Firefighters and ambulance crew

All COVID-19 key worker deaths must be recognised as work-related, union says

  • Firefighters’ Union making demand on International Workers Memorial Day
  • Government must issue urgent guidance to employers in public and private sector, FBU says

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is today (Tuesday) demanding that the government issue guidance to employers stating that the death of firefighters and key workers as a result of COVID-19 should be automatically recognised as work-related, allowing for their families to receive compensation.

In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and devolved administrations, the FBU says that the guidance must cover all of those officially recognised as key workers by their respective governments as well as those who have been required to continue to work by their employer.

The Westminster government announced a life assurance scheme for the families of NHS and care staff, but the FBU says thousands of families of firefighters and other key workers are still at risk of financial harm should they die from the virus.

The FBU says that any compensation scheme should not preclude employees’ families from taking legal action against employers who may have jeopardised the safety of their workers, such as by failing to provide protective equipment.

As well as the over 100 NHS and care staff that have already succumbed to the illness, dozens of transport workers are thought to have died, along with other workers in both public and private sectors.

The FBU says that employers need to be given clear and unambiguous instruction to automatically consider all COVID-19 deaths as having been caused by the performance of their employees’ duties.

The demand comes on International Workers Memorial Day as millions around the country observe a minute’s silence in memory of the front line workers who have died during the crisis.

Firefighters at risk

The FBU says firefighters are at increased risk from COVID-19 infection as a result of their regular interaction with the public during emergencies. However, this risk has increased further with fire and rescue services undertaking a number of additional COVID-19 duties.

Firefighters across the UK are now moving dead bodies, driving ambulances, delivering medicines and food to vulnerable people, and transporting patients to and from Nightingale Hospitals.

Currently, firefighters can receive compensation from their specific scheme for long-term injury, illness, and death, but, to be eligible, a strict criteria must be satisfied to prove it was sustained as a result of their work. In the fire service and other industries this is often a source of disagreement between unions representing workers or their families and the employer.

The FBU says that unless a specific COVID-19 compensations determination is forthcoming from the government, demonstrating that the illness came from their role as a firefighter will prove difficult, causing distress for families and potentially financial harm.

The FBU is now calling for the government to write to all fire and rescue services in the UK and provide guidance stating that those who die from COVID-19 should be automatically assumed to have sustained the illness in the performance of their duties.

There are currently around 48,000 serving firefighters in the UK who are covered by the firefighters’ compensation scheme.

Other key workers

The FBU says that such a compensation determination should also be broadened out to include all key workers who become infected and die from COVID-19.

It should also cover those who have been instructed to continue working by their employer, but who are not in the official list of key workers.

The government must, therefore, issue similar guidance to all employers in the public and private sector stating that in the case of any worker who dies or suffers long-term damage from COVID-19, it must be treated as arising from their duties.

If necessary, the government must underwrite the scheme.

Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary, said:

“Tragically, hundreds of frontline workers have already died from COVID-19, and sadly so will more over the coming days and weeks. Each one of these deaths not only causes heartbreak for loved ones but can also push the families left behind into financial difficulty. The last thing they need is to fight a battle for compensation.

“For firefighters, their regular work with the public puts them at an increased risk of COVID-19 infection, a risk heightened by the additional work they are doing in the response to the crisis, which now includes the movement of bodies, transporting of infected patients and delivering of vital food and medicines.

“There is sadly a real chance that firefighters will die, and that’s why we are calling on the government to urgently instruct all fire and rescue services to treat any death from COVID-19 as being caused by their work, making families automatically eligible for a payment under the firefighters’ compensation scheme.

“This instruction must also be broadened out to include all key workers, both in the public and private sector. Those not deemed key workers, but who have been obliged to continue attending work by their employer, must also be covered. Any compensation arrangements must not prevent families from taking further legal action against employers who have jeopardised the safety of their workers.

“This crisis has demonstrated clearly who the key workers are in our society. And there can be no doubt that nurses, doctors, refuse collectors, bus drivers, firefighters, carers, and many more, have gone over and above to keep all of us safe - and the country running. The government must now promise to do its bit to keep all of their families safe and secure into the future.”

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