Workplace Report (November 2021)

Health & safety - HSE Monitor

Study shines spotlight on Covid call centre risks

A new model to predict the risk of airborne Covid-19 infection in workplaces, developed by the HSE-led PROTECT Covid-19 national core study, has found that infected people who undertake lots of vocal work, in call centres for example, could pose a higher risk to others, even when there is adequate ventilation.

PROTECT reports that applications of the infection model so far have shown that “most workers in well ventilated open plan offices are unlikely to infect each other via airborne particles”. However, the risk becomes greater if the space is poorly ventilated or if the workers are involved in activities which require more speaking. The model predicts, for example, that “each infected person could infect two to four others in an adequately ventilated but noisy call centre. Risks are also likely to increase if the infected individual is a “super spreader”. Halving the occupancy of an office could reduce the risk of airborne transmission four-fold, says PROTECT.

It also warns that while “achievable changes including improved ventilation and managing occupancy levels can reduce risk” there is “no silver bullet” to stop Covid transmission. Other transmission mechanisms – via close-range exposure and surfaces – must be risk assessed.

A spokesperson for the PCS civil service union responded: “We want to see a hybrid model brought in to allow maximum flexibility for staff whereby people can work safely at home and not be rushed back to the office.”

This information is copyright to the Labour Research Department (LRD) and may not be reproduced without the permission of the LRD.