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:
- being clear to workers who feel unwell that they should not be coming into the workplace
- exploring how your organisation will continue to function if workers, contractors and suppliers cannot come to your place of business
- developing plans for different working shifts so that staff overlap is kept at a minimum
- implementing split site or location operations where feasible
- finding ways of planning and modifying processes in the event that large portions of the workforce are absent for a period of time.
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 Organization’s (WHO) website which includes the following basic protective measures:
- Wash your hands frequently with alcohol-based hand wash or wash with soap and water for at least twenty seconds
- Maintain social distancing maintain at least two meters (six feet distance) between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing
- Avoid touching eyes, mouth and nose
- Practice respiratory hygiene - Using the nearest waste receptacle to dispose of the tissue after use
- If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early. Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority.
- Stay informed and follow advice given by your healthcare provider. Stay informed on the latest developments about Covid-19. Follow advice given by your healthcare provider, your national and local public health authority or your employer on how to protect yourself and others from Covid-19.
In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) has advised people to stay at home for seven days if you have either a high temperature or a new, continuous cough.
The NHS has stated:
- Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.
- You do not need to contact 111 to tell them you're staying at home.
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:
- Develop a response plan for if someone in the workplace becomes ill with suspected Covid-19. This should include the immediate response e.g. isolate the individual and contact the local health authority
- Plan to identify persons who may be at risk without stigma or discrimination
- Explore ways of remote working (teleworking) that will allow workers to continue their work from home
- Develop a business continuity plan for an outbreak, which covers:
- How your organisation will continue to function if workers, contractors and suppliers cannot come to your place of business
- Visitors and vendors who have access to the building
- Communicate to workers and contractors about the plan and their role in it
- Ensure the plan addresses mental health and social consequences of a case of Covid-19 in the workplace
For further information on emergency planning read the World Health Organization (WHO) Critical preparedness, readiness and response actions.
Managing your 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:
IOSH press and PR calls Telephone: +447790607217
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.
If you are interested in safety and health courses, our Managing Occupational Health and safety online course provides content on this matter.