Defra clarifies pandemic working rules

Defra has reiterated official government advice that ‘key worker status’ refers only to those eligible for childcare, and that those in the waste sector unable to work from home can still go in to work. 

The new plans will see the waste collection system move to a three-weekly rota

This is seen as meaning that across the waste and recycling sector, workers whether they are crews, drivers or managers, if they cannot work from home, they can still go in to their place of work.

Recycling and waste sector employees were granted ‘key worker’ status by the government on 19 March in light of the coronavirus pandemic (see  story). However, there has been some ongoing concerns around the key worker and home working rules.

Guidance has since been told those who cannot work from home can continue to go out to work in line with government guidance.  

Waste sector workers have key worker status and can continue to go out to work unless they can work from home

A spokesperson from Defra explained this week: “To clarify, key worker status refers just to those eligible to get childcare at schools and is not related to those who should be going into work. You can still go into work if you can’t work from home”.

Hand washing

The Defra advice also emphasises that staff going into work should often wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, using hand sanitiser gel if soap and water is not available. 

Defra added that if workers can work from home, they should do so. If they cannot, they should work in line with social distancing guidelines, maintaining a two-metre distance in the workplace where possible.

There have been some queries over how this could apply to refuse crews, for example, with the GMB union urging the local government association to clarify how this could work (see story).

One waste management company director told that in their business a maximum of two people were in cabs, and wherever possible the driver was now unaccompanied.

Key worker status 

The granting of ‘key worker’ status to waste sector employees by the government means they continue to receive educational and care provision for their children during the coronavirus crisis. 

Schools have been asked to continue to provide care for a number of children but were closed to the majority from 23 March. 

Frontline employees 

Following confusion as to who specifically within the industry qualified for key worker status, the Environmental Services Association (ESA) strove to clarify the issue last week (see story ). was told that Defra considers the status to apply to all employees engaged in frontline household and non-household collection services, those who operate collection, treatment and disposal facilities, and the support staff necessary to keep these vital services running. 

More broadly, the advice suggests any worker who is critical for business continuity, as defined by their employer, is to remain in work, the ESA said. 


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