HSE Chair reflects on 12 months of Covid

The Chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Sarah Newton, has shared her reflections on the past year, which saw Britain and its workplaces battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

Launching the HSE’s new regular website blog, Ms. Newton, who became Chair of Britain’s health and safety watchdog in August last year, explained that her and her colleagues would be publishing blogs sharing their thoughts on a wide range of topics related to HSE’s workplace safety mission.

Speaking of the 12 months since April 2020, she admits it’s “safe to say that it has been a year unlike any of us have ever experienced.”

Ms. Newton explained that, as Britain gradually emerges from lockdown and the pandemic, the HSE will be applying “renewed vigour to our work enabling Covid-secure workplaces. Drawing on what we are continuously learning from the data and science. With a focus on controlling risk, from identifying it to mitigating for it.”

She confirmed that the vast majority of businesses and workplaces were adhering to government guidelines and were making prompt changes to the way they work in order to keep employees and other members of the public as safe as possible.

Where enforcement action has been needed, however, Ms. Newton is clear that the HSE has been decisive in taking that action.

The regulator has been at the heart of the government response to the coronavirus pandemic in Great Britain, working alongside Public Health bodies and local authorities. It has ensured, through spot checks, inspections and advice, that workplaces are doing everything possible to provide Covid-secure working environments.

Ms. Newton says:

“HSE takes the Covid pandemic and the welfare of workers incredibly seriously. Of course, we do. That is written into our DNA and, since 1974, that has been our mission.”

She summarised some of the actions taken over the past 12 months to help make workplaces Covid-secure. These included:

  • Shifting their organisational resources onto Covid-related work and utilising an additional £14 million in funding to add new services to support workers and employers
  • Completing over 165,700 Covid-19 spot checks and responding to over 210,000 concerns
  • Carrying out around 2,000 workplace checks each day
  • Supporting Public Health bodies with 646 reported outbreaks of Covid-19
  • Targeting spot checks in those industries where workers are most vulnerable to transmission risks
  • Leading a Covid-19 national core study, funded by the Government, on transmission of Covid-19 in the environment. This encompasses workplaces, transport and other public settings. The aim is to answer essential policy and operational questions around the pandemic.

The Chair of the HSE concluded:

“All of the above, and more, has taken place against a backdrop of HSE continuing to regulate traditional, non-Covid related occupational health and safety in a multitude of industries.

“As well as setting up the new Building Safety Regulator and dealing with the complex regulatory responsibilities associated with the end of the EU transition period and the intake of new staff that these have entailed. I think that’s a real achievement everyone in HSE can be proud of.”

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