The number of coronavirus deaths amongst lower paid and manual workers in England and Wales highlights the need for stronger workplace rules that are enforced in order to protect workers, according to a leading safety organisation.
The latest figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that almost 8,000 workers have died where it is believed that the cause was directly due to COVID. Workers whose jobs involve regular exposure to coronavirus or working near others, continue to have higher death rates from the virus.
The British Safety Council is now calling on the Government and Health and Safety Executive to work in tandem to better protect these workers and take-action when rules are broken.
The Government has a difficult challenge in balancing the health of the economy with workers’ health and workplace safety, but there are some obvious steps that can be taken to help control the virus.
The HSE currently considers COVID-19 to be a ‘significant’ rather than a ‘serious’ risk. This limits the toughness of its sanctions and to date the regulator has not brought a single prosecution against an employer for breaking COVID-19 rules.
The British Safety Council says this needs to change given that the pandemic has resulted in thousands of workplace deaths and the infection of multiple employees through work-related activities. It says that the Government’s desire to keep workplaces operational has been a factor in the HSE’s categorisation of the COVID outbreaks within the workplace, which has prevented inspectors from issuing prohibition notices as part of the remedial actions that could be taken when investigating these outbreaks.
It says greater funding is necessary for the HSE to provide them with more resources to make inspections and better protect workers during these unparalleled times.
Lawrence Waterman OBE, Chairman at the British Safety Council, commented: “Whilst it is difficult to definitively attribute COVID-19 infection and transmission to a workplace activity rather than general societal risk, in cases where this has been confirmed as a workplace outbreak, it is hard to understand that such instances are categorised as ‘significant’ rather than ‘serious’. The Government has a difficult challenge in balancing the health of the economy with workers’ health and workplace safety, but there are some obvious steps that can be taken. Workplace inspection and enforcement of COVID safety rules is one of these steps. Keeping workers healthy and safe will help the country to boost its economic recovery once the virus has been brought under control.”
The British Safety Council also echoes the call made by the Pensions and Investments Research Consultancy (PIRC) for employers to report all cases of COVID employee illness, even when they believe that the infection was the result of community transmission.
For more content on COVID workplace rules, click here.
Work in Mind is a content platform designed to give a voice to thinkers, businesses, journalists and regulatory bodies in the field of healthy buildings.