A professor of occupational and environmental medicine has called for an independent body, such as the Royal Commission, to investigate why workers on the frontline of the coronavirus battle have been denied safeguards such as adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).
While millions of people are in ‘lockdown’ in their own homes to avoid the contagion of Covid-19, many workers lack a comparable degree of protection,” – Prof Raymond Agius, University of Manchester School of Medicine
Professor Raymond Agius, director of the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Manchester School of Medicine, said there is a need for an independent inquiry into employers that have allegedly failed to protect workers who are risk of Covid-19 because of the kind of work they do, including those in healthcare.
Writing for the Occupational Medicine Journal, he said: “The conclusion that during this pandemic thousands of workers may have been seriously jeopardised and denied the safeguards that are theirs by right is difficult to refute.
“However, hopefully these matters will be substantively addressed by a wide-ranging independent public inquiry such as a ‘Royal Commission’. Action is then essential to protect the workforce and also to prevent future existential calamities facing our society and which may range from other pandemics to climate change.”
He said that workplace exposure to Covid-19 is reportable to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR), and that HSE should investigate how employees were exposed to the virus.
“Therefore it is disappointing to note that NHS Covid-19 guidance makes no mention of RIDDOR responsibilities,” said Professor Agius.
“While millions of people are in ‘lockdown’ in their own homes to avoid the contagion of Covid-19, many workers lack a comparable degree of protection. The planning and logistics of contending with this pandemic may be analogous to those of war, but we are not in a conflict: workers’ lives need not and must not be lost.”
The HSE revealed that it had received more than 4,000 reports from individuals who were concerned about employers putting staff at risk of Covid-19.
A spokesperson said: “Between 9 March and 26 April 2020, we have received more than 4,142 workplace concerns relating to Covid-19 in some form. We are listening to these concerns and working through these with a range of actions. Further updates on these outcomes will be made available as soon as possible.”