An employer is legally obliged to provide PPE for its employees where a risk to physical health is identified in the workplace and that risk can be mitigated and extinguished by the provision of PPE.
If it can be shown that a failure to provide PPE resulted in death or injury then the employer will be liable for any consequential loss.
It is difficult to prove with any precision where an infection from a virus took place. Providing PPE mitigates the risk of being infected at work and it is likely that NHS workers who have died from Covid 19 were infected at work, particularly if PPE was either inadequate or non-existent.
The issue of PPE occupies a lot of space in the media. Last night’s panorama programme set out in detail the government’s sleight of hand regarding the alleged purchase of PPE. Apparently one surgical glove counts as one item of PPE.
It was interesting to note that all the clinicians who spoke on the programme spoke on the record and publicly. All of the NHS procurement managers spoke off the record and anonymously. The failure of NHS procurement to speak on the record is telling.
Whilst NHS Trusts employ clinicians, nurses, health care workers, cleaners and hospital staff, is a failure to provide frontline hospital workers PPE during a pandemic the legal responsibility of the Trust or Public Health England, or the Department of Health, or the Government?
A pandemic requires contingency planning to be done at a national level rather than a NHS trust level and stockpiling of PPE makes more sense done nationally rather than locally. All eyes are on the government and Department of Health for failing to stockpile PPE. It was their responsibility and they have failed.
Any organisation needs to build in spare capacity to mitigate against fat tail risks, risks that materialise once in a hundred years. The government’s failure to stockpile PPE shows a short sighted and negligent approach. An approach for which they are morally accountable and probably legally accountable. The payment of £60,000.00 to the families of NHS workers who have died from Corona Virus is a baby step towards recognising that negligence.