Failing the test? HSE says Covid Test Supplier to Premier League, Superdrug and Ministry of Health may have put couriers at serious risk
The Doctor’s Laboratory Limited (TDL), which is contracted to provide Covid-19 testing, has been found to be in breach of health and safety regulations by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). The regulator said containers were not sufficiently washed and couriers weren’t told how to correctly use personal protective equipment (PPE).
TDL has contracts for Covid-19 testing with Superdrug, the Premier League and, most crucially, the Department of Health and Social Care.
The IWGB union has issued a press release pointing journalists towards what it claims are ongoing issues involving TDL that allege it discouraged staff from joining unions and targeted whistleblowers. The company denies the claims.
TDL — through its PR company Salix & Co — has responded with a letter drafted under the supervision of its lawyers, frequent Private Eye stars Mischon de Reya. While addressed to Sky News journalists, the letter was also sent to me, despite me having not mentioned the IWGB press release and, instead, having simply made reference to the HSE report and letter included at the start of this article.
The statement provided in the letter — otherwise marked ‘not for publication’ though I agreed to no such conditions — reads:
“At the height of the pandemic new Covid-related guidance was issued on a daily, and sometimes hourly basis. Despite superhuman efforts by our safety team to implement these at speed, not every detail could be captured in real time. Where points for improvement to our safety systems were highlighted by the Health and Safety Executive, they were fully accepted and implemented immediately.
A former courier has told me that he believes the issues at TDL were nothing to do with the global shortage in PPE. Again, this is denied by the company.
Furthermore, TDL, through its PR reps, says the IWGB union’s claims are inaccurate in the following ways:
IWGB ran a sustained campaign to halt the proposed redundancies of TDL’s foot and pushbike couriers, whose work in inner London postcodes had dropped by 70% due to C-19.
Their argument was these redundancies were based on whistleblowing activities, which TDL has consistently and categorically denied.
Subsequent to the redundancies, the IWGB applied to the Employment Tribunal for interim relief orders on the grounds the redundancies were due to trade union activities. The application failed.
TDL couriers are, and have always been, some of the best paid couriers in the country, all have been offered full employment and if not employed, work to secure contracts with committed hours.
An IWGB representative responded that securing interim relief orders is notoriously difficult and that it does not believe that the failure to do so invalidates its claims or the position taken by ex-TDL couriers.
The HSE suggests TDL put couriers at heightened risk of contamination by failing to inform them on correct cleaning procedures for containers used to carry Covid-19. The company told couriers to clean containers once a week. The HSE said that should have been a daily process.
The HSE also says TDL failed to inform couriers on the proper use of mask and gloves, as well as undertaking insufficient risk assessments. It says that a 1m x 1.5m room where specimens were received was effectively becoming a ‘pinch point’ where couriers were forced to congregate in a manner that was not socially-distanced.
The company is also said to have failed to speak to couriers or their reps when it was developing its risk assessments. It argues that these issues occurred at the height of the pandemic and have subsequently been addressed.
The IWGB raised concerns about TDL’s health and safety procedures in March, and I have seen correspondence dated accordingly. It then alleges that after the communication, workers who had also highlighted problems were made redundant.
The union alleges that was a clear act of whistleblower victimisation, designed to prevent further complaints and/or union organising among TDL workers. TDL again denies these allegations as noted above. A full hearing on the case is currently scheduled for October 2021.
Alex Marshall, chair of the IWGB Couriers and Logistics Branch, is a former TDL cycle courier. He says:
“This report is extremely concerning. It proves that TDL, a private company which stands to make a fortune from the pandemic and is being offered millions of pounds to safeguard public health, can’t even ensure basic health and safety for its own workers. I am relieved that these issues, which TDL sacked me for speaking out about, are finally being brought to light.”
TDL is a provider of tests and courier services to the NHS, including through its Health Services Laboratories partnership with the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. TDL couriers also transported samples from the flagship Nightingale Hospital in London to laboratories.
TDL partners with Superdrug and has a £4 million deal with the Premier League.
The final line of the Mischon de Reya’s legal letter reads:
“We and our client will review your reporting carefully. Their rights against you are expressly reserved.”
I consider that phrasing to be an attempt at discouraging reporters from putting this information in the public domain. I understand other reporters pursuing the case are being held up by the horseplay as their legal teams deal with the manoeuvres by TDL’s PR firm and MdR.