With the arrival of the Omicron variant in the UK, the government has reintroduced the ‘work from home’ directive. Those who can work remotely should do so, but this won’t be an option for everyone. COVID safety remains vital in all workplaces, and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) plays an important role in enforcing this.
Towards the start of the pandemic, the HSE launched its COVID-19 spot check programme. This consists of quick and focused inspections conducted over the phone or in person. Because these checks are much simpler than a traditional inspection, the HSE was able to recruit extra staff to cover the widest possible area. To date the organisation has carried out almost 350,000 spot checks, of over 150,000 sites.
What is covered by a spot check?
We’re sure you want to do everything you can to keep your staff safe, and the HSE will support you with this. There are a number of common risks that inspectors will be looking for. These include:
- A lack of handwashing facilities
- Poor ventilation
- Inadequate cleaning
- An insufficient risk assessment
- Failure to consult with employees on safety measures
What happens if I fail the inspection?
The purpose of these checks is not to catch you out, but to help you make improvements. If the inspector identifies any of these issues, they will begin by offering oral advice. If the problem persists, they can send a written warning. In extreme cases, an official notice may be served.
Things rarely reach this stage. Since the beginning of the spot check programme, the HSE has served just 365 notices. Prosecution is even rarer. The HSE acknowledges that going to trial is not the best use of its time and resources, but it won’t hesitate to pursue legal proceedings in cases of persistent non-compliance.
This was demonstrated by a recent case which marked the first prosecution following a COVID-19 spot check. The head contractor at a Manchester construction site was fined £3,000 after a spot check identified numerous safety violations. Along with a lack of COVID safety measures, inspectors also found issues relating to working from height, site security, electricity and staff welfare.
After the initial inspection, the contractor was served with two Improvement Notices and a Prohibition Notice. A follow up inspection found that no improvements had been made and a further Prohibition Notice was served. It was only after these measures were also ignored that the HSE began legal action.
Here to help
Although spot checks are focused on COVID-19, this case shows that inspectors will also flag up any other dangers they encounter. This means that you mustn’t neglect traditional H&S measures for the sake of COVID safety. Balancing these two things can be a challenge, especially as the situation continues to change at short notice.
If you’re struggling with COVID-19 safety, or any other aspect of health and safety, we are here to help. We can cast an expert eye over your safety measures, helping you to spot any weaknesses before an inspection. We will then work with you to create a new risk assessment and build a plan for implementing the necessary measures. Contact your local Health & Safety Dept to get started.