The coronavirus pandemic has led to many employees working from home and others being furloughed. Now the government is urging people to get back to work if they are not able to work from home.

But with social distancing necessary the onus is on business owners to put safety measures in place to protect their staff and avoid accidents at work.

Indeed, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned that businesses could face prosecution if they flout coronavirus safety at work rules. 

There are a ‘range’ of different penalties that can be issued by the HSE if they are suspected of ignoring safety at work rules:

  • Workplaces may be inspected, and bosses may be ordered to take action as the first step.
  • In the most ‘extreme’ cases, if there is a risk of serious injury, a notice can be issued for a certain type of activity to be banned.
  • Breaching those rules is a criminal offence and could lead to prosecution.

Sarah Albon, chief executive of the HSE, said: “In the most extreme circumstances if there is a risk of serious injury to an individual employee they (the inspector) can issue a notice which prohibits certain activities from taking place.

“Breach of those kind of enforcement notices is essentially a criminal offence and we can prosecute people who fail to do the right thing.”

So what should employers do to ensure accidents at work are avoided and the regulations adhered to?

Businesses should listen to individual concerns of employees and act upon what they say. Some will be happy to return to work, but others will need more reassurance. Do not forget that it is of fundamental importance that you ensure the workplace is as safe as it possibly can be to make accidents at work less likely. These could include:

  • Consider the compulsory use of face masks.
  • Use different entrances and exits to reduce social contact.
  • Use clear signage to ensure colleagues stick to social distancing rules.
  • Provide sufficient handwashing facilities.
  • Look at possibly staggering shifts to limit the number of people at work at any one time.

The most up to date guidance is on the HSE website but the crucial thing to remember is that the onus is on the employer to make sure their staff have a safe working environment that minimises the risk of accidents at work.