Hello Fresh - complaints continue over social distancing and discarded gear at Banbury factory

Concerns about coronavirus prevention precautions at Banbury food packing factory HelloFresh have continued to reach the Banbury Guardian.

By Roseanne Edwards
Tuesday, 21st April 2020, 5:47 pm
Updated Tuesday, 21st April 2020, 5:50 pm
The HelloFresh meal-kit distribution plant in Banbury. Picture by Google
The HelloFresh meal-kit distribution plant in Banbury. Picture by Google

Workers at HelloFresh and neighbours of the factory have complained of workers close together in groups outside the factory doors during breaks, workers inside still too close together in the canteen and that protective masks and gloves have been discarded on the pavements and road outside the plant.

The company, which assembles and sends out meal-kits - measured ingredients for a meal in a box - has been trying to recruit 400 extra staff. Following stories in the Banbury Guardian over concerns about possible transmission of coronavirus among staff and reports of crowding in the canteen and at inductions, the company said it has improved conditions extensively and introduced protective wear for workers and improved social distancing.

But this week a neighbour said he had complained to the Health and Safety Executive about staff crowding in groups outside the factory building in Chalker Way during meal breaks.

A neighbour's photo of discarded masks outside the factory gates

And another sent the Banbury Guardian photos of latex gloves and masks thrown onto the ground outside the plant.

She said: "It's disgusting that no one cares enough to realise how much of a hazard it is, plus some poor person from council gets to clear up their mess.

"I've have been met by large groups leaving work all together not social distancing."

In a Facebook message to HelloFresh she said: "Why are staff being allowed to throw away used masks and gloves as they leave the surrounding area? Who do they think should pick up after them and their possibly infected litter? Also have the company not issued any guidelines re Covid? Every morning I see many groups of 10+ persons all walking home from there shoulder to shoulder."

She told the company that she had reported the groups to the police as a breach, saying she was scared government advice was being ignored. "It only needs a few bins placed near the exit to the site to alleviate the problem as well as a word with staff."

In a reply to her HelloFresh said the company had social distancing measures in the workplace in the vast majority of situations and staff should be following these.

"The rubbish is unacceptable and we apologise for this. We will look into this and make sure it's addressed," the contact said.

"This is definitely not something that should happen nor are we aware that it happened; please do accept our sincerest apologies. This should not happen and we are trying our best to follow all restrictions from the government."

She said a senior staff member had been tasked with dealing with the discarded items.

A worker sent video clips from the canteen showing workers close together. He said he has contacted Cherwell District Council.

"I told the council that they would need to build and entire extension just to accommodate the staff they have already, so if they continue to recruit the space will be even more cramped."

A story last week described how HelloFresh has addressed social distancing in the factory.USDAW, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, says in its coronavirus advice: "We would expect employers in food or other manufacturing sites to go further than (the) minimum guidance and make every effort to ensure social distancing in processing areas, as well as ensuring social distancing away from food processing areas.

"How this is achieved will vary between workplaces but it may include rearranging production lines, adjusting shift patterns (with agreement from staff), reducing pinch points where workers work more closely together and allowing additional breaks for hand-washing and changing protective clothing. To ensure all workers have access to adequate and safe rest facilities, additional break areas should be opened wherever possible."