UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor Handout photo issued by UK Parliament of Labour MP Stephanie Peacock asking an urgent question about coronavirus to Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the House of Commons, London. – UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA Media

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is targeting Yorkshire for COVID compliance spot-checks after a spate of outbreaks.

The regulator said it is checking that businesses are aware of the Safer Workplace guidance and advising where necessary on improvements needed to ensure the workplace is COVID secure.

‘Inspectors are out and about visiting businesses across the city [of Bradford] and surrounding areas, putting employers on the spot and checking that they are complying with the latest guidance,’ said the safety watchdog in a statement.

The spot checks are being carried out by a mixture of phone checks and site visits across Yorkshire. The phone checks include obtaining visual evidence such as photos and video footage.

Some of the most common issues that HSE and local authority inspectors are finding include: failing to provide arrangements for monitoring, supervising and maintaining social distancing, failing to introduce an adequate cleaning regime – particularly at busy times of the day – and providing access to welfare facilities to allow employees to frequently wash their hands with warm water and soap.

It warns that where some employers are not managing the risk, inspectors will provide specific advice, issue enforcement notices, stop certain work practices until they are made safe and, where businesses fail to comply, prosecute.

‘Given the number of cases in Bradford, becoming COVID-secure should be the priority for all businesses,’ commented Michael Bone, HSE head of operations in Yorkshire. ‘We are talking to dutyholders and inspecting sites across the city to understand how they are managing risks in line with their specific business activity.

‘Employers have a legal duty to protect workers and others from harm and this includes taking reasonable steps to control the risk and protect people from coronavirus. We encourage businesses to engage their employees in the changes they put in place to become COVID-secure to increase confidence with workers and in turn customers and the local community.’

The announcement of the crackdown came on the same day Yorkshire MP Stephanie branded the safety watchdog’s response to coronavirus as ‘appalling’.

Speaking in the Commons yesterday, Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock (pictured above) hit out at the HSE for its response to COVID-19 cases at a food factory in Wombwell, near Barnsley, where three workers have died.


She claimed it took the HSE three months to visit the factory, and that she is yet to receive a response to a letter she wrote to the enforcement agency.

‘Isn’t it time we had a debate on the appalling performance of the HSE?’ the Labour MP said. [It] clearly has no interest in health, no interest in safety, so will this executive abolish the HSE and finally put workers first?’

Funding cuts were blamed for the reduction in inspections during a debate in the Commons last month. In May, the government made an additional £14m available for HSE to respond to the increased number of concerns from workers.

Between 9 March and 29 June, the HSE received 23,569 COVID-related contacts, of which 7784 were COVID-related concerns, 9944 were COVID-related calls and 5871 were COVID-related advice requests.

Of the 3856 businesses contacted between 26 May and 2 July, 2386 spot checks were carried out by a mixture of phone checks and site visits. 

Out of nearly 4000 spot checks, 295 were follow ups to check on issues with cleaning regimes, social distancing as well as failure to engage with the regulator. All but 41 of these were deemed compliant after the second check. The remaining 41 are currently subject to inspector visits and further investigation.

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