The official Health and Safety Executive has had 179,873 Covid-related cases since the start of the pandemic, but has brought not a single prosecution against an employer.
It has issued only 218 “enforcement notices” (“please fix this within 21 days” type things). HSE inspectors are pretty much unable to halt work activities because the HSE classifies the virus only as a “significant” risk, not a “serious” one.
Back in the spring 2020 lockdown, the HSE stopped workplace inspections altogether (until 20 May 2020), with the mind-spinning rationale that the workplaces it might inspect were too dangerous for its inspectors to enter.
Before that, from 2009-10 to 2016, successive Tory cuts had reduced the HSE’s budget by 46%, and its number of inspectors by over a third.
Disputes like the PCS civil service union’s at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) in Swansea show that workers are being put at risk by inadequate workplace measures, and by people who could well work from home being pressed to go in, as well as by infected workmates without full isolation pay being “economically conscripted” into work.
Workers can only defend themselves by organising, evaluating the risks with expert advice, insisting on workers’ control over workplace precautions, and using legal rights to refuse unsafe work areas (like Section 44 of the Employment Protection Act 1996) where necessary.