The rules raise matters relating to:
- Going to work if you can’t do your job from home.
- Not mixing with more than one person outside your home.
- But allowing mixing with more than one person at work.
- Not always easy to define when it is feasible to work from home and when it is not.
Consider the following scenario during COVID-19 Lockdown
Non-food online company selling non-essential items. Certainly the picking and packing work cannot be carried out from home. So working on site is essential to keep the company going albeit it is selling non essentials.
What happens if someone gets COVID-19?
When a worker contracts COVID-19 and there is reasonable evidence it is as a result of occupational exposure, it is a reportable disease under RIDDOR.
From April to October this year there have been 11,278 occupational disease notifications including 162 deaths of COVID-19 in workers.
Most reports come from the well structured and highly regulated health and social care sector. In other sectors this is not the case and certainly there is gross under- reporting. Also symptoms eg loss of taste or smell were not apparent in the early days of the disease . The accuracy of the figures are therefore in doubt. Since July the economy gradually reopened and more reports have come in from other sectors though still a minority.
We are now in a COVID-19 Lockdown situation again. So what happens if you or one of your workers contracts COVID-19?
Where do you stand if you follow the government’s preferred option and keep your business open. Even with the best local precautions a member of staff may bring the virus into your workplace. The virus may then transmit to others during an accidental or willful breaking of the rules.
Will the HSE perhaps say that ensuring the health and safety of staff so far as is reasonably practicable has failed as one could assume the Risk Assessment was not adequate. As Safety Practioners are aware hindsight following an accident rarely supports the view that everything that was reasonably practicable was carried out.
Consider this second scenario during COVID-19 Lockdown
You pick up a member of staff on the way to work every morning and do the same every evening. You take the view that it is safer for the member of staff to travel this way rather than by public transport. After all the government advises that everyone should avoid public transport.
Consider what happens if that member of staff gives you COVID-19. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act are you failing to look after you own health and safety? Is your altruism misplaced? Can you be prosecuted?. Should you have obtained assurances from that member of staff each time before picking them up? If you could not then should you have let them use public transport and infect their fellow travelers?
What is the answer?
I cannot provide an answer to either scenario as outcomes often depend on the person interpreting the regulations. I can only hope that during this COVID-19 Lockdown if such situations arise the enforcing authorities will use their discretion rather than a sledge hammer approach in their desire to provide an example for others.