Information from IOSH:
What is coronavirus?
COVID-19 is a pathogen that can affect the lungs and airways. It's caused by a virus called coronavirus. Symptoms include a fever, cough, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties, muscle pain and tiredness. As of 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared coronavirus a pandemic. The risk of catching COVID-19 depends on where you live or where you have travelled recently.
The risk of severe disease associated with COVID-19 infection for people in the EU/EEA and UK is currently considered moderate for the general population and high for older adults and individuals with chronic underlying conditions. In addition, the risk of milder disease, and the consequent impact on social and work-related activity, is considered high.
Professions likely to have a greater exposure to the virus are health care workers in acute care hospitals, rehabilitation hospitals, mental health hospitals, long term care facilities, emergency departments, and others who work close to their clients or patients.
Employers and occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals have a vital role to play in preventing the spread of coronavirus.
In an effort to mitigate the spread of the disease, an increasing number of employers are making efforts to modify working patterns, including encouraging staff to work from home if they develop any of the symptoms. During a worldwide emergency like this, many employees can feel anxious and concerned about their health, safety and wellbeing. It is important that employers communicate with their staff in order to allay these concerns to the best of their ability.
Employers can do this by:
Personal hygiene is also an important preventative measure to curtail the spread of the disease. Employers have a duty of care to their workforce and should ensure workers have access to appropriate hygiene facilities such hot water, soap, hand sanitiser and bins to dispose of used tissues.
Workers are advised to maintain good hygiene standards around the workplace by following the latest advice from the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) website which includes the following basic protective measures:
In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) has advised people to stay at home for 7 days if you have either a high temperature or a new, continuous cough. The NHS has stated:
Emergency planning advice:
IOSH advises that businesses follow good practice in emergency planning, preparedness and response. This can be achieved by adopting the following steps:
For further information on emergency planning read the World Health Organization (WHO) Critical preparedness, readiness and response actions.
Managing the safety, health and security of workers:
Professions that have a greater exposure to the virus are health care workers in acute care hospitals, rehabilitation hospitals, mental health hospitals, long term care facilities, emergency departments, and others who work close to their clients or patients.
Self- or group-isolation:
In the event that an individual or a household of individuals need to isolate, employers must consider how they will facilitate employees placed in or working under self-isolation.
This may soon include those who are not sick but who live with somebody who is.
Certifying absence from work:
We strongly suggest that employers use their discretion around the need for medical evidence for a period of absence where an employee is advised to stay at home due to suspected COVID-19, in accordance with the public health advice being issued by the government.
Use discretion on the need for medical evidence for a period of absence where an employee is advised to self-isolate due to suspected COVID-19 and follow advice provided by the national authorities.
Ensure that sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.
Talk with companies that provide subcontracted or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies.
Not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with flu-like symptoms to validate their illness or to return to work, as healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way.
Employers should maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick or dependent family member, as more employees might need to do this than is usual.
Managing occupational safety resources:
IOSH’s research report Managing the safety, health and security of mobile workers sets out the aspects of safety, health and security for which organisations should take responsibility when dealing with workers travelling for work or on international assignment.
Advances in information technology mean that more people are working away from the office. Home office, mobile office- Managing remote working can offer guidance on how employers can develop a remote working policy that encompasses the relevant health and safety management issues.
Developed jointly by the International SOS Foundation, this occupational safety and health guide emphasises the need for dynamic risk assessment and planning for critical situations.
IOSH guidance when travelling for work:
IOSH recommends the following key actions organisations can take to manage traveller health, safety and wellbeing:
To effectively manage travel risk, you need to ensure you have proportionate and robust policies, procedures and controls in place. Communicate them to all relevant parts of your organisation, providing information, instruction and training as appropriate.
Consider whether the travel is absolutely necessary: can you achieve the same result with video conferencing and spare the organisation and traveller the risk, time, cost and environmental impact? Situations such as the coronavirus outbreak in China as well as geopolitical conflicts, terrorism and natural disasters can change rapidly, potentially leaving travellers stranded or quarantined. It is therefore important to make ‘fly/no fly’ decisions based on best available guidance such as government travel advice.
If travel is deemed necessary then you need to effectively but proportionately manage the risk, with controls identified and implemented which reflect the nature and severity of the risk. Such controls should be identified through a travel risk assessment incorporating not only the travel, accommodation and work itself but also the traveller’s physical and mental capabilities. The travellers themselves should be involved in this process.
You will always need to know where your workers are and where they are going. Some travel management systems provide tracking and alert functions, and there are also products utilising GPS in either discrete equipment or smartphone apps which can provide live location tracking.
Should your travellers become involved in an incident or emergency situation, you need to have a means by which to provide support for them. Considering issues such as number of travellers, international time differences and weekend travel it is potentially cost and resource-effective to implement a travel assistance scheme such as those provided by business insurers or commercial organisations such as International SOS. Additionally, business should source local emergency phone numbers in country, giving employees quick access to assistance. Most schemes and business travel insurance packages offer a 24/7 helpline which triggers support services for the traveller, providingassistance with medical treatment and repatriation due to injuries and illness as well as helping with lost documents, stolen money and other common travel-related problems.
You should also provide relevant information, instruction and training to travellers, the nature and extent of which should be identified during the risk assessment process.
Finally, don’t forget your travellers’ wellbeing. Frequent international travel has been shown to have negative effects on both physical and mental health, with situations such as a disease outbreak providing further sources of concern
We have been asked by several clients to advise on working arrangements for those employees who can or are required to work from home during the current outbreak. Firstly, PLEASE ensure you check the appropriate link above for the latest information – the situation is changing constantly, so using a reputable and accurate source is essential.
Remember that health and safety rules apply whilst the employee is “at work” i.e. wherever the work is carried out – this includes from home or in a vehicle etc.
Here are a few useful resources:
We provide the following as general information on workplace health and safety during the current virus outbreak for Terrain clients. As in previous emails, if you need the latest update on the situation from the UK government, please visit:
For the latest information and advice for you and your business, WHO have put together an important guide for OSH and healthcare professionals:
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak: rights, roles and responsibilities of health workers, including key considerations for occupational safety and health.
Mask guidance and FAQs available at https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks
For daily situation updates: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports/
Technical guidance and safety recommendations: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-guidance
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