There has been much discussion in recent days about the provision of Personal Protective Equipment ('PPE') for key workers during the coronavirus pandemic. The UK Government published new guidance on 10 April in line with the World Health Organisation protocols. It sets out recommendations on what should be the minimum level of protection and emphasises the importance of local risk assessment to determine need.
“In general terms, employers have a duty to provide suitable personal protective equipment to protect against risks to their employees’ health. This is covered in the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992. Employers are subject to an implied duty to take reasonable care of the health and safety of employees. There are obligations to run risk assessments to help identify risks, but in the case of COVID-19, the risks are already being well publicised by the Government.
“The equipment supplied should eliminate the hazard or, where that is not possible, minimise the risk posed. Technically in the event of failure to comply with the regulations, a criminal offence is committed. However, this is usually policed by the Health & Safety Executive who have limited resources and tend to pursue only the most serious cases.
"The sanctions can vary depending upon the severity of the breach and take the form of:
- verbal or written advice
- the issuing of an improvement or prohibition notice, or
- criminal prosecution.
"Given the nature and extent of the current crisis the likelihood of such action being taken by a Government body is nil. As can be seen in the present situation the greatest pressure upon employers to provide the correct equipment at the moment is coming from media scrutiny of the situation.
“Civil liability is slightly different. The Cameron Government removed the right to bring a civil claim based solely on a breach of health and safety regulations. Civil claims in this context are now normally brought in common law negligence. It is frequently argued that a breach of the health and safety regulations is indicative of common law negligence. It’s a fine distinction but in simple terms means that it makes civil claims harder to prove. If liability is established in a civil claim and harm is suffered as a result, damages and/ or compensation can be awarded by the court. The extent of that award will depend upon the extent of the avoidable harm suffered.”
The latest government advice as at 10 April 2020 can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-infection-prevention-and-control