HIGHLAND businesses have been praised for their proactive approach to staff safety ahead of the easing of the Covid-19 lockdown.

UK office furniture manufacturers may have just unveiled a new suite of “sneeze guards”, along with social and workplace distancing products, but demand is already spiralling in the Highlands.

Levels of interest are so high that an office furniture specialist in Inverness has brought a key member of staff out of furlough to work with local businesses keen to ensure the right protection is in place to enable a progressive and safe reopening.

One benefit of the protective guards for businesses is they can easily be retrofitted to existing desks and office layouts – reducing costs as companies closely monitor their spending.

Ewen Gallie, a furniture consultant with Highland Office Equipment (HOE) for the past 20 years, is now fielding more than 20 enquiries per week as interest in these guards continues to spike.

“I’ve been in this industry for years and never saw this coming,” he said.

“The manufacturers themselves have only just started making these specific products, and we’re already seeing significant demand across the Highlands.

“Businesses here are being so forward-thinking, which is really to their credit. It means they are showing admirable concern for staff safety and welfare, as well as the kind of practical mindset the Highlands and Islands is renowned for.

“Within three days of being back I’d already been out on various site visits to help businesses measure up while adhering at all times to the strict social distancing rules. These enquiries have ranged from offices for two people to larger open plan offices for more than 200 staff.”

HOE has been established in Inverness for more than 40 years, and father-of-two Gallie is one of 30 staff based at its Harbour Road premises in Inverness.

The 47-year-old was recalled from furlough when sales director, Alex Main, who was working remotely, started having to field calls about new clear plastic products, billed as either “sneeze guards” or “barrier guards”.

One of their main suppliers ceased commercial work while helping create the Government’s temporary hospitals, but has since resumed manufacturing.

Gallie added: “While nobody could have predicted this situation, it totally makes sense. Companies and their staff want to get back to work and that is almost certainly going to be a phased return while maintaining social distancing and a safe working environment.

“These will probably be commonplace in offices for the foreseeable future.”