Offices seem to be worse hit by Covid-19 outbreaks than other types of workplace. Data shows that in the second half of 2020 there were more than 500 outbreaks or suspected outbreaks in offices, more than in supermarkets, construction sites, warehouses, restaurants and cafes combined. The BBC reported recently that there were 60 suspected Covid-19 office outbreaks in the first two weeks of the third lockdown, more than any other type of workplace. Issues which may contribute are a lack of ventilation, hot desking and insufficient cleaning.
At the time of writing, the message from the government is still for employees to only go to work if they cannot reasonably work from home. However, a TUC survey found that one in five employees are still travelling to work despite the government edict. 40% of respondents to the survey said that they had been pressured by management into going in.
Despite the high attendance at workplaces, the Health and Safety Executive confirmed this month that it has not issued any prohibition notices to employers since March 2020 in relation to unsafe pandemic practice. The Guardian reported that inspectors’ hands were tied because the virus is only classified as a ‘significant’ threat rather than a ‘serious’ one. However, the HSE has refuted allegations that it isn’t taking the pandemic seriously. They confirmed they would prosecute if appropriate but said that they were using persuasion, advice and reprimand to effect change rather than time consuming legal process.
And thank goodness for that. Employers are trying to do their best in unprecedented and testing times. Many have learned that it simply isn’t possible to do certain tasks or jobs at home. Businesses must take care to ensure that appropriate risk assessments are in place for employees who must attend work, with particular importance placed on good ventilation, social distancing and advanced cleaning measures. Try to keep those who must come into work to a minimum – employees should still work from home if they can.
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