LRD Booklets August 2020

Health and Safety Law 2020

Introduction

Introduction

[pages 9-11]

This latest edition of the Labour Research Department’s annual guide to health and safety law is being published in the midst of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

A fatal combination of missed opportunities, ignored warning signs, and a failure to stop non-essential work have made the coronavirus crisis “bigger and more deadly” in the UK, according to an analysis for the Hazards Campaign.

COVID-19 has been an occupational health and safety as well as a public health disaster in the UK. According to the Financial Times, the UK had the second-highest rate of deaths from the pandemic, registering almost 60,0000 more deaths by the end of May than usually since the week ending March 2020. Its data shows the absolute number of excess deaths in the UK was the highest in Europe and second only to the United States globally at this point.

Hundreds of UK workers have died after being infected at work, including health and social care, transport, prison and office workers. The virus is disproportionately affecting black and minority ethnic (BAME) workers and communities. In June, public services UNISON union reported that over 60% of NHS workers who had died from coronavirus were from Black communities, rising to over 90% of doctors.

The union’s equalities national secretary Gloria Mills described a Public Health England (PHE) report into the increased risks and deaths experienced by Black people in the UK as a result of coronavirus as “an absolute failure by this government to take action after weeks of inaction on this issue”. The report failed to make a single recommendation to deal with racial or health inequalities or protect Black communities.

Throughout the pandemic, unions have been campaigning for more government and employer action to protect workers’ health and safety.

Unions and the TUC pushed for, and won, stronger guidance on what employers must do to make workplaces safe. They: campaigned for frontline workers to be provided with suitable and sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE); ensured employers are conducting proper health and safety risk assessments and acting on the findings; and set down a series of tests and red lines which must be met before people can return to work safely. In Scotland, they succeeded in gaining recognition for the role of roving safety reps to provide trade union health and safety expertise in non-unionised workplaces – a long-standing trade union demand.

During this crisis, thousands of workers have joined a union for the first time, many union members have stepped up to take on rep positions, and the role of the union movement’s 100,000 health and safety representatives has never been more important. Working collectively to champion safe working practices, they have demonstrated clearly that union workplaces are safer workplaces.

It is vital, now more than ever, that safety reps have a good knowledge of health and safety legislation, including their rights and employers' obligations, to back them up as they take action to keep their members safe.

This year, Health and Safety Law 2020 includes a new chapter on working safely through the coronavirus pandemic and highlights law and guidance relevant to tackling COVID-19 infection in subsequent chapters dealing with particular areas of health and safety.

It covers all the latest developments in UK health and safety law including changes to statutory regulations, new case law, and guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and other official bodies, the TUC and individual unions.

This includes the latest developments and union concerns about how health and safety law could be watered down post-Brexit. The end of the implementation period following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU) is drawing closer and a “No Deal” Brexit at the end of the year is looking increasingly likely.

The booklet aims to provide safety reps and other trade union reps with a comprehensive guide to health and safety law and guidance as they work through this pandemic and beyond. It sets out the law using clear and practical language, explains the changes that have taken place since the last edition, and details any forthcoming changes in the year ahead.

The booklet examines the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the regulations made under the Act that deal with specific areas of health and safety. It covers:

• the law and guidance on working safely through coronavirus (Chapter 1);

• the basic structure of health and safety law (Chapter 2);

• health and safety enforcement (Chapter 3);

• the management of health and safety at work including risk assessments (Chapter 4);

• safety representatives and safety committees (Chapter 5);

• the workplace and the working environment (Chapter 6);

• hazardous substances (Chapter 7);

• work equipment and clothing (Chapter 8);

• physical hazards, including manual handling and repetitive tasks, fire, noise, vibration, radiation, electricity and gas (Chapter 9);

• working time (Chapter 10);

• the reporting of accidents and ill health (Chapter 11) and

• stress, bullying, harassment and violence (also called psychosocial risks) (Chapter 12).

Sources

The Acts and regulations referred to in this booklet can all be found on the Legislation UK website at: www.legislation.gov.uk.

Approved Codes of Practice (ACOPs) and guidance on regulations are published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and can be downloaded free of charge from its website at: www.hse.gov.uk.

This booklet also provides examples from legal claims, known as “case law”. In each instance the case reference is given, consisting of the name of the individual or body making the application to the Court and the individual or body against whom it is being made.

For example, Allison v London Underground Ltd [2008] IRLR 440, tells you that the applicant was called Allison, the case was brought against London Underground Ltd and the judgment was reported in the law reports for 2008. The letters IRLR stand for the publication it was reported in, Industrial Relations Law Reports, and the number 440 indicates that the case was reported on page 440.

Important court cases and employment tribunal decisions are referenced wherever possible, either as they appeared in the press, or by the Court or tribunal reference number.

The Labour Research Department (LRD) provides an enquiry service for affiliates and deals with health and safety enquiries from union members and reps. Details of how to affiliate are available on the LRD website (www.lrd.org.uk).

It also produces the monthly publications Safety Rep, Labour Research and Workplace Report which all cover health and safety developments of interest to trade unionists, as do LRD booklets. For further information and ordering details see https://www.lrdpublications.org.uk.

Health and Safety Law 2020 is one of a number of LRD Booklets dealing with health and safety topics (https://www.lrdpublications.org.uk/key_hs_books.php)