BUSINESSES and employees should pull together to ensure workplace safety during the coronavirus pandemic because new Covid-19 guidelines don’t replace health and safety regulations, North-East lawyers have warned.

The Government has unveiled a conditional plan to ease some lockdown restrictions while ministers have published Covid-19 secure guidelines to workplaces as safe as possible.

Irwin Mitchell says that whilst many employers may work collaboratively and act reasonably and responsibly, sadly, experience indicates that this will not always be the case. It is therefore essential that all employees and employers understand that the guidelines do not replace existing health and safety legislation and it is vital employers maintain their legal duty to protect employees from risks - including the risk of contracting Covid-19 - in the workplace.

Roger Maddocks, specialist lawyer at Irwin Mitchell who has represented hundreds of people across the region affected by workplace illness, said: “While many sectors such as the construction industry are likely to welcome the government’s announcement to return to work, companies should be acutely aware of their responsibilities to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their staff.

“It’s vital to stress that the government guidelines do not replace or supersede legal obligations already in place to protect workers.

“Where it can be established that a worker contracted a disease because of an employer’s health and safety failings, then a worker’s legal rights would be the same as if they developed any other occupational illness and this has been the position during the pandemic to date."

Irwin Mitchell have handled many legal cases involving exposure to agents hazardous to health where employers knew the risks and could have protected their staff, by taking precautions and including importantly, providing them with suitable and effective PPE, where it would have been appropriate to do so.

The government has published eight guides covering a number of sectors and business types including construction, factories, laboratories and research as well as offices and restaurants offering take-away services.