NORTH East businesses set to reopen following Covid-19 lockdown are being reminded of their legal duty to protect workers by specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell.

Thousands of non-essential shops, including major retailers, bookmakers and food outlets are planning to re-open from Monday as lockdown restrictions continue to ease.

Irwin Mitchell is urging all employers to prioritise the safety of all staff in the workplace.

All businesses must comply with health and safety legislation and those legal obligations have not changed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Employers are also required to report to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) any deaths of workers linked to coronavirus as well as cases where an employee has contracted Covid-19 and where it is believed exposure happened at work.

Roger Maddocks, an expert workplace illness lawyer at Irwin Mitchell’s Newcastle office, said: “With more businesses reopening it’s vital that all employers are aware of their legal obligation to protect workers, regardless of what sector they operate in.

“Guidance issued to try and create Covid-secure workplaces doesn’t supersede legislation that was in place before the pandemic.

"Employers need to remember their legal duty to provide a safe place and safe systems of work."

Businesses need to take into account the risks of Covid-19 and report any suspected cases to the HSE.

“It’s not unreasonable for anyone to expect to be able to go to work and to come home again unharmed. Everyone has the right to feel safe in the workplace. Therefore it’s vital businesses are aware of their legal obligations and take all appropriate measures, including full risk assessments, not only to protect employees but themselves.”

Experts at 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 personal protective equipment (PPE), where it would have been appropriate to do so.

The law firm has recently been instructed by a number of people who are concerned that they, or recently lost loved ones who contracted Covid-19, caught the virus whilst at work.

A lack of personal protective equipment or the suitability of supplied PPE are among their concerns.

Roger added: “We have received a number of enquiries from families, including from families of people working in the healthcare sector. They are concerned about safety measures in place, including the use and effectiveness of PPE.

“These cases are at an early stage and we are now investigating these concerns so we can provide families with the answers they deserve.”

Sarah Albion the HSE’s chief executive, last month told Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee that it had seen “some significant under-reporting” of Covid-19 cases, particularly in NHS settings.

More than 300 healthcare workers in the UK are believed to have died after contracting Covid-19.

However, the HSE said it had formally received just 91 reports relating to the deaths of healthcare and social care workers. These reports were made under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 2013.

Roger said: “It is worrying that the HSE has publicly stated that it believes there could be a serious under-reporting of coronavirus cases contracted through employment.

“If employers don’t comply with their legal obligations, the true size of the problem of workplace contraction of Covid-19 could be masked and result in missed opportunities to identify future lessons which might be learned in the effort to minimise future infections.”