HSE missing ‘thousands’ of opportunities to investigate work-related Covid-19

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The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) may be missing ‘thousands’ of opportunities to investigate work-related Covid-19 cases because of gaps in its guidance around reportable incidents, a study has found.

Employers have a legal duty to inform the HSE about any Covid-19 case with “reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work”. However, many professions where the risk of Covid-19 exposure is high, such as bus drivers and security guards, are excluded from the requirement to report as they work with the general public.

By comparison, coroners’ guidance allows a wider range of reports of death than the HSE’s requirements: where a concern is identified, the coroner has a statutory duty to issue an employer with a report to ‘Prevent Future Deaths’.

However, coroners do not have the resources to engage their own experts and they cannot recommend specific solutions to employers.  They are also unlikely to be competent in the science of aerosols or personal protective equipment, and make recommendations based on this, whereas the HSE has experience in these areas.

The research paper, compiled by professor Raymond Agius from the University of Manchester, has recommended that the HSE’s threshold for reporting Covid-19 incidents under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR) should be lowered. This would enable it to make critical and timely recommendations for professions where the risk of Covid-19 infection is high.

Professor Agius said: “Current RIDDOR coronavirus guidance from the HSE is difficult to apply. Available evidence suggests that it might have failed in capturing many thousands of work related Covid-19 disease cases and hundreds of deaths.  Thus, the HSE is missing valuable opportunities for investigations that could lead to advice to prevent future disease and death.

“The HSE guidance on RIDDOR reporting relating to Covid-19 would benefit from amendment to improve clarity and ease of use and to explicitly allow reports from a wider range of occupations dealing with the general public.”

The study adds that the HSE would require substantial additional specialist resourcing to meet the demands of investigating Covid-19 RIDDOR disease reports, of which around 9,000 have been made so far, in time to learn specific lessons to help prevent further disease.

The report follows calculations over the summer by the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention that there were 1,376 clusters of Covid-19 cases in workplace or occupational settings in Europe and the UK between March and early July.

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