Irwin Mitchell Urges Businesses And Workers To Pull Together To Ensure Workplace Safety
Businesses and employees should pull together to ensure workplace safety during the coronavirus pandemic because new Covid-19 guidelines don’t replace health and safety regulations, lawyers have warned.
The Government has unveiled a ‘conditional plan’ to ease some lockdown restrictions. This includes advising people who cannot work from home to return to their workplace but to avoid using public transport where possible.
Ministers have also published new ‘Covid-19 Secure’ guidelines aimed at making workplaces as safe as possible. These acknowledge that they do not supersede an employer’s existing legal obligations. The guidance also indicates that employers should work collaboratively with their employees and the unions over a return to work; and that there is an expectation that employers will be reasonable.
Irwin Mitchell says that whilst many employers may work collaboratively and act reasonably and responsibly, sadly, experience indicates that this will not always be the case. It is therefore essential that all employees and employers understand that the guidelines do not replace existing health and safety legislation and it is vital employers maintain their legal duty to protect employees from risks - including the risk of contracting Covid-19 - in the workplace.
Expert Opinion“While many sectors such as the construction industry are likely to welcome the Government’s announcement to return to work, companies should be acutely aware of their responsibilities to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their staff.
“It’s vital to stress that the latest government guidelines do not replace or supersede legal obligations already in place to protect workers.
“Where it can be established that a worker contracted a disease because of an employer’s health and safety failings, then a worker’s legal rights would be the same as if they developed any other occupational illness and this has been the position during the pandemic to date." David Johnston-Keay - Partner
Experts at Irwin Mitchell have handled many legal cases involving exposure to agents hazardous to health where employers knew the risks and could have protected their staff, by taking precautions and including importantly, providing them with suitable and effective PPE, where it would have been appropriate to do so.
The government has published eight guides covering a number of sectors and business types including construction, factories, laboratories and research as well as offices and restaurants offering take-away services.
Updated guidance covering schools is expected to be published at a later date ahead of a potential phased reopening of schools from 1 June at the earliest.