Sarah Newton Chair of HSE Board and Sarah Albon CEO
Health and Safety Executive
15 February 2021
Dear Sarah Newton, Sarah Albon,
The Hazards Campaign is extremely concerned about the HSE’s response to the COVID pandemic in the workplace generally, and more specifically about recent published revelations that the HSE designated Covid-19 not as a ‘serious’ workplace risk but rather as a ‘significant’ risk.
Employment Minister Mims Davies said last week that Covid had been classified as a “significant” rather than “serious” risk as this best supports inspectors making “sensible, proportionate” decisions. The Minister also described Covid-19 as having effects on workers generally that were “non-permanent” and “temporary”. 1
The Hazards Campaign find it odd how a disease that is ‘highly contagious’, the consequences of becoming infected are, in the words of the Prime Minister, ‘deadly’, which can leave infected workers with long-term life-changing and life-shortening ill health, leads to thousands of deaths, thousands of sick days and disabilities, can be classified as ‘not serious’ just a ‘significant workplace risk’. We do not recognise Covid-19 as described by Employment Minister Mims Davies, as having effects on workers generally that were “non-permanent” and “temporary”.
A disease that is prevalent in our communities cannot be described as anything but a significant risk, and given the role of workplaces in spreading the infection, we believe it must be regarded as a ‘Serious workplace risk’. The thousands of known workplace outbreaks which have led to the deaths and infection of workers, their families and consequently spread to people in their communities, supports such a demand for extra action at work.
Specific questions we would like answered
Please provide details as to:
- How was the decision to downgrade Covid -19 from ‘Serious’ to ‘Significant’ workplace risk made?
- Who made the decision – which individuals/group(s) of people?
- What are the qualifications/experience of the people who made the decision?
- Based on what specific scientific and occupational health data was the decision made?
- Was government advice/guidance sought or given?
- What specific differences does a classification of ‘Significant’ as opposed to ‘Serious workplace risk’ have on the way the HSE regulates and enforces health and safety law and COVID guidance in workplaces?
- What role did economic/financial issues play in this decision as regards HSE’s operational work and the effects on the businesses it regulates?
- Employment Minister Mims Davies described Covid-19 as having effects on workers generally that were “non-permanent” and “temporary”. If the HSE provided this information to the Employment Minister can you provide the data to support this assertion?
As a major Health and Safety organisation the Hazards Campaign requests an immediate review and resolution of this absurd situation. Employers look to the HSE to provide a lead in the advice they provide on safe and healthy work activities and this decision provides an excuse for bad employers not put in place preventative mitigations of the risks.
As an organisation Hazards Campaign is contacted daily for advice and support by frightened and anxious workers being exposed to infection risks because their employer is failing to control them. We feel that this mixed messaging from the HSE is contributing to these failures. At this time we need strong enforcement not excuses being made available to employers by the inaction and seemingly collaboration with weakened enforcement by reducing the standards of employers legal duties.
We also call on the HSE to be more transparent on workplace outbreaks, so that workers can be informed properly about where the risks are in their workplaces, including the transmission risks and how their employers are mitigating against those risks.
We will all be judged how we have responded to the pandemic. This is a time when the HSE needs to take a lead in providing strong messages about the duties on employers to ensure the mental and physical health of workers.