IER launches free seminar on govt failings over Covid health and safety

The IER will hold a free-to-attend seminar on the government and HSE's response Covid-19 in the workplace at 10am on Tuesday 30 March 2021.

25 Mar 2021| News

For immediate release: Thursday 25 March 2021

Think tank, the Institute of Employment Rights, will hold a free-to-attend seminar on the government and HSE’s response to Covid-19 in the workplace at 10am on Tuesday 30 March 2021.

The 3.5 hour event will provide further in-depth detail about IER’s latest report HSE and Covid at work: a case of regulatory failure, which concluded that the UK government downplayed the risk of workplace infections and pursued a light-touch approach to health and safety regulation through a dangerously under-resourced HSE.

Speaking at the conference will be a selection of the report’s authors, including Professor Phil Taylor of the University of Strathclyde, whose research tracking the experiences of workers in call centres during the pandemic – including Swansea’s DVLA offices – has featured heavily in news coverage of workplace Covid outbreaks.

He will be joined by Lord John Hendy QC and Professor Michael Ford QC, who will bring their formidable experience in labour law to bear on the application – and lack thereof – of existing health and safety legislation during the crisis.

Professor Steve Tombs of the Open University will consider the reasons behind the virtual lack of enforcement of Covid-19 rules in workplaces, which has led to zero prosecutions for organisations putting their workers at risk despite over 40,000 penalties being doled out to members of the public for the same wrongdoing.

They will be joined by Professor Phil James of Middlesex University, lead author of the report, who will explain why he and his team believe a major independent public inquiry is needed; Janet Newsham of health and safety campaign Hazards, who will speak on how activists can fight back; and Carolyn Jones, Director of the IER, in the chair.

All are welcome to attend this online event, which starts at 10am on Tuesday 30 March 2021, completely free by registering here.

Notes to editors:

Contact: Sarah Glenister,

About HSE and Covid at work: a case of regulatory failure

On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation declared a global Coronavirus pandemic. From the outset, workplaces were recognised as a major source for the spread of the disease. Yet the UK government downplayed the dangers, with Prime Minister Johnson announcing that workplaces were ‘Covid-secure’ thanks in part to HSE ‘spot-checks’. Yet, throughout this period, the Health and Safety Executive, the agency responsible for securing compliance with health and safety regulations at work, has been notable by its absence.

The analysis contained in this report, partly based on data gathered via Freedom of Information requests, reveals the extent to which the HSE failed in its duties to protect workers, promote relevant health and safety laws and prosecute rule-breaking employers. It also failed to highlight the rights and functions of the 100,000 trade union health and safety representatives and the role they could play in securing compliance with the law and appropriate health and safety practices at work. Instead, tax-payers money was used by the HSE to outsource inspection to private companies to undertake phone call checks to employers.

This is a timely and informed report highlighting the failings of the HSE and the UK’s framework of laws. It concludes with a list of recommendations – the first of which is the need for a major independent inquiry into the future of health and safety in the UK.

About the Institute of Employment Rights

The IER exists to inform the debate around trade union rights and labour law by providing information, critical analysis, and policy ideas through our network of academics, researchers and lawyers.

We were established in February 1989 as an independent organisation to act as a focal point for the spread of new ideas in the field of labour law. In 1994 the Institute be