This commentary examines the occupational health and safety issues faced by the UK workers in the COVID-19 pandemic, against the background of government cuts in health care and in occupational health and safety budgets, and a deregulatory climate. The UK government has been obsessed, blinkered, and distracted by the desire to leave the European Union (Brexit). The state of knowledge about the virus, especially from international agencies that identified pandemic threats and strategies to combat it, is outlined. UK politicians, government bodies, medical and scientific advisors, and employers periodically ignored or abused that knowledge. Regulatory and ministerial inaction and errors on the workplace virus risks emerged. In contrast, several trade unions, health professional bodies, and nongovernmental organizations identified COVID-19 threats from poor personal protection equipment, working practices, and knowledge gaps and offered solutions for health care workers, social care workers, production workers, and service workers in “essential” occupations.


The Author(s) 2020 This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed.

Cite as

Watterson, A. 2020, 'COVID-19 in the UK and Occupational Health and Safety: Predictable not Inevitable Failures by Government, and Trade Union and Nongovernmental Organization Responses', New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, 30(2), pp. 86-94. https://doi.org/10.1177/1048291120929763

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Last updated: 17 June 2022
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