Health & Safety 

Leeds DWP fined by HSE

Headshot of Sarah Cope

Sarah Cope, Business Development Manager

Wednesday 7 October 2020

Last month the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Leeds office was fined for being in breach of health and safety law after an inspector found poor social distancing and an absence of other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) carried out an inspection of the office located in Quarry House in late August after receiving a report of a ‘workplace concern’. During their visit they took photos which included one where workers were congregating around a desk and not following social distancing. Other breaches included a lack of ‘do not use’ signage in communal areas and breakout pods, and walkways which did not allow for social distancing.  

Photo of a workplace with staff congregating around a desk

Image of workers congregating around a desk

Photograph courtesy of Sky News

The report issued after the inspection said, ‘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.’ 

“…is it easier to socially distance from strangers? Do we fall back into old habits when we are in a familiar environment with familiar faces?

Following the visit the HSE sent a Notice of Contravention to the DWP. The DWP was found in breach of sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 and will be expected to pay a fee for intervention based on an hourly rate of £154 per hour. 

The DWP said it had taken ‘urgent action to rectify all issues identified by the HSE’. 

Our officers from the Health and Safety Network which meets fortnightly have been sharing their frustrations of staff not following one-way routes and sitting next to another officer. 

They have also shared instances of contractors coming in to carry out PAT testing who haven’t even considered how easily they could spread coronavirus around offices by simply not sanitising between each piece of equipment. 

It also begs the question, is it easier to socially distance from strangers? Do we fall back into old habits when we are in a familiar environment with familiar faces 

Old habits certainly do die-hard but for councils and organisations it is more important than ever that you actively help your staff remember to socially distance and keep themselves, colleagues and family safe. Tips from our health and safety officers include: clear and obvious signage in stair ways and corridors; enforce the use of face coverings around buildings unless you are sat at your desk; and for those who can, work from home. 

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