Editor, Safety & Health Practitioner

Author Bio ▼

Ian joined Informa (formerly UBM) in 2018 as the Editor of Safety & Health Practitioner. Ian studied journalism at university before spending seven years in online fantasy gaming. Prior to moving to Informa, Ian worked in business to business trade print media, in the automotive sector. He was Online Editor and then moved on to be the Editor of two publications aimed at independent automotive technicians and parts distributors.
September 2, 2020

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return to work

‘Now is not the time for unnecessary trips to the office’

British Safety Council urges Government not to pressurise employers to get workers back into the office. If people can work from home, they should have the choice to work from home: for the sake of people’s health, wellbeing and the economy.

Lawrence Waterman

As part of the government’s on-going campaign to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, businesses are being urged to start reintroducing employees back into the workplace, from the start of this month. The message is that employers should be reassuring staff that it’s safe to return to work by highlighting measures taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The new guidance comes schools in England and Wales begin to fully reopen, relieving thousands of workers from childcare duties.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said some things were “impossible” to do remotely. But Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he cared more about how employees performed than where they were working.

Home working is still a popular choice. Between 27 July and 9 August, 39% of the workforce of businesses still trading was working remotely, according to the Office for National Statistics. As well as reduced contact at work, home working reduces potential exposure to the virus while travelling to and from work. Last month Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, made the case that given the spread of the virus is dependent on contact, working from home remains an important option and there was no need to change the advice.

Lawrence Waterman, Chair of the British Safety Council expressed his concern: “This new campaign should be more about choice – treating workers as responsible adults who should agree with their employers a sensible balance of work in formal workplaces and home. For some, with limited space, distractions like noise and/or a desire for contact with colleagues that balance may be struck differently. But it should not be for Government to tell employers or workers what arrangements they should make.

“Government should concentrate on getting track and trace to operate effectively and ensuring that HSE inspects any workplace that is involved in a COVID hot-spot. Only when the Government does its job of providing PPE to health and care workers, tracing all COVID contacts, making sure workplaces are legally compliant, providing consistent advice to schools, properly funding self-isolation, is it entitled to give advice on the home/workplace balance.

“All this noise and confusion suggests that we need an interim, speedy inquiry to learn the obvious lessons before the risk of a winter second wave.”

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