Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the environmental health team at Boston Borough Council has been as busy as ever since the first lockdown began.
Supporting the county council’s response to the Covid crisis, officers have been monitoring how well food businesses have managed the government’s test and trace scheme, and whether they have kept the appropriate records.
This work will be stepped up now the government has made test and trace a legal requirement.
“With a few notable exceptions, businesses were largely following what were then just guidelines for test and trace recording,” said Tony Gray, the council’s environmental health manager. “Now that they have to obtain records, or face a large fine, we will be redoubling our efforts, especially as we’re starting to see a significant increase in coronavirus numbers.”
At the start of lockdown in March, when all non-essential businesses were forced to close their doors, officers patrolled every street in the borough to make sure businesses that had been told to stop trading had done so, taking immediate action to stop any that were breaking the rules.
And when the government signalled its intention to allow them to open again, the team wrote to every business to offer support and advise them on what they could and couldn’t do. As the shutters began to go up and doors open again, officers were out checking that the measures each business had put in place were adequate to safeguard their customers and staff.
“We checked things like social distancing measures, whether the signage was adequate and effective, that seating arrangements were safe, that hand sanitiser was available for customers and staff, that entrances and exits were properly controlled, with one-way systems where possible, and that customer access to toilets was being properly managed,” Tony said.
Close-contact businesses such as barbers, hairdressers, nail bars and tattooists were also checked and advised on the use of protective equipment such as face masks or visors.
Meanwhile, the team has also been dealing with requests from the public for advice on Covid-related matters, as well as taking appropriate enforcement action where any breaches were found.
“All this was on top of the team’s normal workload,” added Tony. “We saw a huge increase in nuisance complaints – noisy neighbours, loud parties, bonfires – over the lockdown period, and once the restrictions began to ease it got even busier!”
As soon as they were able, members of the food team were back in action, getting through a large backlog of inspections by adapting their way of working in line with recommendations made by the Food Standards Agency.
“We’ve now contacted almost every business that should have been inspected during the last six months, and by using remote assessments and short follow-up visits where appropriate, we’ve made serious inroads into the list of inspections we should have been carrying out.”