Coronavirus: Prosecution threat for firms who fail to make premises ‘COVID secure’

Companies are being threatened with prosecution if they do not make premises “COVID secure” for returning workers. 

The warning comes as people in England are told to go back to work from Wednesday if they cannot do their job from home – such as builders and manufacturers.

Ministers have stressed firms should ensure social distancing stays in place as the lockdown is slowly eased over the next few months to stop the spread of coronavirus, which has already killed 32,692 people in the UK.

PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND - MAY 05: An ambulance crew from the South Central Ambulance Service wear protective clothing as they complete the digital paperwork after responding to a false alarm call for a heart attack on May 05, 2020 in Portsmouth, England. Due to the risk of contamination to the air ambulance helicopters, patients have been transferred to the mainland using the hovercraft service since the beginning of May. As the list of recognised Covid-19 symptoms grows, paramedic crews like those with the South Central Ambulance Service are forced to treat every patient as being a potential case, often requiring specialised personal protective equipment (PPE). Paramedics now routinely don what the NHS refers to as Level 2 PPE, like face masks and disposable aprons. Cases with patients potentially needing airway procedures require Level 3 PPE, such as full-face visors and long-sleeved surgical gowns. While the infection rate is falling, and government officials are discussing ways to relax the country's quarantine measures, Covid-19 still creates everyday risks for paramedics and other first responders. (Photo by Leon Neal - Pool/Getty Images)

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More than 32,000 people have died with the virus in the UK

Best practice plans have been drawn up by the government for businesses to ensure workers are protected – such as remaining two metres apart, being given face masks or provided with hand sanitiser.

But the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – which will do spot inspections to make sure firms are keeping people safe – has confirmed any that don’t follow the new rules could face legal action.

Close up of hands typing on laptop. Night work concept.

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Firms that do not protect staff could be prosecuted

Chief executive Sarah Albon explained how much power the agency will have to live up to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s demand for any reopening workplace to be “COVID-secure”.

At Downing Street’s daily coronavirus briefing, she said: “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.”

General view of the London skyline, as seen from Millbank Tower

Unions have endorsed the guidelines, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady saying on Monday they are a “step in the right direction”.

She urged: “All employers must now carry out and publish risk assessments in consultation with unions and their workforces.

“After the confusion of the last few days, working people will only feel confident if government and employers act now to make safer working a reality in every workplace.”

The HSE has been granted a 10% budget increase to spend on equipment, hiring more call centre staff and carrying out more inspections.

Despite the lockdown changes in England coming into effect on Wednesday, the same measures are remaining in place in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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