Lessons employers can learn from the DVLA Covid-19 outbreak

Covid-19 social distancing and hygiene guidelines

A mass Covid-19 outbreak at the DVLA offices in Swansea has starkly highlighted the dangers faced when companies fail to follow guidelines set out to protect against the spread of the virus.

Government ministers are facing scrutiny after more than 500 cases of Covid-19 were reported at the DVLA offices in Swansea. The sharp increase in infections comes after symptomatic employees were reportedly encouraged to continue to come in to work where social distancing was largely ignored.

Invest in infrastructure to support home working

According to a complaint received by Public Health Wales, DVLA employees were also asked to turn off their test and trace apps.

The revelations come amid claims that employees have been left worried about their jobs, with covid-related absences over 10 days triggering a warning.

With IT systems at the government organisation not equipped to substantially support remote working, employees had felt pressure to continue to work from the office where cases had been rapidly rising, both placing themselves, and the wider community, at risk.

While the DVLA has issued a response claiming that “staff safety has always been our utmost priority throughout the pandemic….” the incident raises wider concerns about how workplaces are managing risk alongside the continued pressure to deliver.

As mutations of the covid-19 virus continue to make containing the spread more challenging, and the end of the vaccine roll out still a long way off, what should employers be doing to keep their people safe?

As mutations of the covid-19 virus continue to make containing the spread more challenging, and the end of the vaccine roll out still a long way off, what should employers be doing to keep their people safe?

Continue to follow social distancing and hygiene guidelines

There are many industries that simply cannot pack up and move to remote working and for them it’s imperative that proper procedures are followed to help keep everyone safe. Proximity of workstations, shared spaces and high staff numbers were all concerns at the DVLA and are issues that employers must regularly review in their risk management plans.

Additionally, it’s vital that strict hygiene policies are followed, with areas regularly sanitised to help prevent the spread of the virus. While some companies may be concerned about the increased expense of more regular and intensive cleaning, the preventative benefits far outweigh the costs that could be incurred if employees are exposed to a greater risk of catching Covid-19.

Review and revise company sickness policies

Employees who are worried they might be in danger of losing their job are more likely to continue to go in to work when they are unwell or think they have been exposed to the virus. Rigid company sickness policies, which do not have the flexibility needed to respond to the ever-changing pandemic situation, can create a culture of fear that increases incidences of risk.

Employers need to reassure staff that their jobs are not at risk, should they need to stay home because they are unwell with the virus.

Invest in infrastructure to support home working

Lack of technology needed to help people work from home was another issue that reportedly contributed to the outbreak at the DVLA.

While this is not something that can be fixed overnight, it is a wider issue that must be prioritised for the long term. It’s likely that social distancing, lockdowns and restrictions may continue in some form for a while. And even when restrictions ease, there is a greater societal push towards hybrid working.

Having a robust digital infrastructure will be a cornerstone for workplaces, not only to allow people to work with more flexibility, but as part of a thorough disaster management plan designed to ensure business continuity in situations like the Covid-19 pandemic.

Roll out regular, accurate testing

As employers continue to juggle the wellbeing of their people with the need to keep operations moving, there will be an ongoing need to provide access to accurate testing.

While the NHS can provide free testing for people with covid-19 symptoms, for those without, or who might need to provide a negative test for work travel or site safety purposes, employers will need to consider providing private testing for their employees.

There has been a push in sectors such as education and elderly care to introduce rapid mass testing. While testing is hugely important to help keep the spread of the virus under control, it’s vital to use testing methods that are accurate.

Employers will need to educate themselves about the different options available, as not all testing is fit for the purpose of keeping workplaces open. 

The DVLA outbreak is a reminder that, despite early indications that the vaccine roll out is having a positive impact, we cannot afford to become complacent.  

Employers must continue to follow stringent procedures to help keep their people safe and must continue to work closely with their local authorities, healthcare and insurance providers and safety and operations teams to manage the changing situation in their workplaces.

Find out more about private Covid-19 testing for business

Continue to follow social distancing and hygiene guidelines