HSE achieves first prosecution after Covid ‘spot check’

Out-Law News | 28 Sep 2021 | 1:04 pm | 1 min. read

A construction contractor has been prosecuted for breaches of health and safety legislation in the first successful prosecution arising from the UK Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Covid ‘spot check’ programme.

An HSE inspector found multiple health and safety issues at a Manchester construction site while carrying out a proactive Covid spot check in July 2020. Those issues included working at height, welfare, Covid-19, site security, and electricity.

The principal contractor was served with a prohibition notice and two improvement notices. A follow-up inspection in August 2020 found little or no improvement, and the HSE served a further prohibition notice regarding an unsupported excavation.

It was subsequently established that the contractor had failed to comply with any of the improvement notices HSE had served.

Jennifer Lee

Jennifer Lee

Senior Associate

Where employers fail to comply with Covid-19 health and safety guidance, there will be enforcement consequences

The contractor pleaded guilty to breaches of Section 21 of the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and Regulation 13(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015. Manchester Magistrates’ Court sentenced him to a 12-month community order and ordered him to pay £3,000 in costs and a victim surcharge of £95.

Health and safety expert Jennifer Lee of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: “This is the first prosecution to arise from the HSE’s Covid spot check programme and demonstrates that where employers fail to comply with Covid-19 health and safety guidance that there will be enforcement consequences.

“It also underlines that when these spot checks take place, inspectors will not just focus on Covid compliance but on fulfilment of general health and safety obligations too,” Lee said.

“While many Covid restrictions have now been relaxed and increasing numbers are returning to work, the health and safety obligations on employers on employers to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of employees continue, including the requirement to comply with all relevant guidance as to Covid-19 transmission mitigation measures,” Lee said.

HSE inspector Rebecca Vaudrey said HSE had carried out more than 316,000 Covid spot checks since the beginning of the pandemic, with the priority to urgently make workplaces safe from transmission risks.

Vaudrey said prosecution was a last resort, but the case had shown that where there was “consistent disregard to Covid or other risks to employees’ health and safety, HSE will use its powers to take action”.