Businesses have a legal duty to protect the health and safety of their workers and others affected by their operation of the business. In the context of COVID-19, this includes carrying out a detailed risk assessment and taking steps to protect people from catching the virus. However, complying with these obligations, particularly as people return to work and businesses re-open, presents a number of challenges, and it appears that some businesses are not doing enough.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is currently carrying out spot checks to see whether businesses are COVID-secure, and has published a list of areas in which businesses commonly fall short. These include “failing to provide arrangements for monitoring, supervising and maintaining social distancing, failing to introduce an adequate cleaning regime – particularly at busy times of the day – and providing access to welfare facilities to allow employees to frequently wash their hands with warm water and soap”.
The HSE has reminded people that where employers are not managing risk adequately, it can (and will) take enforcement action. The HSE has a range of enforcement tools which it can use. These include serving enforcement notices which can compel businesses to make changes. However, it is crucial that businesses take their obligations seriously because, ultimately, non-compliance can result in the HSE bringing a criminal prosecution against the offender.