Labour has condemned the decision not to classify Covid-19 as a “serious” workplace risk following a review of the categorisation.
The review followed information from Health and Safety Executive inspectors that the lower classification of “significant” meant that inspectors did not have the powers to halt dangerous working.
Andy McDonald, Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights and Protections, said: “The decision not to classify Covid as a ‘serious’ workplace risk means that inspectors are unable to halt work activities exposing workers to coronavirus, and shows that the government is putting working people and the wider public at risk. There have been almost 4,000 workplace outbreaks yet not a single employer has been prosecuted.”
“It is outrageous that even after 15,000 working-age people have died from Covid, and many more are suffering from long Covid, the virus isn’t considered ‘serious’.
“With rising case numbers of the Delta variant ahead of the planned easing of restrictions, this decision is deeply irresponsible and shows that the government is failing to keep working people safe.”
However, an HSE spokesperson told Facilitate that the Enforcement Management Model is the framework used to assist regulators to make consistent and proportionate enforcement decisions.
The spokesperson said: "The classification does not, and has never had any impact on the range of enforcement actions HSE inspectors can take where serious failings are found, and we remain determined to help employers keep their workplaces Covid-secure, carrying out more than 263,000 spot checks and responding to over 22,000 concerns.”
They added: “Time and again we have explained the word ‘significant’ has a very specific meaning in the EMM, which is a highly technical document. In this context, ‘significant’ and ‘serious’ are used entirely differently than one would use in everyday English."
The HSE spokesperson also said: “As we’ve repeatedly said, it's wholly inaccurate to say HSE does not take the pandemic seriously. Over the past year, HSE has repeatedly demonstrated that making workplaces Covid-secure is an organisational priority, using policy, regulatory and scientific capability and experience to provide support, reassurance, protection and where necessary, enforcement.
“During this pandemic particularly, we are facilitating swift responses by employers through direct persuasion, advice and reprimand, not slower legal proceedings. We have found the vast majority of businesses are willing to make necessary changes promptly and without the need for enforcement notices. HSE will continue to take enforcement action where appropriate, but the best use of its time and resource to ensure employers take the right action promptly is often to educate, persuade or require matters to be put right immediately."