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Are Offices a Greater COVID Risk Than Supermarkets and Restaurants?

29 January 2021 | Updated 04 February 2021

Data from Public Health England suggests that office environments have had more COVID outbreaks than other workplaces.

Figures obtained by the BBC 5 Live Investigations team via a Freedom of Information request reveal that offices top the list for susceptibility for outbreaks, ahead of hospitality venues.

The data shows that there were 500+ outbreaks, or suspected outbreaks, in offices in the second half of 2020 - more than in supermarkets, warehouses, cafes, restaurants and construction sites combined.

Employees have been urged to work from home almost consistently since the COVID-19 outbreak, mandating that you should only leave home to work if you cannot reasonably do so from home.

ONS figures state that a significant proportion of the UK works in offices or other inside environments. With the bulk of people gathering in these types of places, these statistics may not be as drastic as they first appear. 


Higher Risk in Social Settings


According to a global analysis of where SARS-CoV-2 transmission takes place from the Imperial College London COVID-19 Response Team, households show the highest transmission rates.

Households show the highest transmission rates among indoor settings compared to other settings such as social gatherings, travel, healthcare, workplace and casual close contacts.

Their conclusions show that prolonged contact in households and in settings with familiar close contacts increases the potential for transmission of COVID-19.

Cleaning glove tv

Picture: a photograph of a gloved hand cleaning a remote control


Carrying Out Cleaning Recommendations in Offices


Rob Stillwell, Managing Director of WINNS Services Ltd, a facilities management support service provider, including contract cleaning, feels that offices that carry out the correct cleaning advice can maintain confidence:

“We are finding offices that carry out all our recommendations managed to secure a clean working environment.

“We have issued specific COVID cleaning instructions to all our staff and advised our clients on covid measures such as electrostatic spraying regularly, providing health passports and providing COVID testing

“With these in place, office staff can go to work with a high level of confidence that at least their workplace is as secure as it can be.”

The British Institute of Cleaning Science has also recently released the much-needed industry publication: “BICSc Standards & Best Practice” containing contributions from “highly regarded industry experts.”

The publication contains details on BICSc recommended colour-coding and an “outcome criteria” which offers an effective and efficient way of measuring cleanliness and what is and isn’t acceptable.

Chair of the British Cleaning Council, Paul Thrupp, said: "As these figures show, it is vital that office workers are allowed to work from home if at all possible. However, if this is not possible, and they have to work within an office environment then it is important that the government guidance on Hands, Face, Space is followed. 

"As important of course is a professional and regular cleaning and hygiene program, which is critical in maintaining a clean and safe office environment. Regular cleaning of all touchpoints and welfare facilities throughout the working day is also essential."

Picture: a photograph of two people working at desks wearing face masks

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 29 January 2021


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