Workers gain new health and safety protection from 31 May (UK)

UK workers look set to gain new health and safety protection from 31 May, subject to parliamentary approval.

The government has published the draft Employment Rights Act 1996 (Protection from Detriment in Health and Safety Cases) (Amendment) Order 2021 which will grant workers the right not be subjected to a detriment for leaving, or refusing to return to their workplace in circumstances where they reasonably believe it would put themselves or others in serious or imminent danger, or for taking steps to protect themselves.

COVID-19 raised concerns about safe working conditions

For many workers the COVID-19 outbreak resulted in concerns around how they were treated and how safe their working conditions were. The IWGB (Independent Workers Union of Great Britain) which predominantly represents low-paid, migrant and “gig economy” members said its members had raised concerns about their working practices and lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), and failure to implement social distancing.

As the Employment Rights Act 1996 only granted protection to employees, and not workers, this gap and protection has been there for a long time, but has been highlighted by the Covid workplace.

The new legislation will amend the ERA to ensure that both employees and workers have the right not to be subjected to any detriment by their employer on the grounds that:

  • they left or refused to attend their place of work where they reasonably believed there were circumstances of serious and imminent danger; or
  • they took appropriate steps to protect themselves or others from what they reasonably believed to be circumstances of serious and imminent danger.

Change will be welcomed

The change in legislation will be very much welcomed by workers, particularly with the effects the pandemic has had on them and their working situations. However, it is important that employers are aware that the amendments apply to all health and safety issues and not just those related to COVID-19. If workers believe that their employer has subjected them to a detriment in contravention of these new provisions, they have the right to bring a tribunal claim.

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