Covid rule-breakers face jail but careless employe

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Covid rule-breakers face jail but careless employers go free - Today News Post Today News || UK News

The UK government has this year threatened 10-year prison terms for people who lie about their travel history, imposed £800 fines for people who go to house parties and paid for adverts that warn a takeaway coffee or chat on a park bench could “cost lives”. Defending the jail threat, a ministerial aide to the attorney-general said the country faced a “once-in-a-century” public health crisis which justified measures that would not otherwise be contemplated.

Yet the Health and Safety Executive, the UK regulator responsible for workplace safety, has not brought a single prosecution against an employer for breaking Covid-19 rules. It says it has handled 179,873 Covid-related contacts, which have resulted in just 218 enforcement notices. HSE has deemed Covid-19 to be a “significant” rather than a “serious” risk, which limits how tough its enforcement can be. In a written answer last week, Mims Davies, the employment minister, said HSE decided this definition of Covid-19 “best supports inspectors in making sensible, proportionate regulatory decisions. The definition is that the effects are non-permanent or reversible, non-progressive and any disability is temporary.”

So is the pandemic a major public health threat that requires extraordinary measures, or a moderate risk to be dealt with in a sensible and proportionate way? It is possible to make either of these argumentsThe coming days unless stocks were replenished. Earlier this week, but the government seems to be making both simultaneously. The result is a bizarre imbalance: draconian threats for individuals but the benefit of the doubt for employers, even though workplaces are big sites of virus transmission risk.

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Context is important. HSE’s capacity to inspect workplaces was eroded badly during the UK’s pre-pandemic austerity years. Government funding was cut by more than £100m between 2010 and 2018/19 to about £130m. Its workforce shrank by one-third to about 2,400. In local authorities, which are responsible for “lower risk” workplaces such as shops and offices, the number of full-time equivalent health and safety inspectors has halved since 2010 to 480. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the US is also struggling to pivot from years of neglect to an explosion in demandno clear causal relationship has been established between these rare events.

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