Health and safety regulator prepares for rush of calls as workplaces reopen

return to work

The Health and Safety Executive is bracing itself for a deluge of calls from concerned workers now that employers are opening up their premises as coronavirus lockdown measures ease.

Earlier this week HSE chief executive Sarah Albon told the work and pensions committee in the House of Commons that employers that could not introduce adequate measures to protect staff from coronavirus should not reopen their workplaces.

She added that every workplace should carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment before staff return, and that most would be able to implement social distancing and hygiene measures.

Between 9 March and 7 May, about 4,900 coronavirus-related calls and online queries were made to the HSE, the UK’s independent regulator for work-related health, from workers concerned about their safety in the workplace, Albon told MPs.

HSE decided that about 1,400 of these merited further investigation and were referred to the regulator’s inspectors.

In 321 of these cases, inspectors asked employers to show what safety measures they had put in place, while 27 were written to, with orders for improvements to be made. No businesses had yet been ordered to close their premises by HSE.

Albon told MPs that HSE inspectors were yet to close any businesses as a result of those concerns.

Later, clarifying the figures, HSE said that 4,813 of the total calls raised concerns about a workplace, with the majority being rectified after employers were contacted by the regulator.

HSE has now extended its opening hours from 5pm to 10pm and added to its call centre staff to cope with the anticipated demand.

Personnel Today has contacted HSE for further comment on its coronavirus-related workload.

The agency has published guidance for employers on making their workplaces safe, including advice for particular sectors. Although the message is now that people can return to their workplaces, the guidance emphasises that anyone who can work from home should remain at home. It also urges employers to provide equipment so that people can work safely at home.

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