'Turn off test & trace' | WORST workplace Covid outbreak sparks fury

WORST workplace Covid outbreak sparks fury

The largest workplace outbreak of Covid-19 has happened at Government organisation the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s (DVLA) office sparking questions over how strictly coronavirus rules have been implemented.

Shockingly, more than 500 cases have been recorded at DVLA offices in Swansea as a new, more deadly strain of coronavirus circulates and despite Boris Johnson’s work from home where possible rules.

In fact, employees claim that people with symptoms were encouraged to return to work, vulnerable workers had work from home requests turned down and workers were asked to turn off test and trace so phones did not ping.

National newspaper The Guardian reported that Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, is now under pressure to explain how such a shocking outbreak could occur at a workplace where the strictest rules should apply.

Example of poor practise

Despite many firms implementing work from home where possible and following strict COVID-19 guidelines where that is not possible, workers at DVLA say this was not the case.

With 535 Covid cases since September, as reported by The Guardian, out of 1,800 staff, many claim that health and safety practise is less-than-good and are scared to enter the offices as a result.

One worker told The Guardian: “We are all worried. We are all scared. Lots and lots of people have been ill. We have had staff in hospital. We are just waiting for the first death. It’s that bad.”

In addition, workers claim that Covid absences are being counted against their sick leave, many are going off sick with stress, and that sharing facilities are creating a place whereby the disease can spread.

One worker added: “There are so many suffering with extreme stress. But they know they are going to get a warning because they have been off so long.”

Another person told The Guardian: “On each floor there are only two sets of toilets: ladies and gents. There are four kitchens on each floor too. All the teams are sharing the facilities – it’s high risk. There are cases on every floor now.”

Workers also claim that the scale of the outbreak has made people wary of them in the local area.

“People will not go into local shops if DVLA staff are there because they are scared of catching it from us,” a worker explained. “I have family I have been unable to visit because I work in DVLA.”

Extraordinarily, staff also claim that they were told the two-metre rule does not apply and they were unable to wear masks.

One added: “We sit back-to-back, just one metre apart. They say ‘the two-metre rule only applies if you’re face to face’.”

Workplace structures

Despite these claims, the DVLA insisted safety was a priority: “Staff in roles that enable them to work from home are doing so and have throughout, in line with current government advice.

“However, in view of the essential nature of the public services we provide, some operational staff are required to be in the office where their role means they cannot work from home.”

However, local MP, Tonia Antoniazzi, said that the DVLA IT systems are so out-of-date that it meant staff couldn’t work from home where they are much safer.

“The system is archaic,” she said. “Lack of investment from the government has caused this problem.”

Digital means are necessary

The lack of rollout of digital work practises at the DVLA will catch the eye of many earnest HR practitioners.

Even before the pandemic, 95% of employers were found to believe that a digital workplace is important, according to research published in CMSwire.

That is of even greater importance in the middle of the worst wave in a pandemic. In fact, Martin Kirke, a career coach and former Group HR Director at the Post office, told HR Grapevine at the start of the pandemic that its important that businesses should focus on staff welfare first.

“It must be supportive and trusting to encourage employees to stay at home if there is a risk of spreading infection,” he said.

He also added that employers should invest in technology to help them work-from-home for long periods.

Have you rolled out new digital practises to protect workers at your organisation in the pandemic? If so, please tell us in the comments…



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Comments (4)

  • Frustrated at DVLA
    Frustrated at DVLA
    Mon, 25 Jan 2021 7:16pm GMT
    This is the complete opposite to how the public facing elements are being dealt with by DVSA (which is part of DVLA). They are very insistent that instructors & pupils attending tests adhere to sometime ridiculous “rules”. Instructors vehicles being turned away at tests if there is a spec of dirt in the car, insisting that instructors are not allowed in waiting rooms, when tests were taking place between lockdowns etc.

    Their IT systems are also not fit for purpose from an instructor point of view. The Trainer Booking system is inflexible & a cause of great frustration for users because of a lack of investment & because they have been cobbled together over the years. A bit of a mess really & just not good enough.
  • Mike Breeze
    Mike Breeze
    Mon, 25 Jan 2021 2:57pm GMT
    it sounds like the place is poorly managed , but is is this just another case of the media a making things worse. the comment “We sit back-to-back, just one metre apart. They say ‘the two-metre rule only applies if you’re face to face’.” this is probably an example of poor communication the Government guidance does say, If it is not possible to keep 2m distance, reduce the risk to yourself and others at 1m by taking suitable precautions: eg Sit / stand side by side or behind other people, rather than facing them
  • Helen Llewellyn
    Helen Llewellyn
    Mon, 25 Jan 2021 1:36pm GMT
    We set our business up last July as a full working from home model. We deliver fully online too so can reach anyone almost anywhere. Service based businesses should be able to do the same with a little thought.

    Our wellbeing service reaches parts others don't
  • Helen Hayter
    Helen Hayter
    Mon, 25 Jan 2021 1:20pm GMT
    DVLA needs a radical overhaul. their systems are out of date and as an end user trying to book and rebook driving tests which keep being cancelled, it is a complete joke. Absolutely staff safety should come first but for those working, they need a decent system to work with.....

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