Call Comes As More Businesses Prepare To Reopen
Specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell are reminding companies about their legal duty to report cases of COVID-19 in the workplace amid concern over a “significant under-reporting” of incidents.
The Health and Safety Executive said it had received 3,000 reports of coronavirus-related occupational diseases, 200 reports of dangerous occurrences and 71 worker deaths.
Employers are under a legal duty to report cases of COVID-19 which may have been contracted at work under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 2013.
Sarah Albion the HSE’s chief executive told Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee earlier this month that the government body had seen “some significant under-reporting, and that is particularly under NHS settings where we have had very, very low numbers so far reported to us,” the Press Association reported.
COVID-19 is a biological agent for the purposes of the regulations and so employers are under a legal duty to report cases where:
• A worker has been diagnosed as having COVID-19 and there are reasonable grounds to believe that this was caused by exposure at work. This must be reported as a case of the disease.
• A worker dies as a result of occupational exposure to Coronavirus.
Experts at Irwin Mitchell have handled many legal cases involving exposure to agents hazardous to health where employers knew the risks and could have protected their staff, by taking precautions and including importantly, providing them with suitable and effective PPE, where it would have been appropriate to do so.
Irwin Mitchell said it was essential that employers understood that during the pandemic their legal duties to comply with health and safety legislation remain. This means maintaining their legal duty to protect employees from risks - including the risk of contracting COVID-19 - in the workplace. Reporting cases of COVID-19 to the HSE is an important part of this.
Expert Opinion“It’s vital to stress that neither the latest government guidelines nor the existence of the pandemic supersede legal obligations already in place to protect workers.
“Where it can be established that a worker contracted a disease because of an employer’s health and safety failings, then a worker’s legal rights would be the same as if they developed any other occupational illness and this has been the position during the pandemic to date.
“It is worrying that the HSE has said it believes there could be a serious under-reporting of coronavirus cases contracted through employment. If companies didn’t fulfil their legal obligations they could help mask the true size of the problem of workplace contraction of Covid-19 and the steps required to minimise infections.” Roger Maddocks - Partner
Employers failing to comply with their duties to report COVID-19 cases, where the disease may have been contracted at work, may be liable to investigation by the HSE and enforcement action.
The warning comes as the Government revealed more details of the retailers that will be allowed to reopen next month.
Clothing stores, betting shops, charity stores as well as gift shops and mobile phone stores are set to be among those that can reopen from June 15.
Their reopening will be subject to social distance measures and the rate of infection.
Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting those affected by workplace illness at our defective work equipment section. Alternatively to speak to an expert contact us or call 0370 1500 100.