'Inexcusable': DVLA staff 'told to wear coats' after heating breaks at Swansea HQ

Union slams "failure to communicate" with vulnerable staff as DVLA announces the problem is fixed
The heating broke at the DVLA's Swansea office last Thursday. Photo: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

By Katherine Hapgood

25 Nov 2022

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency has been accused of disregarding its employees’ wellbeing, following reports that staff have been asked to wear coats to work after the heating system broke more than a week ago. 

DVLA staff at the agency’s Swansea headquarters have been working without central heating since 17 November, according to the PCS union. 

The heating has now been fixed, "ahead of schedule", the agency said on Friday afternoon. The DVLA had put a number of measures in place while emergency work was carried out on the boiler, such as temporary heaters.

However, PCS said some officials had said their managers had instructed them to wear warm clothing, extra layers and coats to keep warm as temperatures continue to plummet. 

PCS wrote to DVLA chief executive Julie Lennard on Monday, demanding that employees be sent home until the heating is fixed, but said it had received no response. DVLA denied receiving the letter but has now said it did receive the letter from the PCS on 23 November and that the letter was acknowledged.

The letter, seen by CSW, said: “We remained concerned by the approach being taken by the agency, which prioritises business need above the health, safety, and welfare of DVLA employees. This approach is dangerous and fails in ensuring that the health, safety, and welfare of staff remains the priority."

According to the letter, which was shared with all PCS members employed by the DVLA, “no central communication” was issued to affected staff outlining the situation or offering solutions to those with medical issues affected by the cold, indoor temperatures and lack of warm water in the toilet facilities.

“The failure to communicate directly with all impacted staff is totally unacceptable and PCS members are reporting that they are outraged by the approach to date,” it read. 

PCS said the temperature had dropped at times below 16 degrees celsius – the minimum temperature recommended by workplace regulations. While the threshold is not a legal requirement, employers have “a duty to determine what reasonable comfort will be in the particular circumstances”, according to the Health and Safety Executive. 

A DVLA spokesperson told CSW the agency has been monitoring the temperature in the building, which they said has averaged between 19 and 20C.

They said more than 200 temporary heaters were being used around the 16-storey building, and that operational staff have been advised that they may temporarily work in one of the agency's other Swansea Vale buildings. Some support staff have been working from home.

Officials were also been told they were allowed to use the hot water in the breakroom to wash their hands – in the same sink used to wash cutlery – as there is no hot water in the toilet facilities. 

The spokesperson said the DVLA had consulted HSE, and that the regulator was "satisfied with the measures" taken.

But the union said the measures had not gone far enough. 

“Should any PCS member suffer as a consequence of the lack of heating or hot water in the toilet facilities, this will be deemed as an industrial accident, will be reportable and the DVLA will be liable,” the letter said.  

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It’s inexcusable that government workers are expected to work in an office without heating. 

“DVLA is once again showing a disregard to the health, safety and welfare of staff and instead chooses to prioritise business needs.” 

A spokesperson for the DVLA said: “The health, safety and welfare of our staff is a priority and we have consulted the Health and Safety Executive who are satisfied with the measures we have taken."

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