A major West Cumbrian engineering firm is taking its first steps to fully reopen after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the sector should be back at work.

TSP Engineering, at Derwent Howe in Workington, initially furloughed 180 members of staff at the end of March, with a number of key employees working from home on full pay.

Its management team worked to create the right conditions at the plant to enable social distancing and other Government guidelines.

It said a small number of workers returned on April 15 to make sure orders for clients including British Steel were fulfilled and other departments have continued to be phased back in slowly.

A spokesman said: “We have been explaining to our team that they will be brought back on a phased basis as the supply chain opens up, materials flow and we can provide an overall safe working environment.”

John Coughlan, chief executive, said Sunday’s announcement by the Prime Minister that everyone in construction and engineering should go back to work was confusing.

He said: “On Sunday evening we had to gather the senior management team to discuss the appropriate action and plan a communications to our employees to tell them not to turn up to site the next day.

“As much as we would have loved to reopen our doors and welcome back our team on Monday, there are still important factors which need to be dealt with such as risk assessments, which unfortunately don’t happen overnight – especially at 8pm on a Sunday where the senior management team are working remotely!

“There are a lot of mixed messages from the Government which makes it all very confusing. It is clear they are trying their best to support businesses with schemes such as furlough, which is appreciated, but it is a worry when they are releasing statements suggesting industry may need to contribute.

“The majority of industries are making massive losses, it’s a nervous time for many, so it would be more beneficial if statements were released with more information and details.”

Mr Coughlan added that the firm was working with unions, creating and completing risk assessments, increasing cleaning, implementing a one-way system, looking at staggering start and finish times and introducing new shift patterns for those who can’t work from home and will struggle to socially distance.

He added: “Our employees are our number one asset. They are the most important element of the business so we wanted to ensure they were kept in the loop.

“The management team have been having weekly phone calls with the team to keep them up-to-date with any business decisions while also checking they are able to access support such as community groups and charities or are struggling with their mental health."