Health and safety: landmark case gives protection to workers from suffering detriment on health and safety grounds

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Health and safety: Landmark case gives protection to workers from suffering detriment on health and safety grounds

Published 15 January 2021

The High Court has held that protection from suffering detriment on health and safety grounds applies to workers, not just to employees and that, when circumstances require the provision of PPE, it should be provided to workers.

THE FACTS

UK legislation currently protects employees from suffering a detriment on some health and safety grounds, including in the following circumstances:

  • Absence from work due to a reasonable belief that attendance at work would put them in serious and imminent danger and they could not reasonably have been expected to avert that danger.
  • Taking or proposing to take appropriate steps to protect themselves or others in the reasonable belief that there is a serious and imminent danger.

Workers, which includes some gig-economy workers such as couriers and van drivers, do not benefit from these rights. 

In this case, the High Court considered whether the UK legislation adequately implements European legislation, or whether (in order to be in line with European legislation) the same protection should be given to workers. 

The High Court held that the protection from suffering detriment on health and safety grounds should cover “workers”, not just employees. The High Court also found that the UK had failed to implement European legislation requiring employers to provide workers (as well as employees) with personal protective equipment. 

This claim was brought against the Government by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (the IWUGB). Many of the IWUGBS’s members are workers who have provided essential services (such as couriers, coach, taxi and van drivers) during the pandemic and who are at increased risk of being exposed to the virus because of their work. The IWUGB has called on the UK Government to take urgent action to ensure legislative changes to protect their safety. 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR EMPLOYERS?

Workers are now protected from suffering a detriment on health and safety grounds including where they leave or refuse to attend work due to a reasonable belief that they are facing serious and imminent danger. In the context of the pandemic, this will have particular ramifications for such workers where they believe that they are exposed to danger of contracting the virus. Companies who engage with workers need to understand that they are required to provide workers, as well as employees, with PPE in circumstances where employees would be provided with PPE. 

The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and another

Authors

Zoë Wigan

Zoë Wigan

London - Walbrook

+44 (0)20 7894 6564

Ceri Fuller

Ceri Fuller

London - Walbrook

+44 (0)20 7894 6583

Hilary Larter

Hilary Larter

Leeds

+44 (0)113 251 4710

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