Government accused of ‘bullying’ people back into workplace by top health and safety body

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (left) and Prime Minister Boris Johnson leave 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Stefan R...

Chancellor Rishi Sunak (L) and prime minister Boris Johnson leave 10 Downing Street - Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

The head of Britain's top health and safety body has accused the government of 'bullying' people to return to the workplace as he explained that there is 'no evidence' returning to the office is safe.

Lawrence Waterman, chair of the British Safety Council, feared more outbreaks as a result of employees returns to workplaces, and said without inspections of offices there are no guarantees it would be safe.

Johnson has been encouraging staff to return to the workplace to avoid further impacting British high streets, claiming they are safe places to be. Last week the government warned that it will be easier for bosses to fire staff that are not seen in the offices.

But Waterman told the Today programme that there are no guarantees people are safe from catching the virus.

'I think that's one of the concerns that many of us have got about how the government are putting out the advice about returning to work being safe. We simply don't know.


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'We believe from the evidence that large gatherings of people... leads to exactly the kind of indoor environments that seem to be prone to the transmission of coronavirus, and there isn't evidence that when you return large numbers of people you don't get outbreaks.

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'I think many of us don't understand why there's such firm advice that workplaces are safe when there's no evidence for that. Indeed, there is an argument that workplaces are so rarely inspected that it's probably more likely that you'll win the lottery than be visited by an inspector, so we're bemused about where the evidence is.'

He pointed to the government's own advice on the Health and Safety Executive website which says that 'everyone who can work from home should do so'.

'We don't want ghost towns but it should be a matter for workers and employers to negotiate. Many do want to return to the office and many miss the camaraderie of working with colleagues. But it should be a choice that grown up workers and their employees should make.

'We're not in favour of the government bullying people. Schools are reopening this week in England, so many we should see how that settles down before forcing people back into offices'

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