The UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned employers that it will issue enforcement notices to businesses that aren’t complying with Public Health England’s (PHE) coronavirus guidance.
HSE said it had a range of tools at its disposal, from providing specific advice to prohibition notices if employers failed to adhere to PHE guidance where it was practical to enforce it.
The warning came as part of a joint statement with the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and Confederation of British Industry (CBI). The statement represents a welcomed clarification on the regulator’s position regarding coronavirus enforcement.
“Social distancing is a key public health measure introduced by Public Health England to reduce the spread of infection. Most employers are going to great lengths to ensure social distancing wherever possible. The HSE, CBI and TUC wish to publicly support these efforts. Firms that can safely stay open and support livelihoods should not be forced to close by misunderstandings about government guidance,” the statement says.
“But If it comes to the HSE’s attention that employers are not complying with the relevant Public Health England guidance (including enabling social distancing where it is practical to do so), HSE will consider a range of actions ranging from providing specific advice to employers through to issuing enforcement notices, including prohibition notices.”
HSE has also recently reminded UK employers of coronavirus-related scenarios that would need to be reported under RIDDOR (The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013). When:
- an unintended incident at work has led to someone’s possible or actual exposure to coronavirus. This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence.
- a worker has been diagnosed as having COVID 19 and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work. This must be reported as a case of the disease.
- a worker dies as a result of occupational exposure to coronavirus.
Workers with a genuine concern about health and safety which cannot be resolved through speaking with their employer or trade union, are being urged to contact their local authority, or the HSE through this website.
However, although welcoming the joint statement, Hazards Campaign (HC) UK is demanding an anonymous hotline for the reporting of employers’ poor practices.
HC says the form on the HSE website still asks workers to give their personal details and that workers, often on low wages and financially insecure, will face blacklisting if they raise health and safety issues with management.
HC spokesperson Janet Newsham argued that coronavirus should be reported in the same way that an asbestos death is reported and investigated to determine whether it is work-related.
“If you are continuing to work then the likelihood is that it is work-related, and if it isn’t picked up in the workplace then it’s likely picked up on the way to the workplace. But it should be recorded and then investigated. We don’t say we shouldn’t report asbestos.”