Colindale office UNISON H&S Inspection
Barnet Group to move staff and operations from Barnet House to new office site in Colindale. Move to commence June 2019.
UNISON representatives from the Barnet Group undertook a Health and Safety Inspection of the new site 12/4/19.
Housing Options Reception
Current arrangements – Barnet House
Client’s visiting Housing Options are initially held on the ground floor.
This means they can be searched away from Housing Options staff, and for security to confirm who has an appointment.
If there is an incident on the 2nd floor, clients can be held downstairs.
There is also space for client’s to wait and call Housing Options if they don’t have an appointment (as Housing Options is appointment only), although in some cases clients use phones on the second floor to contact benefit advisers etc.
UNISON notes that part of current security arrangements mean that when clients initially arrive at the building they can only gain access to the 2nd floor prior to being searched, and that the one member of reception staff on the ground floor is behind protective glass.
Current statistics on Barnet House anti-social, verbal and physical abuse incidents are too low – UNISON is concerned that there is a culture where abuse of staff is tolerated and incidents not recorded.
Proposed arrangements – Colindale
The proposed new reception has entrances straight from the street with clients queuing up and being searched in the reception area.
UNISON has been informed that there will be no barriers by the entrance, however there will be a reception desk with one or two security guards [to be confirmed], and a side room for more extensive searches.
Total security presence on the ground floor Housing Options Reception area has, as yet to be identified.
- As there is no protective barrier between clients and staff, clients could throw objects or liquids at staff without/before being searched.
- A violent client can push past security and gain access to staff without being searched.
- Customers in winter will not want to queue outside meaning they will be in the reception and potentially have access to staff without being searched.
- If there is an incident that requires security staff to deal with a violent client, there is no provision to stop other clients from entering the building.
- No way of stopping the flow of people to the entrance from outside the building whilst an incident is being managed.
- Housing Options regularly have violent clients who need to be removed from the building, there will be a safety issue in removing a disruptive client if other clients are queuing at the entrance.
- Housing Options clients include a high proportion of very vulnerable people, including children, who can be waiting the majority of the day for temporary accommodation – this will be unmanageable in the small space provided.
- Housing Options staff deal with many victims of domestic violence who may be fleeing violent and abusive partners. At the moment the proposed seating arrangements for people waiting for temporary accommodation mean that clients would be visible from the street through the large glass walls. This could potentially put both the victim of abuse and staff and other clients in danger if the perpetrator of the abuse sees them and would be traumatic for the vulnerable client.
- If a client doesn’t have an appointment there appears to be no place where they can call Housing Options to be triaged and assessed prior to seeing a member of staff. This needs to be resolved.
- General issues of safety in such a small space given that on a busy day Housing Options staff can have up to five or six families waiting to be seen by staff at any time, as well as families waiting for temporary accommodation.
- There does not seem to be any thought been given to the ‘maximum’ number of people that can be in the Housing Options Reception area at any one time.
- The Housing Options reception will be shared with Officers from Rental Income, Neighbourhood Housing, Antisocial Behaviour Officers and Leasehold Officers as the only secure interview space for staff to meet with customers. This will lead to severe delays in clients being interviewed. Staff may be tempted or feel pressurised into interviewing clients elsewhere in an unsafe environment due to lack of resources.
- Barnet Group Health and Safety Officers have not been given the opportunity to complete a joint inspection with UNISON.
- As there will be very limited space/privacy, clients visiting the interview area may be put in the position of having to disclose personal information and details which could be overheard by other members of the public, breaching Data Protection guidelines.
- There seems to be a lack of toilet facilities for clients in the Reception area and none in the waiting area.
- Fire safety – Number of Fire Points. No fire safety documentation has been provided, as yet, in regard to the number of fire call points in each area.
- Disabled access – Unison request more details on this, particularly emergency procedures and evacuation protocols.
- UNISON is in ongoing dialogue with the Council and facilities in regard to evacuation protocol and PEEPs [see attached Appendix]
General Building Health and Safety Concerns
- No details available/provided of the building Temperature Control system.
- Toilets – at least one single gender toilet should be provided – Cubicles seem quite small for those who may need to wash upper bodies before prayer also wash hand basins are very small. Disabled toilets (public) Access? Mobility WCs should have grab aids on both sides of pan – not all users transfer from same side.
- Security arrangements for main building – can this be confirmed and Risk Assessments shared.
