COVID-19 has had a massive and immediate impact on our working lives. The risks to those working in the healthcare sector are well documented in the media, but workers in other areas such as construction, retail and goods distribution are also at risk. Particular concerns have been raised about the health of people being required to go to work when their employers are failing to provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).
Lisa Waghorne, a personal injury solicitor with Morlings Solicitors in Maidstone, who is experienced in helping workers recover compensation when they have suffered injury or illness comments, 'The lack of PPE has been described as an absolute disgrace. Trade unions are reporting horror stories about the health risks being faced on a daily basis by UK workers who are not receiving adequate protection.’
So, what can you do if you become ill as a result of your employer’s failure to ensure safeguards are in place?
Safeguarding employees - the duty to maintain health and safety
Employers have a legal duty to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their employees. This includes protecting them against foreseeable risks to their health arising from COVID-19. If any members of staff are particularly vulnerable, such as those who are pregnant or have underlying health issues, this must be taken into account.
Employers are required to:
- assess the risks of the virus to their staff while at work;
- implement preventative measures where risks are identified and inform staff of those risks and the preventative measures taken; and
- monitor and review the situation.
Suitable personal protective equipment
Employers must ensure that suitable training as well as health and safety equipment is provided to those who may be exposed to a risk to their health while at work. The type of PPE required will vary according to the type of work being carried out and the nature of the risk.
The lack of PPE in the medical and healthcare sector has been widely reported. An article in the influential medical journal The Lancet in March 2020 described the situation in the NHS as ‘a national scandal’. The article highlighted complaints from doctors and others working in the NHS about a critical shortage of masks and other PPE, and a failure to implement adequate testing of staff.
The Government's policy to recruit retired medical workers has also come in for criticism given that age is a known risk factor. At least one retired doctor died of COVID-19 within weeks of returning to work. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that repeated exposure to higher doses of the virus (such as those working in ICU) are associated with a worse outcome.
High risk sectors
The sectors that are most likely to see a high incidence of infection include:
NHS staff and care home workers who contract the virus due to inadequate provision of PPE and testing;
- supermarket checkout workers who are not adequately screened from customers;
- warehouse, construction and service industry workers who are not provided with face masks or hand sanitiser or who work in environments where social distancing measures are not implemented; and
- delivery drivers whose employers fail to assess risk and warn them about the threat posed by contact with the public.
Issues for agency workers
Many companies are turning to agency and temporary workers to cover staff shortages during the crisis, particularly in the care and logistics sectors.
Although these workers are protected by law in the same way as permanent staff, they do not always realise their health and safety rights and can miss out as a result. As specialists in this area of law we can advise you who is responsible should you become ill as a result of your work.
Compensation for an infection at work
If you believe you contracted COVID-19 at work you may not necessarily have to prove the precise cause of infection. It can be enough to simply establish that your work was the most probable cause. Alternatively, it may be sufficient to show that your employer's breaches increased the risks of infection by more than 50 per cent. Microbiology or other expert evidence may be required, and we can arrange this for you.
The sooner you speak to one of our specialist personal injury solicitors, the easier it will be to gather the evidence required to win your case. It is important you retain any relevant documents such as a risk assessment carried out by your employer and any guidance you have been given about PPE and other measures to avoid contracting this virus.
What can you claim compensation for?
Compensation can be claimed for both the physical effects of the COVID-19 illness and any psychological problems suffered as a result. Although no amount of money can take away the traumatic experience you have been through, compensation can make life easier and we will tell you exactly what you can claim for.
We can recover any lost earnings for time taken off work, and we can recover the value of any help or care that has been provided to you by your friends and family.
If a relative dies of COVID-19
It is also important to remember that if someone dies as a result of the virus being contracted at work, then their loved ones may be entitled to make a compensation claim.
If you need help with a COVID-19 or any other personal injury claim, please contact Lisa on 01622 673081 or email email@example.com to get your claim underway.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.