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Coronavirus: As companies put workers back to work, how can they keep them safe?

B&Q, Aston Martin Lagonda and housebuilder Taylor Wimpey are among firms to announce plans to reopen operations; all say they can implement social distancing at work

Ben Chapman
Thursday 23 April 2020 19:24 BST
Social distancing could last for at least another year unless vaccine found, chief medical officer suggests

Aston Martin, B&Q and housebuilder Taylor Wimpey are among a number of UK companies making plans to get staff back to work after halting their operations because of safety concerns.

Retail, construction and manufacturing each face their own challenges when trying to work during a pandemic. All three companies say that they have used the period of closure to assess how to properly implement social distancing guidelines, but how will they ensure they keep staff and customers safe?


DIY retailer B&Q is reopening 61 of its 155 of its stores after closing them when the government announced the lockdown last month. The company is allowed to open as it’s designated as an essential business.

Services like paint mixing, timber cutting and key cutting have been suspended. Customers will not be able to pay with cash and are advised to use contactless card payments where possible.

Checkouts have been fitted with Perspex screens and 2m markers placed on the floor.

A spokesperson said: “Similar to shopping at a supermarket, we’re strictly limiting the number of customers in store at any one time, and so customers are typically queueing before entering stores.

“All stores have a designated queueing area outside and these have two metre markers to help remind everyone to respect each other’s personal space.

Aston Martin

Aston Martin Lagonda announced that it will resume operations at its St Athan facility, in Wales, on 5 May as it starts to gradually bring back the 75 per cent of its workforce currently furloughed.

The luxury car maker says it is following guidelines from Public Health Wales and Public Health England to protect its workforce and will take “learnings in terms of health and safety” into account when it reopens its main car plant in Gaydon, Warwickshire, at a later date.

Both sites have been closed since 25 March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Only “a few” people will start at St Athan on the first day of reopening, most of whom will be managers who will work through safety procedures.

Aston Martin plans to bring back more workers in stages, giving time to iron out any issues. Staff will have their temperature checked when they arrive for signs of fever and must wear masks at work. They will be provided with all necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), and 2m spacing will be marked on the floor, the company said.

The firm also announced that its senior leadership team have agreed to a reduction in pay.

Taylor Wimpey

For construction firms like Taylor Wimpey the challenges of working during a pandemic are different but no easier to deal with.

There has been no government ban on construction work but the housebuilder closed its sites, show homes and sales centres last month, as a precaution. There had been a number of reports of other construction companies not operating proper social distancing measures.

Taylor Wimpey plans to restart building on 4 May after “meticulously” planning how to modify working practices to enable workers to return to safely to sites.

Taylor Wimpy said it had created “detailed new site operating protocols developed in compliance with strict social distancing requirements”.

The company said it had assessed each and every aspect of site activities to comply with guidance issued by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC).

All employees, subcontractors and visitors will have to sign up to a new code of conduct. Workers will also be issued with bespoke PPE which the company has designed in house for jobs that require two people to work together.

The Health and Safety Executive, a government body, will monitor safe processes on-site.

Sales centres, show homes and regional offices remain closed with employees working remotely while Taylor Wimpey monitors the latest guidance.

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