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COVID-19: Can bosses guarantee safe workspaces?


The Government has issued a new timeline and guidance on the re-opening of much of the UK’s industry. Will it be enough to ensure that employers can guarantee a safe working environment for their employees and customers?

There has been a gradual shift in the UK’s approach to COVID-19 in recent weeks. Whereas previously, caution about relaxing lockdown measures seems to have won the day at Cabinet discussions, with each passing week more focus is taken up with how to relax the lockdown in such a way that begins to restart the economy. 

Parliament has spent much of this week navigating the complex world of operating efficiently with social distancing, and in the Government’s latest step towards a grand re-opening, the Prime Minister has announced that all non-essential retail shops are expected to be able to re-open from 15 June. The announcement has kickstarted preparations throughout the retail industry on how to make their premises as COVID-proof as possible before they have to re-open.

To assist this, the Government has updated its “Working safely during coronavirus” guidance, a collection of 8 guides published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Taken together, the guides aim to help everyone, from employers and employees to the self-employed, to go about work safely.

In addition, BEIS has been hosting a series of webinars, designed to help industry find out more about how to make their workplaces COVID secure. The webinars covered workplaces from factories and power plants to restaurants and High Street shops.

Meanwhile the Keoghs COVID-19 Casualty Taskforce are closely monitoring the development of policy coverage issues and the regulatory and civil liability ramifications on EL/PL claims, both in terms of sector-specific implications and the broader repercussions for the insurance industry as a whole.  The picture is evolving rapidly as the country is lifted out of lockdown.  The COVID-19 claims landscape is also in the early developmental stages as the legal sector and the Justice system adapts to remote working. Early indications are perhaps unsurprisingly focused around care and health services, however we have seen some activity in the essential retail businesses that have remained operational during the restrictions.  What is becoming obvious is that sectors of the legal fraternity are now targeting potential claims which arise directly or indirectly from COVID-19 and claim types and frequency is likely to increase.  A hub of expert technical insight from Keoghs is available here.

However, despite the significant guidance being developed and disseminated, there are still significant outstanding questions about the extent of liabilities for ensuring a workplace or other location is safe and COVID secure, and how liable any employer, occupier or service provider might be if members of their staff, visitors or service users contract the virus. 

These are questions which currently cannot be answered with certainty, with the origins of each person’s contraction of the virus uncertain, and the wide number of variables in each potential claim.

The challenge for the insurance industry is how to manage this level of risk moving forward. Anticipating the likely issues will be key. As claims activity inevitably increases the correct strategies and allocation of limited resource will be crucial.

For more information, please contact Lucy Walker or Samantha Ramen.


Lucy Walker

Lucy Walker

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