From next week people will be encouraged to go back to their workplaces as part of a government campaign. Its message will be that employers should reassure staff it is safe to return by highlighting measures taken to reduce the spread of Covid-19. This new initiative comes as most schools in England and Wales reopen, relieving thousands of workers from childcare duties and in the face of the damage being done to city centres as people work from home.
Homeworking 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 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.”