It is no understatement to describe the impact of Coronavirus COVID-19 as devastating. But we are now in a much better place than we were in April. Yet as we ease our way out of lockdown, there is surely a real risk of complacency. Messaging from the Scottish government on this has been clear…the virus is still out there, and with complacency we risk a resurgence of the first wave before a second hits us in the winter. The default position, reiterated only the other day by the First Minister, is to stay home, including to work from home where you can.
In contrast, the messaging from Westminster appears mixed. For example, the gov.uk website is asking people to stay at home as much as possible and to work at home if you can. But in recent weeks, that message appears to not to be foremost in the minds of ministers’, nor perhaps some of the public. Indeed, friends and family in England are telling me that things are now much closer to normal, despite the requirement to wear a face covering in shops.
What’s more, from 1 August, responsibility in England for the “work-at-home message” is being passed from government to employers. In leaving it up to employers, the government is instead hoping they will consult with staff and make workplaces COVID-19 safe.
But while a responsible employer will want to ensure everyone stays safe, there will be those who take short cuts. Sadly, without the backing of a trade union, or a benefits system that will cover lost wages, there will be many employees who feel they have no alternative but to return to the workplace regardless of whether it is genuinely safe to do so.
Of course a key aspect of making workplaces safer is to carry out a risk assessment. Good employers will do this; and they will consult with their staff or the recognised union. But even a gradual return to the workplace needs proper planning; and so the most prudent message, surely, is to continue working from home if you can. As messages go, it will not please Westminster, but it will help guard against complacency.
Green Pepper is running a short online workshop, Risk Assessment, Step by Step, on 3 September.