Construction workers from overhead

Anonymous H&S reporting ‘could go further’

Hotline welcomed but investigations may require disclosure that a complaint has been made.
21 April 2020 , Katie Coyne

Campaigners have welcomed HSE anonymous reporting during the COVID-19 pandemic but have said it must go further.

HSE confirmed that employees are able to report concerns they have around measures such as physical distancing, and hygiene, in their workplaces designed to stop the spread of covid19 without giving their name.

However, HSE has clarified that those reporting will need to allow the executive to “disclose” to their employer that a report has been made in order for it to investigate during the pandemic. Health and safety experts have argued that this could still represent a barrier to reporting.

HSE has said that disclosing a complaint will not give an “unfair advantage to the vast majority of employers who are implementing the measures properly”.

The executive said it has “always” accepted anonymous concerns where employees have felt that they can’t go to their employer first, though this has been disputed by health and safety group the Hazards Campaign. However, the HSE maintains that workers should still try and resolve issues with management first if possible.

An expert in environmental and occupational health, Professor Andrew Watterson of Stirling University, said: “That does look anonymous in terms of protecting the name but there could be examples of bad employers who try to put two and two together and guess who might have called in HSE.

“So of course HSE could simply say they were doing a spot visit, disclose nothing and not indicate there had been concerns expressed about a workplace if they thought there was a major problem raised.”

Watterson queried how HSE could know measures are being implemented properly across workplaces if they are not visiting because of the risk of infection and the lockdown. He wondered what the executive thought the risks were for non-essential workers being forced back to work on construction sites.

On the HSE guidance to try and report first to management, Watterson argued “gig workers will be very vulnerable with this approach”.

He thought HSE, and also local authority health and safety inspectors, should be “more explicit” in their guidance that anonymous reporting for some precarious workers – where raising concerns this could jeopardise pay, conditions and jobs – may well be the preferable option.

There have also been concerns raised within EH that as the majority of local authorities don’t investigate anonymous reports, any health and safety complaints that should be dealt with by the council may simply be discarded. However, the Local Government Association has said that it has not had reports from its members of an increase in anonymous reporting.

HSE were approached but declined to comment further.

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