Firms which breach Covid-19 workplace rules may face prosecution if they cause ‘serious risk to an individual employee’.
The potential sanctions for employers were confirmed by Health and Safety Executive chief Sarah Albon during the Downing Street press conference on Tuesday.
Many workers returned to offices and building sites on Monday after Boris Johnson encouraged them to go back to work if they could.
But the announcement was criticised by opposition leader Keir Starmer, who said many employees feared their workplaces weren’t safe.
During the daily press conference, Ms Albon was asked what powers were at the HSE’s disposal if employers didn’t comply with the requirements to carry out risk assessments or make their workplaces Covid-safe.
She replied that there are a ‘range’ of different penalties that can be issued:
- Work places may be inspected, and bosses may be ordered to take action as the first step.
- In the most ‘extreme’ cases, if there is a risk of serious injury, a notice can be issued for a certain type of activity to be banned.
- Breaching those rules is a criminal offence, and could lead to prosecution.
She told the Downing Street press conference: “Inspectors can require businesses to do certain things – enforcement notices, requiring them to take particular kinds of action.
“In the most extreme circumstances if there is a risk of serious injury to an individual employee they can issue a notice which prohibits certain activities from taking place.
“Breach of those kind of enforcement notices is essentially a criminal offence and we can prosecute people who fail to do the right thing.”
In advice published on what employees should do if they are not comfortable returning to work, the government has also told people they can report the business to a local authority or the HSE.
“Employers and staff should discuss and agree working arrangements,” government advice reads.
“Employers should make all efforts to help people to work from home where they can.
“But where work cannot be done at home, employers should take clear, practical steps to help protect workers and create safe places to work, such as shift working or staggering processes.
“To identify the precautions needed to manage risk, your employer should discuss the workplace risk assessment with you to identify the practical ways of managing those risks.
“If you remain concerned that your employer is not taking all practical steps to promote social distancing then you can report this to your local authority or the Health and Safety Executive who can take a range of action, including where appropriate requiring your employer to take additional steps.”
If an employer is threatening someone with the sack, the government said: “We urge employers to take socially responsible decisions and listen to the concerns of their staff. Employers and employees should come to a pragmatic agreement about their working arrangements.
“If individuals need advice, they should approach ACAS where they can get impartial advice about work disputes.”
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