Treat Covid as ‘serious’ risk to keep workers safe, Labour demands

Sienna Rodgers

Labour is reiterating its call for Covid to be recategorised from a ‘significant’ workplace risk to a ‘serious’ one as the party says this would give much-needed enforcement powers to the Health and Safety Executive.

The latest figures show the HSE has fully escalated concerns over workplace safety relating to coronavirus in less than 0.18% of cases, with only 41 enforcement notices issued according to Labour-commissioned research.

Information from the House of Commons Library has revealed that almost 23,000 concerns raised with the HSE about Covid in the workplace since the pandemic started. Labour is worried about insufficient enforcement.

On International Workers’ Memorial Day, Labour’s employment rights spokesperson Andy McDonald said: “By not treating the threat of Covid seriously enough, the Conservatives are putting workers in harm’s way.

“We now know Boris Johnson was content to see ‘bodies pile high’. And his cavalier approach throughout the pandemic has left us with the highest death toll in Europe and the worst economic crisis of any major economy.

“Today, on International Workers’ Memorial Day, as we honour the many thousands we have lost over the past year and fight for the living, it is imperative that the government treats Covid as a ‘serious’ workplace risk in order to protect workers and the public.”

A report by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) earlier this month found that, despite thousands of workplace Covid outbreaks, not one employer has been fined and prosecuted for putting their staff in danger.

Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect trade union that represents health and safety inspectors, has said the failure to classify Covid as ‘serious’ is responsible for the limited number of investigations and enforcement actions.

The TUC has consistently campaigned for the HSE designation of Covid as a ‘significant’ risk to be changed to ‘serious’, as the current categorisation limits the enforcement options available to inspectors.

One in four safety representatives are unaware of a risk assessment taking place in their workplace in the last two years, a TUC survey recently revealed, despite an up-to-date assessment being a legal requirement.

Labour and the TUC have also campaigned for employers to help the national vaccination effort in Britain by giving their staff paid time off to get vaccinated, as polling has shown only 45% of firms do so.

There is broad agreement that the Covid vaccine is being rolled out successfully. But there are still workplace outbreaks taking place – for example workers tested positive at a warehouse in Selby, North Yorkshire, this week.

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