- Currently no provision where other Barnet Homes staff [not Housing Options] will be able to interview visitors. Lease Hold Services currently have visitors who drop off Right to Buy applications and attend RTB interviews and financial interviews. Rental Income Team, Neighbourhood Housing and Antisocial Behaviour Officers will need access to secure interview areas. Operations guidelines for these services need to be identified and fully Risk Assessed before the service is implemented.
- Main reception – the entrance doors partially obscured by stairs to 1st floor and a pillar, what security provision has been made to cover the ‘blind spot’?
- Roof garden – railings on the roof are low and easily accessible.
- Originally staff were advised that teams would have designated areas of work and on plans these were shaded in. UNISON has now been informed that all areas are hot desks. Does this mean that those who work from 10am will never get a desk?
- Cycle parking seems to be very limited – not under cover and just the metal hoop types – as the Barnet Group and the Council is encouraging staff to cycle to work more will need to be provided.
- Car parking Areas are located some distance from the main building – staff safety in walking to these areas needs to be Risk Assessed and shared.
- Car parks – need to be inspected for adequate lighting – it is unclear if any other safety measures will be put in place [such as CCTV] before the building becomes operational.
As there is no filter system for members of the public on entering the reception area clients will have to disclose personal details to security/reception and be overheard by other members of the public. The Barnet Group may be in held in breach of General Data Protection Regulations should a member of the public/client make a complaint.
Safeguarding of vulnerable clients visiting the Housing Options reception area is a priority – if victims of domestic abuse don’t feel safe to access council services and be seen by an Officer without the possibility of the perpetrator of the abuse seeing them then they won’t do it.
There is an overriding detrimental concern for Barnet Group staff Health and Safety putting the Barnet Group in legal jeopardy.
In addition, the Health and Safety of the Public could be put at risk leaving the Barnet Group open to litigation.
Staff in Housing Options have made it clear to UNISON that the proposed reception area is fundamentally unsafe.
As previously identified the recording/reporting of incidents at the Barnet House Reception is poor – This cannot continue at the new site.
UNISON is given to understand that many of these issues have been raised by staff and line-managers across the whole of Housing Options, but as yet the concerns have not been addressed.
If frontline staff are essentially expected to work in a dangerous environment UNISON will be left with no alternative other than to act on members concerns, inevitably leading to a breakdown in Industrial Relations, if the identified risks are not addressed before Housing Options reception becomes operational.
- Meaningful dialogue between UNISON, management and staff in regard to Housing Options reception to resolve the issues identified and the suitability of the Colindale site.
- Security provision to be identified and established, (including lines of reporting and training) and fully Risk Assessed before the building becomes operational.
- Public access procedures identified and fully Risk Assessed.
- Anti-social behaviour policy in regard to prospective clients to be produced and a zero tolerance of abuse towards staff to be implemented.
- Risk Assessments for the reception and interview areas, including those for violent and abusive members of the public to be completed.
- A further joint UNISON Health and Safety inspection in conjunction with Barnet Group Health and Safety Officers to be arranged to assess risks to staff and the public before the building becomes operational.
- UNISON to work in conjunction with Barnet Group Health and Safety Officers to encourage staff and managers to record/report any incidents of physical and verbal abuse. UNISON and Barnet Group H&S to co-operate, investigate cases of concern and produce joint recommendations.
- Safeguarding of vulnerable clients to be acknowledged and addressed contacting the Safeguarding team at the Council about the risk to vulnerable adults, children and the victims of domestic abuse visiting the Colindale site would be recommended.
- General Data Protection Regulation issues to be acknowledged and measures put in place to minimise risk.
- UNISON suggests that Housing Options clients use the main council reception when they first arrive, enabling clients to be filtered to the Housing Options reception once it has been confirmed that they are due to be seen by an Officer. This would significantly reduce the flow of people through the main Housing Options front entrance, It would also have the bonus of freeing up space as clients could wait in the main reception for temporary accommodation and the officers from the TA team (soon to be Housing Solutions team) come straight down in the lift to the main reception area . This would be a better solution for clients as there is a Costa Coffee in the foyer for their use while waiting to be seen.
Given the unpredictable nature of Housing Options operations as the tragic incident on the 2nd floor last year demonstrated – UNISON recommends that the concerns of staff, managers and Trade Unions should be fully addressed and the suitability of the proposed Colindale site fully assessed before the Housing Options Reception Area becomes operational.