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THE failure to classify Covid-19 as a serious workplace risk has endangered public safety, Labour said today.
Shadow employment minister Andy McDonald argued that the Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) decision not to place coronavirus in its highest category of hazards has contributed to Britain having the highest death toll in Europe.
Employment Minister Mims Davies said last week that Covid had been classified as a “significant” rather than “serious” risk as this best supports inspectors making “sensible, proportionate” decisions.
She claimed that the effects of Covid-19 on workers generally were “non-permanent” and “temporary,” despite this country registering more than 115,000 deaths.
Meanwhile, HSE data revealed there have been no coronavirus-related prohibition notices, which allow inspectors to immediately close dangerous workplaces, issued since the pandemic started.
Mr McDonald said: “[This] decision has prevented enforcement action to keep workers and the public safe.
“It is staggering that inspectors have been denied the powers to close workplaces and prosecute employers.
“That the HSE has failed to close a single business for putting employees at risk shows how workplace protections have been neglected.
“Covid-19 must be classified as a serious workplace risk.”
Public Health England figures show that there have been 3,549 outbreaks in offices, factories and construction sites since July, with 100 detected last week alone.
January saw 25,000 concerned workers contact the HSE as the third national lockdown supposedly closed all but essential workplaces.
The government made an extra £14 million available to the HSE last year to recruit more staff as it tried to make up for a decade of cuts totalling more than £100m.
An HSE spokesperson said that the official watchdog was “facilitating swift responses by employers through direct persuasion and advice, not slower legal proceedings.”
Labour also called for the establishment of a British business recovery agency to help save companies that now have to repay £71 billion of government “Bounce Back” loans, with the party warning that 850,000 businesses are at risk of collapse.
The proposals include plans to convert the scheme into a “student loan-style” arrangement, with businesses only paying back funds when they become profitable again.
A Treasury spokesperson said that government loans have provided “a lifeline” to thousands of businesses, adding that ministers were “determined to give businesses the backing and confidence” that they need to survive.
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