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Coronavirus-related deaths of 91 NHS workers could be investigated

The deaths of more than 90 health and care workers could be investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Sky News has announced.

The HSE has received a growing number of reports of workplace deaths related to COVID-19.

The reports have been formally submitted under RIDDOR, the “Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences”.

An HSE spokesperson said: “In these unprecedented times the NHS and front line workers are under immense pressure doing what they need to do to save lives. We need to put the needs of the NHS first, along with the needs of the families who have lost their loved ones.

“We are committed to getting the most accurate picture possible of all deaths that should be reported to us and are in contact with NHS Trusts.”

They wanted to remain anonymous, but said they welcome the HSE’s involvement, because they have “serious concerns” about the level of protection provided for their relative who worked in a care home.

Sky News has been told a total of 91 RIDDOR reports relating to the deaths of healthcare and social care workers are currently being looked at. The HSE is expecting to receive more in the future.

Of these 91 deaths, 26 have occurred in local authority social care settings. These are big numbers for the HSE. For the whole of last year a total of 147 workplace deaths were investigated. Coronavirus deaths alone could easily match that.

At the start of the outbreak, the HSE issued new coronavirus guidance to employers, which states deaths must be reported if they’re connected to “occupational exposure to coronavirus”.

The HSE will examine whether the RIDDOR reported deaths meet the criteria for a full investigation.

If they do, the HSE will evaluate whether the workplace did enough to protect staff from the virus.

One private health and safety investigator, Martin Marmoy-Haynes, told Sky News: “The onus is on the employer to say here is my risk assessment, we carefully looked at this. We considered the access, social distancing, the signage, the one way routes. We did everything that is reasonably practicable.”

Meanwhile some families are instructing lawyers to start private proceedings against hospital trusts or care providers.

The law firm Irwin Mitchell is handling a number of cases. One of their personal injury lawyers, David Johnson-Keay said his clients have many unanswered questions.

“Provision of PPE is a big issue and one of the big questions we are being asked about. Were they provided with proper PPE? Was it fit for purpose? And if not, why was that the case?” he said.

It will take time for the HSE to consider each of the reported deaths. But if it decides to investigate it has the power to fine or even prosecute NHS trusts or care providers which break the health and safety rules.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) says it has set up an independent process to ensure deaths of staff are being reported to the HSE.

In a statement, a Department of Health spokesperson said: “The safety of our NHS and social care staff is paramount and employers should follow their legal duty to report the deaths of any staff who die as a result of exposure to coronavirus from their work to the Health and Safety Executive.

“In addition, we are introducing a new process for medical examiners to scrutinise the deaths of health and care staff.

“During this global pandemic we have been working around the clock to ensure PPE is delivered as quickly as possible to those on the front line”.

Source – Sky News

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