BBC withdraws Covid protection devices over safety concerns

When the BBC bought thousands of proximity sensors in January, the hope was that they would protect staff by aiding compliance with Covid-19 social distancing rules in newsrooms. Anziché, they have had to deal with fears that the body-worn electronic devices could set thems on fire – and complaints that they were so noisy, they disrupted recordings.

The Bluetooth technology was introduced in January to ensure that employees who had to go into the office and work as part of a team stayed 2 metres apart. The idea was that any employees in the office, usually journalists working on key news programmes, would wear them around their neck or in their pocket. If colleagues got too close to each other, an alarm would warn them to back away.

Unfortunately, according to a BBC source, “one started smoking” and they had to be withdrawn from use. “If they can’t handle daily use and start setting on fire or overheating, then they shouldn’t be here,” added the individual.

Another BBC employee said the units had already been largely discarded by staff, because they developed an unfortunate habit of being triggered on a regular basis. As a result, “they get in the way of making TV … they’re so noisy, so no one used them”.

A spokesperson for the corporation confirmed there had been been a problem with one of the units and that the BBC was currently in discussions with the manufacturer, although did not elaborate further on the circumstances behind their removal.

The issue highlights the complexities of office working during the pandemic. While many staff have continued to work from home, some news outlets have required employees to continue to travel to work. British television and film production has also largely continued with social distancing measures in place, even at the peak of this winter’s coronavirus lockdown.

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