We have recently seen the Government announce its roadmap to easing and lifting the current restrictions in place as to movement, business closures, and social distancing. There has been a raft of guidance published to ensure that businesses are ‘Covid-ready’ and it appears that attempts are now being made to re-engage the economy after the enforced shutdown to restrict the spread of Covid-19.

In addition to the Government announcements, the Chief Coroner published guidance on 28 April 2020 in respect of Covid-19 deaths and possible exposure in the workplace. Within this document, it confirms that the majority of deaths from Covid-19 are due to the natural progression of a naturally occurring disease.  There is therefore no reason for every death caused by Covid-19 to be referred to a Coroner.

The note does, however, go on to state that in some instances, it is appropriate to make a report under RIDDOR (the Reporting of Injury, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013) when:

  • An unintended incident at work has led to someone’s possible or actual exposure to coronavirus.  This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence.
  • A worker has been diagnosed as having Covid-19 and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work.  This must be reported as a case of disease.
  • A worker dies as a result of occupational exposure to coronavirus.

Failure to report a RIDDOR reportable incident is a criminal offence which, if found guilty, is punishable by way of unlimited fine or, where an individual has committed the offence and in the most serious of occasions, a custodial sentence.

A lot of employers may not be directly associated with the risks concerned with coronavirus, as there is in, for example, a hospital setting. However, the recent advice note from the Coroner reiterates that there is a risk out there for all employees, regardless of the industry, in that this could be RIDDOR reportable and therefore, there is exposure of liability to the employer in possible civil & criminal terms.

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on Sunday 10 May 2020, the restrictions have started to ease from Wednesday 13 May 2020 to allow those people that cannot work from home to go back to work. This is conditional on employers having the suitable safeguards in place needed to ensure that risks have been considered as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and to implement social distancing as required.

You should consider carefully asking employees to return to their places of work without proper plans in place to effectively protect your employees from the risks connected to Covid-19. There is some helpful guidance on the Government website confirming that all employers, before allowing employees back to work, must have completed a specific risk assessment concerning the risks associated with the spread of Covid-19, which is to be circulated and sent to the employees working in that office/space/location.

Life and work as we know it has temporarily changed and this does not stop where there has been the lifting of restrictions. It is an obligation for employers to ensure the health and safety of its employees and manage any risks associated with employee’s completing their work on a regular basis. These are unprecedented times, however, this duty has not changed since the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 came to be law. Remember the risk assessment process of identifying risks and adopting measures to reduce or remove them. This long standing process is equally applicable to Covid-19 as it is to working at height, manual handling etc.

We hope that this article has provided a useful reminder in the, what feels like fast moving situation that we are all currently facing. We hope you are all keeping safe and well and if you would like to discuss this article in more detail and how you can prepare effectively by way of implementation of policies or effective management of risk, then please do not hesitate to contact James and Sarah on james@woodswhur.co.uk or sfrow@woodswhur.co.uk to discuss this.