Workers from a large number of sectors have expressed increasing concerns that employers are failing to respect the government’s advice in all sectors but particularly health and social care, construction, food production, road haulage and logistics.
The concern about the HSE’s lack of action has been highlighted in the construction sector, where government ministers have directly said that the industry should continue to operate, yet HSE inspections are not making proactive (unannounced inspections) to sites as they are considered to be non-essential activities.
Lack of action
Unite is particularly concerned that the HSE has merely said that it will “consider taking a range of actions” if employers do not follow government guidelines during the coronavirus crisis. As a minimum Unite believes the HSE must tell employers “that it will take a range of actions and will enforce the Public Health England guidance in all workplaces”.
The weak response from the HSE in ensuring that employers follow the guidelines during the pandemic is further highlighted by the failure of the organisation’s website to set out the full details of the enforcement consequences that employers who fail to adhere to the guidelines face.
Unite has written to Michael Gove the cabinet office minister who has been co-ordinating the government’s response to the crisis and Sarah Albon the chief executive of the HSE to demand that urgent action is taken to rectify these failings.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Workers in frontline roles and those who are continuing to go to work need to know that the HSE has got their backs more than ever at this time.
“The HSE must up its game and be shown to be actively enforcing the government and PHE’s guidelines. The apparent failure to do so risks the long-term credibility of the regulator.
“Workers will rightly ask if it is too dangerous for HSE inspectors to visit their workplaces, why on earth are they still being told to go to work?
“Since the coronavirus crisis began Unite has been at the forefront of ensuring that social distancing occurs in the workplace. In many cases it has forced employers to radically improve their procedures.”
Unite has also written to Therese Coffey the secretary of state at the Department Work and Pensions who has responsibility for the HSE.