Business Secretary Alok Sharma urges bosses to consult employees and unions to create coronavirus safe workplaces

Business Secretary Alok Sharma has urged bosses to work with employees and unions to develop safe ways of reopening following the lockdown.

At the government's daily coronavirus update on Tuesday, Mr Sharma said he was struck by “the way people have looked out for each other” during the pandemic and the safety guidance issued by his department and the extension to the furlough scheme announced by the Chancellor were in keeping with that public spirit.

“To employers I say: use this support and guidance to know you are doing the right thing and work with your unions and workers to keep each other safe,” Mr Sharma said.

The construction industry has been urged to return to work. Credit: PA

“To workers I say: we are looking out for you, we want you to feel confident that you are financially supported and returning to a safe workplace.

“Because in this time, like no other, we all need to work together safely as we rebuild our economy.”

Health and Safety Executive chief Sarah Albon said firms which breached Covid-19 rules could ultimately be prosecuted.

She told the Downing Street press conference: “Inspectors can require businesses to do certain things – enforcement notices, requiring them to take particular kinds of action.

“In the most extreme circumstances if there is a risk of serious injury to an individual employee they can issue a notice which prohibits certain activities from taking place.

“Breach of those kind of enforcement notices is essentially a criminal offence and we can prosecute people who fail to do the right thing.”

On Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people in England who could not work from home to return to work.

But there has been criticism from trade unions and opposition MPs who say people are being asked to go back to work without giving employers time to put proper coronavirus safety measures in place.

Measures for making workplaces including offices, construction sites and factories “Covid-19 secure” were outlined by the government on Tuesday.

Under health and safety, employment and equalities legislation, employers should carry out Covid-19 risk assessments and consult staff or trade unions.

Firms should publish the assessment if possible and BEIS said all businesses with more than 50 employees were expected to do so.

Asked by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand what the government was doing to support care homes facing financial hardship, Mr Sharma said the extension of the furlough scheme would help all businesses, including care homes.

"We are listening very hard and we are providing that support," he said.

Care homes have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic with 8,000 deaths in England and Wales since the crisis.

Many need their staff more than ever and would not be in a position to furlough staff.

Pressed on the relevance of these schemes to an industry struggling not just financially, Mr Sharma said: “What we are doing in terms of supporting care homes is also ensuring that we get PPE to them, we are also making sure that we are able to provide testing – through mobile testing – to support staff and also those who are in the care homes.”