Unions call for Health and Safety Executive to intervene on COVID-19 fears

25 March 2020

Unions representing staff at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have called on their management to directly intervene with the government on behalf of the public and their members.

Prospect, the FDA and PCS have written a joint letter to the Chair and Chief Executive of the HSE, Martin Temple and Sarah Albon, asking them to fulfil their duty as the independent regulator in charge of enforcing health and safety at work.

It is the unions’ view that despite guidance from the government that only essential workers should be going to work, some employers are stretching the interpretation of this to keep as many people as they can working. This is putting workers in danger, potentially putting HSE inspectors at risk if they have to visit a workplace, and increasing the likelihood of insurmountable pressures on the NHS.

The letter asks that:

“You as Chair and Chief Executive respectively to press Her Majesty’s Government to order the suspension of all non-essential work where guarantees cannot be given that risks to workers and to your own employees who may be called to an incident are not being managed in accordance with the law.”

The letter was written after members of the three unions raised concerns about practices in a variety of industries including construction, energy, retail and others.

Garry Graham, Prospect deputy general secretary said:

“The government has been consistently behind the curve on its response to the epidemic in its advice to workers and employers. We are now in lockdown but we still  see the situation where morning tubes are rammed with people, many of whom are in no way essential workers.

“The HSE has a regulatory duty to protect health and safety at work. They need to intervene on workers’ behalf and make sure the government is crystal clear on who should be going out to work, and who should not. If you leave things open to interpretation, some employers will inevitably take advantage and put workers at risk.”