WORKERS at a Salisbury waste collection firm have hit out after being told to spend long hours working less than the government’s rule of two metres from their colleagues.

Employees at Hills – who have been labelled as key workers by ministers – say they are scared for their health as they still have to go out on rubbish collections in teams of three, which means they sit close to each other for “most of the day”.

But the firm’s bosses say they are simply following advice from both Westminster and the Waste Industry Safety and Health Forum (WISH), which notes that it may not always be possible to reduce crew sizes for “critical” service, and in turn, move workers further apart.

“Where this is the case the primary control method is to maintain high standards of hygiene,” WISH’s advice adds – something Hills says it is adhering to.

However, staff who have contacted the Journal spoke about worries for their’s and their family’s health.

“We are stuck in a lorry together most of the day,” said one waste collector, who did not wish to be named.

“We used to have a proper handwasher in our cabs, but now we have just a rationed hand sanitiser.

“[If I were to make changes] I would like to see a maximum of two in a cab, to make it safer for us workers. It would also be good to have better cleaning facilities in the lorry too.”

They added: “This whole pandemic could not have come at a worse time for the company. It feels like we are throwing a spanner in the works and we really are not. We are just trying to stay safe.”

Asked if the team would strike if the position didn’t change, they added: “I do not know. It is a hard stance to take. If we do refuse to work, the company could turn around and replace us with agency staff. So, that’s the question for us: What’s more important, work or health?”

When approached, Hills bosses confirmed that “some” collections were being manned by crews of three.

The statement added: “This is an operational environment of critical working where social distancing is not possible.

“A hierarchy of controls have been put in place following guidance issued by the government, WISH and the Local Authority Public Health Officer. The guidance is being constantly monitored and will be adjusted accordingly if the control measures are changed.”

However, the firm did confirm that it is “offering enhanced sick leave benefits” to employees who are required to self-isolate so “they are not unduly penalised financially”.

As well as this, improved cleaning protocols for all work spaces, vehicle cabs, and the company’s sites are now being used.

A spokesperson added: “We are continually monitoring information, advice and protocols from the government to ensure that our business activities remain in line with guidance issued and to allow us to continue delivering critical services across the county.

"In place of furlough, we are redeploying employees from other sections of the business to cover these essential services roles, thereby minimising the cost to the taxpayer and limiting the use of agency workers.

“The company has written personally to all of our employees who are performing ‘front-line’ duties and delivering critical services collecting and sorting Wiltshire’s municipal waste and recyclables, to express its special thanks.

"Their efforts are not just appreciated by all within the company, but also by the residents of Wiltshire and the nation at large.”