Workers cannot be expected to “blindly obey” the government’s encouragement to return to their offices according to the British Safety Council, despite the prime minister saying that the advice on working from home will change on 1 August.
The statement comes as CIPD research suggests many workers are anxious about returning to their normal place of work, with a YouGov survey of 1,080 employees finding that 26% people who’ve been attending their workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic say their employer is putting pressure on them to do so.
Downing Street says the government will publish new guidance in the hope that more workers will physical return to their desks and give town and city centres an economic boost. The prime minister has not said people must return to work and the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance added that there was “absolutely no reason” to change the current policy on working from home.
Responding to the prime minister’s comments Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of the British Safety Council, said: “The government has again got things in the wrong order, telling people to do something before explaining why and giving them the information to make up their own minds. Social distancing rules still make it difficult for offices to reopen and the public are right to be cautious. Expecting employers to force people back to their offices simply will not work.”
The British Safety Council has been working with members in retail, manufacturing, healthcare and hospitality throughout the coronavirus outbreak. They recently developed a new covid assurance assessment to help employers ensure that workplaces have mitigations to reduce the risk of covid spreading.
Robinson continued: “We know from our members that there are a whole range of factors affecting occupancy rates in offices. Workplaces need to be Covid-19 secure, meaning that employers need to assess their risks and have the necessary physical distancing and hygiene arrangements in place. Inevitably this will limit the number of workers they can accommodate at any one time. As the prime minister acknowledged at the press conference, many employees will choose to continue to work from home as it carries a lower risk and safeguards their wellbeing.
“The government is rightly anxious to see the economy begin to recover after the lockdown, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon the precautionary principle. We all want economic recovery, it’s in all of our interests. But the biggest threat to the economy would be a return of the virus, repeated lockdowns and a prolonged period of uncertainty. Workers and employers are right to take their time.”