Last reviewed 15 May 2020

As Britain begins the return to work process, the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) has issued a reminder on important post-lockdown safety issues in the interests of avoiding injuries and fatalities at a time when businesses and plants are now restarting after the unprecedented shutdown period.

In the May 2020 statement, BOHS emphasised that employers need to be aware of all the challenges of returning to work after lockdown, such as those which are specific to tackling the challenges of the coronavirus — but also those linked to safety-critical issues.

BOHS’s CEO Kevin Bampton wrote to the Government’s Science Minister Amanda Solloway in March this year and warned, “The unprecedented shutdown of plants, workplaces and processes designed to be in continual operation will give rise to really serious challenges.”

The letter went on to state, “Systems will be prone to biological infestation such as legionella; seals and protections will degrade; corrosions and instability will be a feature of chemical storage; carcinogenic dusts will accumulate. All of these things need to be planned for on an industry-specific basis so as to avoid a second wave of acute and chronic ill-health and a stuttering restart of the British economy because of health and safety concerns.”

Two months later, in May 2020, the Society said it remains concerned that these issues are not an integral part of the risk assessments outlined in the government’s guidance on a safe return to work.

Kelvin Williams, President of the Society, said, “Many businesses had to shut down premises in a hurry and with no idea how long it would be before they started up again. That means that all of the processes that are there to keep people safe from harmful exposures to chemicals, biological agents, and other hazards have not been in operation. A proper plan and risk assessment is needed before starting up processes and bringing people back to work.”

BOHS recently published its own guidance on safely bringing Britain’s industry back online.