The UK’s primary health and safety regulator, the HSE, has continued to exercise its regulatory function during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to ensuring ongoing compliance by duty holders with existing health and safety at work legislation, the HSE also has the power to take enforcement action against employers who are not appropriately responding to COVID-19.
Changes to the HSE's working practices
In terms of internal management, the HSE has moved to operate remotely where possible and adapted their regulatory responses to fit the new circumstances. They have confirmed that visits to business premises and sites will be conducted in line with social distancing regulations and guidelines. From the end of May, the HSE had recommenced proactive targeting of high risk industries – in respect of all risks, not just COVID-19 ones.
The duties on businesses
Duty holders continue to be obliged to comply with health and safety at work legislation and requirements to manage and control workplace risks – that includes protecting workers and others from the risk of COVID-19 infection in the workplace. For advice on complying with new and existing health and safety regulations during COVID-19, please see here.
Despite some questions around resourcing, the HSE have been carrying out spot inspections to ensure that workplaces are COVID-19 safe for workers. At the moment, they have been working in Leicester to aid the control of the recent outbreak there, and it can be expected that future hot spots will also be a focal point for the HSE. Reports suggest that the main COVID-19 related issues identified so far relate to business failing to have appropriate systems in place for monitoring compliance with control measures, such as social distancing.
What will the HSE do?
The possible responses by the HSE following a spot check, range from providing advice to assist with compliance through to issuing enforcement notices to secure improvements. In England & Wales, they can also bring prosecutions (whereas in Scotland, that role is performed by the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service – albeit the two work together).