Our head of personal injury strategy, Gerard Stilliard, discusses the importance of exposure questionnaire submissions
Head of personal injury strategy, Gerard Stilliard, discusses Thompsons’ and UNISON’s Workplace Exposure COVID-19 Questionnaire, which aims to help establish where members have been exposed to coronavirus (COVID-19) and how their employers responded.
“Front line staff have made incredible sacrifices, from risking their lives to go into work to moving into their workplaces spending weeks away from loved ones to help those in desperate need. Some have even paid the ultimate price and lost their lives to coronavirus (COVID-19). The government’s Life Assurance Scheme for those working in the NHS and in care jobs at least makes the connection between the vital work carers have been doing looking after the ill and dying and the risk they have faced of serious injury and death.
“We’ve been proud to stand up for UNISON and their members throughout the pandemic, and now the total lockdown has ended we will be working with UNISON to improve health and safety for their members and to assist anyone who has become ill. We have produced a questionnaire about members’ exposure to the virus and their employers’ response. A team of workplace personal injury experts will analyse the completed questionnaires and will explore every avenue to provide the best legal support for those who have become ill or lost a loved one due to coronavirus (COVID-19). Every completed Workplace Exposure COVID-19 Questionnaire will provide information to help us get a fuller picture of life on the front line and provide information that can be used to campaign about the issues raised.
Employers’ health and safety responsibilities
“While many employers do what’s best for their staff, the pandemic showed the gaps in many workplace health and safety regimes and, in some cases in the NHS and care sector, we have seen a woeful level of preparedness and of personal protective equipment (PPE) in particular. In the private sector, there have unfortunately always been employers who put their profit margins before employee safety; not even a global pandemic changed that.
“The UK government launched safety guidelines, supposed to ensure a safe return to work in England. You can find our comment on that guidance in our weekly Labour and European Law bulletin here, but in short, employers are expected to:
- Carry out a detailed risk assessment
- Arrange work processes to protect employees
- Provide adequate handwashing facilities
- Provide PPE (personal protective equipment)
- Establish social distancing measures
- Establish cleaning measures
“None of this overrides the employers’ legal duty to provide a safe workplace but adds to it. If employers are not adhering to the guidelines they need to be exposed.
The challenge of constructing a personal injury claim
“Coronavirus (COVID-19) personal injury claims are not going to be straight forward as the claimant needs to prove exposure came from the workplace rather than elsewhere. If, for instance, you’re a nurse who has contracted the condition after working in a ward with patients suffering from the virus, employers may seek to suggest that the infection could equally have come from your local supermarket, from a relative or the bus you took to go home. There may well be arguments over the adequacy of the PPE provided and employers may say they complied with government guidance.
“Over the 100 years that Thompsons has been fighting employers in personal injury claims – we have only ever worked for the injured never for employers or insurance companies – tricky cases have never put us off but made us more determined. Working with UNISON every entry in the Workplace Exposure COVID-19 Questionnaire is going to be invaluable in uncovering how and when people were exposed. Every response we get will help the family of someone who may sadly no longer be able to give us evidence.
“Alongside UNISON, we are going to do everything we can to provide the best support and advice to members affected by the virus.”