Unions demand action from Health and Safety Executive after virtual silence on COVID-19 fears

31 March 2020

Unions representing staff at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have written for the second time in a week asking 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 HSE Gold Command asking them to fulfil their duty as the independent regulator in charge of enforcing health and safety at work. This is after a letter at the end of last week to the Chair and Chief Executive seems to have been ignored.

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 raises concern about the lack of acknowledgement from HSE management and insists that Gold Command take its regulatory duties seriously. The letter goes on:

“There is significant disquiet on social media about HSE’s apparent silence on what is clearly a workplace issue. We are further aware that a cross-party group of 128 MP’s have written to Government asking for them to act.

We are concerned not only by the apparent inaction but also by the potential reputational damage this will cause to HSE as an independent regulator in the longer-term.

We wish to meet as a matter of urgency to discuss and would appreciate a response to this and our previous letter by return.”

Garry Graham, Prospect deputy general secretary said:

“The government remains behind the curve on its response to the epidemic in its advice to workers and employers. We are a week into lockdown but every day Prospect receives more concerns from members. They are either having to go to work despite not being key workers, or they are key workers and are worried about the number of non-key workers they are forced to encounter.

“The HSE has a regulatory duty to protect health and safety at work. We call upon HSE to pressurise the government to provide clarity 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 and the capacity of the NHS at risk.”

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