Up to 80 percent of British businesses will fail to provide their workers with Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) according to a new survey from Protecting.co.uk, a health and safety software company offering free risk assessments to all UK businesses. The results of this survey, which examined 200 different UK-based enterprises, comes as England is slowly being brought out of the COVID-19 lockdown by the British government.
Mark Hall, spokesman for Protecting.co.uk, says that "There is a general feeling of apprehension about going back to work, especially considering how restrictive the lockdown measures were". He explains to Sputnik why the government should make PPE and social distancing measures required, rather than merely "guidance", and must be clearer as to what is needed to properly protect against the virus.
Sputnik: Have you noticed a difference by sector or business size in terms of a willingness or ability of managers to provide PPE to their workers?
Mark Hall: No, nothing specific. It was a cross section of our client base, factories and shops were the best, but these businesses never shut and had to adapt when the lockdown started. It's the ones that are returning now that are lacking.
Sputnik: What are the explanations you have been given as to why PPE isn't being provided to their staff?
Mark Hall: Costs and a lack of knowledge of what their obligations are. It's a bit like paying your taxes, you know you have to but no one is stood by your side telling you what do do. Hence some people will google and find an answer some will read the daily sport. The government should have made it much clearer and made it law, not guidance
Sputnik: A great many businesses, including SMEs, are themselves facing a crisis of rising debts and collapsing profits.
How reasonable is it to expect small businesses to bear the burden of securing PPE for their workers under the current economic climate?
Mark Hall: 100 percent reasonable. Safety of staff and customers and their families should always be paramount just like any other health and safety issue.
Sputnik: If the government were to intervene what could it do to ensure businesses are able to support workers with PPE?
Mark Hall: Clearer guidance for the type of PPE required for a shop versus an office. Actual details on sizes of screens and step-by-step guidance on care and disposal of PPE (e.g. masks and gloves) for those in a back-office non-public facing work environment.
Sputnik: Could employers find themselves liable for violations of health and safety regulations if they don't ensure workers are sufficiently protected?
Mark Hall: Perhaps, within time you may get a failed duty of care, right now it isn't law, its guidance. It would be hard to prove someone got COVID-19 from a specific lack of action. That said, employers should not hide behind "They can't prove it". I personally think any shop or office that isn't adhering to the social distancing guidelines and with the right PPE in place for both customers and staff should be immediately shut down with the [Health and Safety Executive] intervention until measures are put in place.
Sputnik: What do you think the consequences will be for workers, managers, and society at large if the current trend continues?
Mark Hall: Further lockdown. It's quite simple. Failure to practice social distancing and use of PPE will result in the virus spreading. In many ways we should still be in lockdown, it hasn't gone away and the risks are still very high.
Sputnik: To what extent does your survey reflect the trend for businesses at large?
Mark Hall: It was a random selection of businesses of all types in all areas. The outlook is scary at best. Stay home if you can.
Sputnik: Are there specific policies or recommendations that you are making as a result of your findings? If so, what are they?
Mark Hall: We have created a free to use COVID-19 risk assessment and [Risk Assessment and Methods Statement] generator that will allow any business to access the risk they have individually and act in the appropriate manner. This can be accessed for free via protecting.co.uk.