Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, Dan Jarvis, has called on employers to take steps to protect workers from the coronavirus and to ensure workplaces are safe, as lockdown restrictions are eased.

As South Yorkshire begins to return to work this week, the Mayor is taking action and pressing employers to work with employees and unions to ensure people are kept safe from Covid-19, particularly in the region’s substantial warehousing and distribution sector.

South Yorkshire has 21,000 people employed in warehousing and storage facilities, transportation of freight and support roles for the sector. Our region plays a critical role in distributing and sorting of goods, keeping essential supplies moving to the rest of the country.

This comes after, last month, Mayor Jarvis wrote to the Secretary of State for Business, Alok Sharma, asking for clearer guidance and enforcement of social distancing rules where businesses continue to operate, following concerns about social distancing practices in workplaces.

Mayor Jarvis said: “While it is understandable that Government wants people to return to work, to keep our economy moving, it is absolutely critical that workers are kept safe from the coronavirus. I’m working with trade unions, local authorities, employers and government to ensure workers can operate safely and with suitable social distancing measures in place.

“Businesses have had to scramble to get ready for the easing of lockdown restrictions following the Government’s announcements this week, but as more people return to the workplace, the moral and legal duty on employers and on Government to safeguard people’s health is greater than ever.

“It’s vital that Government supports businesses to implement social distancing but empowers Local Authorities and the Health and Safety Executive to take action where workers are not adequately safeguarded, by providing additional powers and resources where necessary. Backing this up with a robust and extensive testing regime will ensure we can halt the spread of coronavirus.”

New Government guidance states that workers should return to work if they cannot work from home. Employers have been asked to consider who is essential to be on-site; plan for the minimum number of people needed on-site to operate safely and effectively; and maintain two metre social-distancing wherever possible, including while arriving at and departing from work, while in work, and when travelling between sites – especially on public transport.

This includes introducing measures such as staggering arrival and departure times at work to reduce crowding; stringent controls on bus and tram routes, providing additional parking or facilities such as bike racks to help people walk, run, or cycle to work where possible; reducing congestion, for example, by having more entry points to the workplace and providing handwashing facilities or hand sanitiser at entry and exit points.

Bill Adams, SCR Local Enterprise Partnership board member and TUC regional secretary for Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “Trade unions have a crucial role to play in protecting all workers in these most challenging of times. Nationally, unions have been instrumental in ensuring Government continues to pay furloughed workers 80% of their wages and, for those able to, still able to work, we are pushing hard to ensure employers are compelled to undertake comprehensive health and safety risk assessments before operations resume.

“I’m glad to be working with the Mayor on this issue, and hope employers, unions, and employees across our regions will commit to working closely together to enable South Yorkshire’s economic recovery while prioritising the rights and the safety of those on the Coronavirus front line.

“Meanwhile, workers should report safety concerns either direct to their workplace trade union safety representative or the Health and Safety Executive, to ensure any issues can be raised and dealt with as robustly as possible.”

Beckie Hart, Regional Director for Yorkshire & the Humber at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said: “As businesses throughout our area tentatively start to open up or think about opening up, our view should be that safety should be at the heart of business thinking. I believe that unless people feel safe, employees won’t return, customers will stay away and the restart will falter, harming livelihoods and public services.

“The Government has released some guidance on how to re-open workplaces. The CBI has worked closely with the TUC and the Government to deliver a plan that works for employers and employees. All this builds on the good proactive plans many firms have developed during lockdown. Excellent employee engagement, fast workplace innovation and transparency have helped many companies support livelihoods.”

To report safety concerns in the workplace, people should submit an online form to the Health and Safety Executive here. Those who cannot use the form should call 0300 003 1647.