For the past week, Andrew has been back working at a joinery firm in Manchester, but he’s one of thousands of British workers worried about exposure to the coronavirus at work.
“I wasn’t happy to go back as I feel it’s way too soon,” he said.
“But I felt like I should to keep the company going. I don’t want to be unemployed in what I suspect will be a phenomenal global recession,” he said.
Masks are now mandatory for all employees at the factory where he works, while face shields and gloves must be used when 2m social distancing isn’t possible.
“Anyone who doesn’t adhere to the new rules will face disciplinary proceedings,” he said.
His employer has also staggered break times and doubled the number of cleaning shifts. But Andrew, who doesn’t want to give his full name, is still worried.
“It’s not a big company, so my confidence in the implementation of the safety measures is low, to say the least,” he said.
Over the past two months, nearly 5,000 people have contacted the health and safety regulator with workplace safety concerns related to Covid-19.
The Health and Safety Executive said in 321 cases, safety inspectors asked employers to demonstrate what new measures had been taken, while 27 employers were ordered to make safety improvements.
“For those businesses that do not want to put in place appropriate measures, HSE will continue to use its regulatory powers to secure compliance,” an HSE spokeswoman said.
Other workers say they’re worried about jobs that require them to interact with members of the public.
A photographer who takes pictures of properties for sale in north-eastern England says he fears catching the virus while on a shoot, then passing it on to his wife and new-born baby.
“My employer has set out clear guidelines, no-one’s meant to be in the property while we’re there,” said the photographer, who doesn’t want to be named.
“But some people don’t seem to be serious about distancing. A couple of times today, I had to step away from one client,” he said.
The photographer said he didn’t have to go back to work, but he wanted to help the company keep operating.
“In a year’s time, I want them to have a working business,” he said.
Citizens Advice says it has also seen a spike in calls about coronavirus and work.
Jamie McGlynn, a manager at the Manchester contact centre, said the majority of calls recently had been about health and safety.
“We’ve seen more than 100 calls this week about employment issues,” he said, many from people worried about inadequate social distancing.
The charity says workers who are worried their safety is at risk should first talk to their employer. Unresolved concerns should be reported to the Health and Safety Executive.
The HSE is extending its operating hours to meet the increased demand and is now open from 08:30 to 22:00, Monday to Friday.
Despite the risks, some people have welcomed the return to work.
Dionne White works at Ingles Bakery in Hackney, which reopened last week after being closed since the end of March.
“Regardless of what’s going on, it’s nice to just be out of the house,” she said.
“I’m not worried about the virus, because at the end of the day, whether you’re outside or inside, you can catch it anywhere,” she said.
I feel unsafe at work. What can I do?
The government has published sector-specific guidance about what employers should do to minimise the chances of catching coronavirus at work.
- If your employer isn’t complying with this guidance, talk to them.
- If your concerns aren’t resolved, you can report your employer to the Health and Safety Executive.
- If you’re worried about taking public transport to work, ask your employer if you can travel at quieter times of day.
- If you’re pregnant or considered vulnerable, stay at home and avoid face-to-face contact. Your employer may be willing to furlough people in your position if you’re unable to work from home.
Source: Citizens Advice. You can read more here.
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