The DWP has been found by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to have breached the Health and Safety Act in relation to coronavirus at one of it’s main offices, Quarry House in Leeds.
An inspection was carried out on 27 August after a whistleblower complained to the HSE.
The inspection discovered numerous breaches, including
A line manager gave instruction to a group of staff around a desk, with staff not following social distancing
Walkways had been designated as two-way travel despite only being about a metre wide
Walkways passed closely to desks designated as usable
Stairwells were designated as two-way travel but did not appear to be sufficiently wide for 2m distancing - even at designated passing points
Small tables, "breakout pods" and benches lacked "do not use" signage.
The HSE report concluded that:
"You are failing to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of your employees/agency staff at work because you have not implemented necessary measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19."
The DWP are working on the basis that they can get the office back to 50% full, but the HSE says may be “ambitious and unrealistic”.
There have been at least two positive coronavirus cases amongst staff at the office.
General secretary of the PCS union,Mark Serwotka, said:
"The HSE report on the DWP Leeds Office shows that the government has failed staff and the wider community by not adhering to basic health and safety legislation.
"There is a very real danger of a second Covid spike and this incident makes a mockery of DWP's insistence that offices open until 8pm to the public when they can't even maintain social distancing.
"It is unlikely this is an isolated incident and Boris Johnson should re-think forcing thousands of civil servants back to the office when the rate of covid infection in the country is rising significantly."