A leading legal firm is urging business owners to make sure they are up-to-date with legislation after a poll revealed health and safety as the number one challenge to getting staff back to work as lockdown eases.

With thousands of people set to head back to work as restrictions are gradually lifted, company bosses and workers are advised to make sure they fully understand their legal obligations and the consequences of failing to comply.

A poll of UK SMEs conducted by the UK200Group, which represents the country’s leading law and accountancy firms, shows that health and safety is the number one challenge among those businesses.

Of 550 respondents to the poll, carried out this week, more than 50 per cent said health and safety - including social distancing, PPE, and safety of customers and staff - was their biggest challenge in getting back to work.

Cartmell Shepherd Solicitors, the only law firm member of the UK200Group in Cumbria and Northumberland, said the poll highlights why employers need to make sure they are up to date on what is legally required.

Carol Fish, a director of Cartmell Shepherd, said: “Keeping everyone safe is clearly the number one issue for businesses when it comes to getting back to work.

“It’s vitally important that business owners know the law around ensuring they are doing everything they can to keep people safe.”

If business owners fail to take necessary steps and one of their team, or their visitors was to become ill with Covid-19, and could trace it back to the workplace. those affected could potentially sue the business owner.

Under common law, an employer is responsible for providing a safe place to work, a safe system of work, and adequate equipment for the job. Failure to do so can lead to claims of negligence.

Breach of regulations that apply can also result in personal criminal responsibility which can apply to managers as well as employers.

As workers start to head back to work as the Covid-19 restrictions ease, many will be going into workplaces which were not built or designed with social distancing in mind. Employers will need to rethink how they operate safely going forward.

Employers and staff are also having to digest new social distancing regulations which are among the measures set out in the Government guidelines on Working safely during Covid-19.

Carol said: “It’s obviously a very anxious time for everyone at the moment and there’s a lot of information for people to take in about how to stay safe in the workplace.

“This is on top of their concern about their own health and the health of their family, friends, work colleagues and customers.

“It’s really important that everyone familiarise themselves with the relevant legislation.

“It’s also important that employers realise the consequences of failing to comply which could lead to claims of negligence and breach of statutory duty."

“In cases where breaches are proved, should someone contract the disease and be left with long-term ill health issues or even die, this would lead to potentially high value claims against them.

“We would advise businesses to make sure they are taking their responsibilities seriously in these areas.

“It’s very important that they are carrying out thorough risk assessments and recording all the actions they are taking to keep everyone safe.

“They should also review their employer’s liability insurance cover to see if they have, or can obtain, cover for such claims. This is something which their insurance brokers should be able to help them with.”

Carol will be taking part in a free webinar on June 2 with health and safety expert Neil Elsender, of IRM Safety, hosted by NXT Recruitment to talk about health and safety.

To attend, email Emma@NXTRecruitment.co.uk