Kathryn Gilbertson

+44 (0)1733 887621 kgilbertson@greenwoodsgrm.co.uk

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Will the COVID Public Inquiry highlight the importance of corporate memory?

Regulatory / 11 August 2021

The Prime Minister confirmed on May 11 2021 that a public inquiry would begin within this parliamentary session.  Although no date has been set yet, we predict that the Inquiry’s themes will include the UK’s preparedness for the pandemic; the Govt’s handling of scientific advice; PPE supplies; NHS test and trace; border controls; the disproportionate impact on ethnic minority people; care homes and lockdowns.

One of the many questions that might be asked is why the HSE did not refer employers, especially those of front-line NHS staff and essential workers, to its own Research Report RR619 of 2008 – Evaluating the protection afforded by surgical masks against influenza bioaerosols.

The report is twelve years old and was carried out by HSE experts.  It was prepared on the back of the avian flu outbreak and was/is highly relevant to the Covid pandemic.  It states that the ‘UK is preparing for a potential influenza pandemic. The main route of transmission of influenza is believed to be via direct contact with large droplets.  The relative importance of aerosols in transmission is considered to be minor, but it cannot be ruled-out’.

The HSE report recognised that there was a common misperception amongst workers and employers that surgical masks will protect against aerosols.   It is perhaps both tragic and ironic that whilst this fact was well known from 2008, the HSE did not appear to explain to Government, employers and the general public that surgical face masks do not provide complete protection against infectious aerosols; further that workers should wear appropriate respiratory protection.

The HSE analysis found that ‘surgical masks provide around a 6-fold reduction in exposure to viruses, whilst live viruses could be detected in the air behind all surgical masks tested.  By contrast, properly fitted respirators could provide at least a 100-fold reduction’.

Perhaps the report was not at the front of the HSE’s corporate memory.

It is essential that all employers keep their ‘corporate memory alive’.  Robust and effective policies and procedures help to do this – particularly in respect of health and safety.    Don’t allow vital knowledge to be ‘placed on a shelf to gather dust’.

If you need help keeping your corporate memory alive and meaningful with best practice health and safety process to protect your teams in the best possible way, we’d be pleased to help.


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