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COVID Vaccine – Have Frontline Cleaning and Security Staff Been Missed?

COVID Vaccine – Have Frontline Cleaning and Security Staff Been Missed?
17 December 2020

The FM industry is urging the government to prioritise cleaning and security staff in the COVID vaccine rollout.

In the current programme, drawn up by The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), health and social care workers are prioritised, but outsourced hospital workers, or support staff such as cleaners or security guards are not specifically mentioned.

Paul Thrupp, Chair of the British Cleaning Council, commented on the news: “Once again, as in March, the UK Government fails to recognise the important roles the people in our industry play in improving the standards of cleaning and hygiene in the UK. 

"Cleaning and hygiene is more important than ever in defeating this virus and preventing contamination, and our people put themselves right at the forefront of the battle to combat this pandemic. 

"I am calling on the government to recognise our sector and ensure that all cleaning and hygiene staff are classed as key or essential workers and prioritise them on the vaccination programme.”


"I am calling on the government to recognise our sector and ensure that all cleaning and hygiene staff are classed as key or essential workers and prioritise them on the vaccination programme.”

– Paul Thrupp

Chair, BCC


Disparity Between Outsourced and Employed Frontline Staff 


Disparity between the treatment of public sector employees who are directly employed, rather than through an outsourced company is by no means new. Differences in pay, benefits and conditions are common. 

As an example, currently, NHS Trusts can come to market for healthcare support services without mandating that Agenda for Change rates of pay are used in tenders. This means that there is a disparity in pay, or the difference is made up by the outsourcing company, as with Medirest

Additionally, according to the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), cleaners working on the London Underground do not receive the same pension provision as their Transport for London (TfL) counterparts and they are not entitled to free travel on the network they clean. The cleaning contract is outsourced to FM company ABM UK.


COVID Priority List


As it stands, it appears that outsourced frontline workers may only be eligible for a priority vaccine if they come under one of the following groups:


  1. Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
  2. All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers
  3. All those 75 years of age and over
  4. All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals
  5. All those 65 years of age and over
  6. All individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality
  7. All those 60 years of age and over
  8. All those 55 years of age and over
  9. All those 50 years of age and over


The JCVI advises that the first priorities for any COVID-19 vaccination programme should be the prevention of COVID-19 mortality and the protection of health and social care staff and systems. Secondary priorities could include vaccination of those at increased risk of hospitalisation and at increased risk of exposure, and to “maintain resilience in essential public services”.


FM Industry Urges Government to Prioritise Cleaning and Security Staff for COVID Vaccine


Simon Venn, Chief Government & Strategy Officer, at Mitie, who has several major NHS trust contracts said:

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been proud to see the nation recognise the vital role our frontline heroes play in keeping the UK running. Although they are not providing clinical care, colleagues such as hospital porters, cleaners and security officers or those working to support COVID test centres are as much a part of the government’s efforts to protect the UK as their public sector colleagues.

“We urge the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to recognise the critical role of these individuals by adding them to the healthcare priority group for receiving Covid vaccines, protecting their health and therefore ensuring they can continue their important work at this challenging time.”


Simon Venn

Picture: a photograph of Simon Venn


Male Frontline Workers Most at Risk


It was found via Office for National Statistics data earlier in 2020 that there was a high COVID death rate in the security sector.

Nearly two-thirds of COVID deaths up until 20 April 2020 were among men (1,612 deaths), with the rate of death involving COVID-19 being statistically higher in males, with 9.9 deaths per 100,000 compared with 5.2 deaths per 100,000 females (882 deaths).

Compared with the rate among people of the same sex and age in England and Wales, men working in what the report defines as “lowest skilled occupations” had the highest rate of death involving COVID-19, with 21.4 deaths per 100,000 males (225 deaths).

Men working as security guards had one of the highest rates, with 45.7 deaths per 100,000 (63 deaths).

Helmey El-Aasar, Sales Director at SmartSec Solutions, a security service provider, feels that it’s important that these statistics are considered when rolling out the vaccination:

“While COVID-19 is a bigger risk to those over a certain age, you can’t ignore that many occupations and industries, such as security, remain at considerable risk too. We have seen the role that technology has played in helping us adjust to the pandemic, not least the track and trace app. 

“The government should also consider an online portal which acts as a facility for employers to submit details of their key workers who can be prioritised based on the environments they work in. For example, where you have key workers in hospitals, care homes, universities or schools where the risk is substantially higher, then these individuals should be considered a priority for the vaccine, much like those they are supporting on a daily basis such as doctors, care home employees, and nurses.”


A "Wake Up Call" for the Industry


"FM is a silent industry and not at the forefront of minds, yet on at the frontline of the pandemic."

– Mark Hazelwood

Co-Founder, Clenetix


Mark Hazelwood, Co-Founder of Clenetix, a cleaning management software company, commented that this news is a “wake up call” for the industry to fight for its voice and protect its workforce.

He added: “It is extremely short-sighted that frontline FM workers like cleaners and security staff are not included in the priority rollout of the COVID vaccine, particularly as any facility administering the vaccine will be meticulously serviced by these very personnel. Facilities staff including M&E, security officers, porters, cleaners will all be required to make a facility safe for the vaccine to be administered in the first place. 

Secondly, healthcare workers that will be administering the vaccine will be using key infrastructure to get into and out of their workplaces which are also serviced by FM staff, keeping people safe and protected on their journey.

To have critical FM workers providing the foundations for the vaccine to be administered by healthcare workers who hold priority vaccine status themselves is ludicrous. Once again FM and the plethora of workers that have kept the country functioning throughout the pandemic remain hidden in the shadows with little consideration. 

FM is a silent industry and not at the forefront of minds, yet on at the frontline of the pandemic. Cleaning has been under the spotlight and become more in demand as a result of COVID, but yet still there’s little thought for our cleaners who are out there day and night servicing our communities, schools, hospitals, shops, restaurant and transport so we can all be protected from the silent threat of COVID-19. 

Picture: A photograph of two syringes and some vials labelled "COVID-19"

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 17 December 2020


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