OFFICES in England saw 500 coronavirus outbreaks in the second half of 2020.
There have been more cases of Covid-19 in office settings than supermarkets, construction sites and restaurants combined, new data has shown.
Offices have been found to be the most susceptible to Covid outbreaksCredit: Getty Images – Getty
England’s lockdown rules state that Brits “may only leave your home for work if you cannot reasonably work from home.”
However essential workers in critical sectors have been allowed to travel into work.
But data from a BBC investigation shows that the Health and Safety Executive received almost 4,000 Covid-related complaints about workplaces in the last month alone.
And in the first two weeks of the current lockdown more than 60 suspected coronavirus outbreaks were recorded.
Prof Phil Taylor, who specialises in researching office work, says that offices provide the perfect environment for Covid to spread.
He said: “They have high occupational densities with little social distancing and are often sealed, with air con just recirculating pathogens like Covid.
“Hot-desking is commonplace and cleansing is hit and miss. It’s a toxic combination.”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady added: “Everyone has the right to be safe at work.
“But Boris Johnson and his ministers have failed to get a grip on Covid safety in workplaces.”
It comes after more than 500 cases of coronavirus were recorded at Swansea’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).
On Wednesday, the DVLA confirmed the death of a member of its staff with the PCS union stating it was “deeply concerned” by the outbreak.
Now office workers where clusters have occured are worried about their health.
One call centre worker in Bristol who caught the virus and passed it on to his girlfriend believes he got ill at work.
The anonymous employee of outsourcing firm Woven says they are still hot desking and the windows of his building are always shut.
He said: “We’ve had five or six cases in the office and still everybody is being asked to come into work to answer calls.”
A spokesperson for the company said: “We have worked closely with Public Health England since the start of the pandemic to implement extensive safety measures in line with government advice.”
Meanwhile an employee of for Greater Manchester Police says she finds having to come into work everyday “extremely stressful”.
She says people are coming in and out of her “small and stuffy” office throughout the day with some not wearing facemasks.
The worker, whose husband is in the vulnerable category said: “If I bring Covid into my house, there’s a very real chance that my partner wouldn’t survive.”
In a statement, Greater Manchester Police said they have taken a “proactive approach to keep our officers and staff safe in the workplace”.
Offices have been found to be the most susceptible to Covid outbreaks despite the long list of measures that have been implemented.
Some firms have introduced rapid testing of its employees and the frequency of hand-washing and surface cleaning has been increased.
Others have introduced social distancing measures and employees who have been infected must isolate at home for 14-days.
Since last year, some employers have been using screens or barriers to separate people from each other and have been instructed to use back-to-back or side-to-side working – rather than face-to-face – whenever possible.
Many bosses have limited how many people each person works with by setting up fixed teams or partnering.
And some employers have been told to ensure staff avoid raising their voices to each other.
This includes refraining from playing music or broadcasts that may encourage shouting, including if played at a volume that makes normal conversation difficult.
The problem is that shouting can increase the risk of spreading the coronavirus – the disease is passed on through droplets, such as infected breath and spit, which is more likely to fly out of your mouth and nose when you forcefully raise your voice.
A government spokesperson said: “We continue to reinforce the stay at home messaging to businesses and the overwhelming majority are doing the right thing, but we need all employers to act responsibly and take every possible step to help their employees work from home.”