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Utilities firm defends COVID-19 response after whistleblower raises concerns

A utilities firm has defended the working conditions at its Slough offices after a whistleblower questioned why all staff are not working from home.

An employee of Lanes Group, a contractor for Thames Water, contacted the Express this week to raise concerns about the company’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The staff member, who wished to remain anonymous, said dozens of people who are considered to be ‘key workers’ are still being made to work at the company’s contact centre in Cambridge Avenue.

The whistleblower told the Express: “We are under pressure from our families about not going to work.

“We have been told that the standard two-metre distance needs to be observed but that has not been met.”

They added that only ‘at risk’ staff have been issued laptops to work from home.

The employee said staff remaining in the office have been told to avoid wearing gloves due to the impact this can have on spreading germs, with the whistleblower also claiming there is no health and safety officer left on site.

Those wishing not to work have been offered unpaid leave while anyone needing to self-isolate will receive statutory sick pay, the whistleblower said.

“We have all said that we will work but we just want there to be a safe environment,” the employee added.

Kris Taylor, responsible for health and safety at the branch, who is currently working from home, said the company appreciated the whistleblower’s concerns but insisted a number of precautions have been taken to protect employees.

These included hand sanitisers being placed all over the building, hourly wipedowns of fingertip scanners to access the offices and desks being intensively cleaned by external cleaning contractors.

He added that critical workers and those deemed as ‘high risk’ by the Government to the threat of COVID-19 have been issued laptops to work from home.

Mr Taylor said about 30 to 40 per cent of the workforce, up to 45 people, are still working at the office in conditions which comply with social distancing.

He added the whole workforce is aware he is responsible for health and safety and he is available at all times and to come on site if necessary.

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