HSE's enforcement of guidelines on coronavirus (COVID-19) in workplaces

At an early stage in the pandemic, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) considered all available scientific evidence and gave our inspectors guidance about how they should interpret various factors in their decisions in enforcing health and safety law.

That advice was based on HSE’s Enforcement Management Model (EMM) and how it works in relation to dealing with risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic in the workplace. The EMM is a flexible but technical guide to assist inspectors in their primary role of ensuring workplaces are safe.

Using our EMM framework, HSE has classified the COVID-19 pandemic risk as ‘significant’, ie a significant health effect. Taken out of context of the language and the framework used in the EMM, this classification may have incorrectly given the impression that HSE is treating the pandemic as not serious. Nothing could be further from the truth as we have been dedicated, alongside other government departments during the pandemic, to helping employers keep their workplaces safer. This has included over 100,000 spot inspections and responding to over 18,000 concerns.

HSE is an enabling regulator and when inspectors attend sites, we ensure businesses take immediate action where necessary regarding COVID-19 working safely guidance, before they leave the site. The EMM is not a constraint on enforcement decisions but a guide to it. The classification is kept under regular review as different data/evidence becomes available.

The EMM helps inspectors to decide whether to give verbal advice, confirm that in a letter or reach straight for their improvement notice pad. However, the full range of powers has always been available to an inspector and they use their professional judgement as to what will achieve the best results.

The reason why HSE decided the impact of the pandemic does not justify the use of the ‘serious’ category is because, unlike other life-threatening health risks such as asbestos, it does not affect workers in exactly the same way. We are acutely aware that workers have died following a positive COVID test and for some workers it is a very serious condition, which may have long-lasting consequences. However, for many workers, symptoms may be very mild.

We remain determined to help employers keep their workplaces safer, and play their part in avoiding deaths and serious long-term health effects due to coronavirus.

We review and update this page regularly to reflect any changes in guidance.

Page last reviewed: 19 July 2021

Next review due: 31 July 2021