How to influence management board to consider their COVID-19 health and safety responsibilities

Posted in : Seamus Says - Employment Law Discussion on 6 November 2020
Seamus McGranaghan
O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors
Issues covered: Health & Safety; Coronavirus/COVID-19

Q: In relation to health and safety, our organisation has not committed to the employer responsibilities. How as an HR manager can I influence the management board to consider the same and the risk to all stakeholders?

Scott: So what's your advice here? We've got an HR manager who's looking at things and saying look, you're not sticking to the safety rules. Now it might be that those are slipped, or it might be that they never implemented them. What does an HR manager or even an employee do when it comes to an employer who's really not following the social distancing and etc.?

Seamus: It's a very tricky position for the HR manager to be in and I would have certainly have sympathy for a HR manager that is aware that there are failings or shortcomings within an organisation in respect of any health and safety matter, but particularly at the minute in relation to COVID. And we know that, you know, with COVID there are steps to be taken. But, you know, some of them can be more expensive if you're putting you know [Perspex 00:34:51] up or screens or anything. I mean there's an expense involved in relation to that. But others are reasonable and, you know, fairly inexpensive whether it is providing for face masks, or providing for hand sanitizer or even if it's just readjusting your rota so that there isn't as many people in the workplace at the same time or within an area within the workplace at the same time like the kitchen.

But this is a difficult matter for HR who is maybe under pressure, feeling that there are shortcomings here, and they are concerned about having to raise these issues with their board. And the implications that has personally, it could result in putting their head above the parapet, and, you know, maybe just feeling not as secure in their role if they were to raise a complaint about these issues. Obviously, the law is there in relation to protecting anybody that would blow the whistle under the Public Interest and Disclosure Northern Ireland Order.

And I suppose really my practical thoughts for this HR manager would be that it isn't an easy matter to bring these matters to the attention of the board but it is your duty and your responsibility, and you know, you do have a wider responsibility to the other staff within the organisation, and their health and safety, so if there is a shortcoming or failure should be your duty. And that could be potentially that's something that would be looked at or considered by the health and safety executive if they come in and did an audit that or if another employee reported the matter.

But I think it's important that you should look at a paper trail. And I think that it's important that the matters notified in writing to the board. And that there's protection for yourself but putting those matters in writing to the board, it's not simply just about protecting your own position. It's important to get those matters done in writing. I think there's a couple of things. There is setting out and highlighting what the failures are, what the requirements are in relation to the guidance that we've received. And then again, what are the possible ramifications for the continued failure to adhere to the guidance.

And I think that if that's provided in writing and there is notification provided, and there is nothing done by the board or the board ignore it and don't take any steps, and you may be at a point then where you feel like your next step is to blow the whistle. But I think the best that can be done in terms of an internal process is to advise and inform and make the issues clear and set out what the standards are, what's expected and how the current failures or what the current failures are, to make those suggestions in terms of improvements and hope that you can gather some agreement around the board to start to comply.

Scott: Yeah, self-interest I suppose often drives those things. And talk about driving, I get a paper every morning. I've been a Harts supporter obviously have to read about Scottish football. But I go in the number of, you know, guys that are going to work in the trades, for instance, and they're sitting in the same van and none of them has a mask. They go into the shop and don't have a mask. I suppose those attitudes are there and if that happens to be the employer that has that attitude, then there's risk being put there in workplaces. It's not as if you can't catch COVID in an office because the Prime Minister and the cabinet proved that as did Donald Trump and his people there that all caught it in a non-industrial setting.


This article is correct at 06/11/2020

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Seamus McGranaghan
O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors

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