The Women and Equalities Committee has called on regulators and the government to recognise sexual harassment as a health and safety issue in a new report published today.
“Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious health and safety concern, but we were astonished to find that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) does not see tackling or investigating it as part of its remit,” says the report.
It refers to comments submitted to the report from HSE’s head of operational strategy, Philip White, who, although agreeing that HSE had a role in making sure that workplaces have practices that keep people safe from violence at work, told the committee: “We do not see this as a mainstream health and safety at work issue under the Health and Safety at Work Act”.
The committee expresses concern in the report that HSE has produced guidance on issues including temperature in the workplace, noise levels and working with young people, but ‘nothing specifically on sexual harassment’.
“We are deeply concerned that the HSE’s analysis of the potential for harm caused by sexual harassment appears to be cursory and ill-informed. We suspect that this issue has simply been ignored, as it has been by employers themselves, but we are perplexed that it continues to reject the suggestion that it should now be taking action.”
The Women and Equalities Committee’s report is part of the inquiry on sexual harassment in the workplace which it began in February.
It says that in the wake of #MeToo, a wide range of employers rushed to respond to allegations of sexual harassment in their organisations or sectors. The committee wants to ensure that 'as the news cycle inevitably moves on, the urgency of action by employers and by the Government to tackle workplace sexual harassment does not wane.'
Actions it calls for in the report, are for the government to require regulators to make plans to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace.
It also wants HSE to issue guidance, including the risks assessments employers could do, and to investigate reports of ‘particularly poor practice.’
“Regulators are uniquely placed to oversee employer action to protect workers from sexual harassment. This is a health and safety issue, and several regulators have responsibility for overseeing this aspect of employers’ activities,” it says.
HSE said in a statement to Safety Management: “HSE acknowledges the report and will contribute to the government response after considering the report’s findings and recommendations. The Equality and Human Rights Commission continues to be the most appropriate regulator on matters of sexual harassment.”
The Women and Equalities Committee was established in 2015 to examine government policy on equalities issues including gender, race and age.
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