Lack of safe distancing at DVLA a 'national scandal' as investigation reveals staff were not sat two metres apart

  • Watch the full report on Wales This Week, 3 March at 8pm on ITV Cymru Wales

DVLA workers were sat less than two metres apart up until as late as February 2021, with the lack of safe distancing described as a "national scandal", an investigation by ITV Cymru Wales has found.

The DVLA is one the largest employers in Swansea and it is believed to have had one of the most serious workplace outbreaks of coronavirus in the UK.

Since September 2020, there have been over 500 positive cases amongst staff across numerous sites within the city.

The Public and Commercial Services union is also calling on the DVLA's CEO Julie Lennard to step down as a result of the investigation's findings.

Public Health Wales declared the coronavirus outbreak at the DVLA site in December 2020. Credit: PA Images

A Wales This Week investigation has revealed that the DVLA were told as late as last month by Swansea Council and the Health and Safety Executive to reconfigure desks at its Morriston site after staff were found sitting less than two metres apart. 

In an exclusive interview, workers from the DVLA have appeared on camera to blow the whistle on the culture at the DVLA.

One worker told ITV Cymru Wales that they have been complaining to managers since September 2020.

They complained that that they have been sat less than two metres from colleagues without any safety precautions such as perspex screens, but say their complaints were ignored.

The worker also showed ITV Cymru Wales an internal email that warned of the Health and Safety Executive inspection in February - and that managers doubted staff were sat at safe distances.

There have been more than 500 positive Covid-19 cases amongst staff across numerous sites since September 2020.

One DVLA worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said it was a very "worrying" time when the Covid-19 outbreak was declared at the Swansea site in December 2020.

They said, "In December we found out there was an outbreak declared by Public Health Wales and the local authority, it really shocked people.

"62 positive cases in the contact centre in around two and a half weeks was really very frightening, people were literally shocked.

"A lot of people there are very young, there are people there who are quite a lot older as well who could be more at risk.

"People worried about taking it back home, friends, family and it was obvious that the measures that had been taken, which people had been okay with, clearly weren't working, it was obvious".

The DVLA is one the largest employers in Swansea.

This worker also told ITV Cymru Wales that they had witnessed a 'culture of bullying' at the DVLA after concerns were raised about a lack of coronavirus safety measures.

They said: "People are very frightened about saying they have been in union meetings.

"We have had union Zoom meetings and a lot of people have wanted to remain anonymous in those meetings because they are fearing repercussions which is terrible, it's disgusting....that fear has got worse I think, certainly in the last few months.

"If people are that worried then clearly its bullying."

Unions have called the conditions in the workplace a "national scandal." Credit: PA Images

The PCS union is calling for the CEO of the DVLA Julie Lennard to "consider her position" as a result of the findings of the investigation.

Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary said: "The testimony that DVLA senior management have bullied staff and have failed up until recently to guarantee desks are two metres apart is a national scandal.

"Welsh Government guidance is clear and DVLA have failed to take all reasonable measures to keep staff at a two-metre distance, up until the HSE forced them to abide by the guidance, last month.

"There has been a callous disregard for the safety of DVLA staff throughout this whole saga, underpinned by forcing over 2,000 staff to go into work every day since September. 

"This is despite nearly 600 Covid cases since March last year, with the vast majority reported from September onwards. 

"DVLA senior management have been more focused on threatening PCS members for attending union meetings, rather than working with the union to keep staff safe. 

"With these latest revelations of bullying and a lack of proper social distancing measures at the Swansea site, on top of accusations DVLA misled the Transport Select Committee who looked into the Covid outbreak, CEO Julie Lennard should now consider her position." 

One worker told ITV Cymru Wales that they have been complaining to managers since September 2020. Credit: PA Images

A report from the University of Strathclyde found that 87% of DVLA workers surveyed 'felt pressured to come into work' during the Covid outbreak.

It also found that 70% of the workers surveyed felt some degree of risk of contracting coronavirus because of distance they were sat away from colleagues.

Prof Phillip Taylor, University of Strathclyde said: "It’s deeply concerning...We know that there are workers here, who have experienced illness, ill health, anxiety, worry, a fear of coming to work, deteriorating mental health, which really, I would say, is unnecessary, should never have happened and the employers have a really big question against them in whether or not they have carried out the duty of care in respect to their employers. It would seem they have absolutely not done so.

"This is the single most important, significant and serious workplace outbreak in the whole of the UK since March.”

The DVLA says claims over a culture of bullying in the workplace are "simply not true." Credit: PA Images

A DVLA spokesperson said: "We have followed and implemented Welsh Government guidance at every single point throughout the pandemic, including with regards to the seating plans at the DVLA site, and have consistently worked with Public Health Wales, Environmental Health and Swansea Bay Health Board to introduce extensive safety measures.

"We have adapted plans based on the changing advice from local Environmental Health following their site visits, in respect of distancing and seating patterns, reacting immediately to any new recommendations. Since January we have also regularly carried out over 6,800 lateral flow tests for those working on site, with just one positive result to date.

"Any claims of a culture of bullying and intimidation are simply not true. Our latest annual anonymous survey carried out in the last 6 months, which is externally run, showed very low concern from staff about bullying in DVLA.

"We have a zero tolerance policy to bullying and harassment, with a clear and established process for escalating any concerns."

Last week Public Health Wales declared the outbreak at the agency's contact centre over while the DVLA say they currently have three live cases of Covid-19 across all of its sites.

  • You can see more on this story on Wales This Week, 3 March at 8pm on ITV Cymru Wales.