guest poster Jenny for giving me a rest tonight and for her insights. I'm meeting four people tomorrow for an interview – outdoors if the weather allows – so I'll be spritzing on the old disinfectant perfume willy nilly.

Stay safe!


Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


2 thoughts on “Pandemic diary 86: Hindsight is 20-20 on safe working conditions (guest post)”

  1. I am genuinely appalled at the work conditions described in the Jennie‘s post. Is it apathy? Ignorance? Or, if I’m we’re being kinder, an unwillingness to face the uncomfortable reality of what was a pending pandemic.?
    Either way, many thanks to Jennie for her post. Very insightful indeed.

    And good luck with your socially distanced interview! X

  2. It's Jenny!! Hello Jenny! Ahem. Yes, it's really shocking, and nothing seems to have a middle ground – everything I hear is either terrible or, fortunately like my husband's work, very, very good. Nothing "normal". I hate it.

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