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15th December 2021

First Covid Prosecution

What’s Happened?

A Bradford based construction contractor has recently been prosecuted for breaches of health and safety legislation in the first successful prosecution arising from the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Covid ‘spot check’ programme. HSE had carried out more than 316,000 Covid Spot Checks on workplaces since the beginning of the pandemic, with the priority to urgently make workplaces safe from transmission risks. However, this case marks the first prosecution to arise from the spot check programme and demonstrates that where employers fail to comply with Covid-19 health and safety guidance – that there will be enforcement consequences.

Covid Spot Check

When HSE inspectors decided to carry out an unannounced Covid spot check at a site in Manchester, they found more than they had bargained for, with multiple health and safety issues as well as deficiencies regarding the Covid-19 workplace requirements not being followed. These issues included working at height, welfare, Covid-19, site security, and electricity. The principal contractor was immediately served with enforcement notices in the form of a single prohibition notice and two improvement notices. A follow-up inspection subsequently undertaken by the HSE found little or no improvement, in fact, this visit resulted in the HSE needing to serve 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.

In Court

The Bradford based contractor attended Manchester Magistrates court and 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. After the sentencing, the HSE Inspector involved in the case said: “HSE prides itself on being a proportionate and evidence-based regulator. Since the beginning of the pandemic, HSE has carried out more than 316,000 Covid spot checks, with the priority to urgently make workplaces safe from transmission risks, rather than heavy-handed enforcement.” The case clearly illustrates that where there is consistent disregard to Covid or other risks to employees’ health and safety then HSE will use its powers to take action.

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