Lib Dems propose support package for employers to keep workers safe as lockdown eases

The Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government to help businesses draw up risk assessments to keep their employees safe as they return to work, and to establish a Coronavirus Safety Hotline for whistleblowers to report unsafe workplaces.

The party has emphasised that anyone who can work from home must continue to do so in line with the current public health guidance, and that this must remain the case until the Government has scaled up testing and tracing sufficiently to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The measures, set out today by Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey, are intended to support small and medium-sized businesses who are bringing employees back to work now – as well as all employers as the lockdown is eased in future.

Acting Leader Ed Davey

The Liberal Democrats’ “Safe Return to Work” package has been drawn up with advice from the party’s Business Taskforce, chaired by former Siemens UK CEO Juergen Maier. It calls for: 

  • A free support service for small and medium-sized enterprises – especially those less used to rigorous risk assessment processes – to draw up risk assessments, provided by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
  • HSE to run a volunteer recruitment drive for retired safety professionals to provide support with risk assessments.
  • Labour and workplace inspection to be classified as ‘essential work’, to enable inspectors to ensure workplaces are operating safely and appropriately.
  • A dedicated ‘Coronavirus Safety Hotline’ for whistleblowers to anonymously alert HSE to concerns about their workplace.
  • A clear strategy and support service for immediate, targeted testing and tracing if there is an outbreak in a workplace, to contain the outbreak and minimise disruption.

To enable the Health and Safety Executive to properly support employers and protect workers as they go back to work, the Liberal Democrats are also calling for an emergency £30 million funding boost (an additional £16m on top of the £14m of extra funding announced by the Government this month) for the agency, which has seen its government funding cut by 17% in real terms (£27 million in 2019-20 prices) since 2015.

Announcing the proposals, Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said: “The coronavirus crisis is leaving families and businesses across the country facing terrible financial hardship. We must ensure no one is left behind as the lockdown is eased and we begin on the long road to economic recovery.

“Any easing of the lockdown can only happen once the Government delivers a comprehensive strategy to test, trace and isolate to prevent a new surge. Sadly, the Prime Minister is creating more confusion than clarity by badly communicating his Government’s plans.

“The Government is asking a lot of the public during this crisis, and the British people deserve clear, honest answers. Ministers must ease concerns by urgently setting out how they will support employers to adapt and create a safe work environment.”

Juergen Maier, Chair of the Liberal Democrat Business Taskforce, added: “Workers and employers are understandably worried about whether they can return to work safely.

“Boris Johnson’s announcement to return to work without a coherent plan only weakened their confidence further by showing little understanding of the challenges they face.

“To get through this crisis safely and begin to grow the economy again, the Government must help employers to keep their workers safe.

“It should focus support on the smaller businesses who are less used to conducting rigorous risk assessments. And it must reverse recent cuts to the Health and Safety Executive so it can provide the support employers and workers need.”

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