Source: Intelligent Instructor#

The government is under pressure to explain why one of its agencies is actually suffering the largest workplace outbreak of the Covid-19 virus.

More than 500 cases have been recorded at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s offices in Swansea. Employees claim people with symptoms were encouraged to return to work while vulnerable workers have had requests to work from home turned down, according to The Guardian.

Testing Times

Transport secretary, Grant Shapps, is yet to explain how such an outbreak can  take place in an agency where the strictest workplace rules are supposed to apply.

A complaint was received by Public Health Wales’s outbreak control team, noting a number of worrying issues. They included DVLA workers being asked by management to turn off their test-and-trace apps, and Covid absences being counted against workers’ sick leave (with anything over 10 days triggering a warning).

There are 1,800 staff working at present, with 535 Covid registered cases since September – the most infections linked to a single employer in a local area. During the first national lockdown, only 250 workers were needed onsite.

The DVLA insisted safety was a priority. The Department for Transport said it was confident in the “rigorous processes” the DVLA has in place.

Emergency Stop

The Hazards Campaign, a workplace safety network monitoring in-work outbreaks, said: “It is absolutely shocking that the DVLA has overseen the biggest reported workplace outbreak. These workers should have been working remotely, not being packed into offices. They have been put at risk of death and long-term ill health – and the outbreak is still going on”. Janet Newsham from the campaign added that the “actions may also have spread the virus in Swansea.”

The Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents DVLA staff, said many workers were scared to enter the agency’s three offices in the city. One employee who works in the 16-storey DVLA head office, said most people wanted to work at home. “We are all worried. We are all scared,” she said. “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.”

Hughes, who asked not to use her real name as she fears repercussions, said there were about 120 people on every floor of the building. “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,” she said. “There are cases on every floor now.” She went on to paint a picture of fear, stress and anxiety, with DVLA employees are also being avoided in the local area and shops.

Behind The Wheel

Another worker in the call centre, going by the pseudonym Jim Lewis,  said the virus had ripped through the centre since September: “It just spread like wildfire. Loads have tested positive. More than I can count.”

Lewis, who has had to self-isolate six times, said contact centre staff were not able to wear masks and were sitting close together. “We sit back-to-back, just one metre apart,” he said. “They say ‘the two-metre rule only applies if you’re face to face’.”

Tonia Antoniazzi, MP for Gower, said she had been inundated with messages from desperate DVLA staff who are often scared to speak out. She added the DVLA’s IT system was so out of date that people couldn’t work from home. “The system is archaic,” she said. “Lack of investment from the government has caused this problem.”