Managing Health and Safety in the Workplace

As the current situation regarding coronavirus evolves, we will do our best to keep this information updated from reliable trusted sources.  However, employers should also keep up-to-date with guidance from government, the Public Health Agency, and the Labour Relations Agency.  

What are the symptoms of Covid-19?

 

The most common symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) are recent onset of any of the following:
-a new continuous cough
-a high temperature
-a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell (anosmia). It can also affect the sense of taste as the two are closely linked.

For most people, coronavirus (COVID-19) will be a mild illness. However, if you have any of the symptoms above you should self-isolate at home.

 

 

 

What laws in respect of health and safety at work must employers in Northern Ireland abide by?

Employers’ health and safety obligations are provided by:
The Health and Safety at Work (NI) Order 1978; and Associated regulations, including:
-The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000;
-The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993;
-The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1997
-The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993

 

 

What are the overarching health and safety obligations from a legal perspective?

The overarching obligations: Employers “must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees” and those who may be affected by the works.

Specific obligations include:
-Risk assessment (https://www.hseni.gov.uk/publications/example-covid-19-risk-assessment-template)
-Provision of PPE
-Appropriate welfare facilities
-Keeping the workplace sufficiently clean
-Consultation with employees
-RIDDOR reporting

 

What happens if an employee has symptoms / suspected case?

If an employee has COVID-19 symptoms (new continuous cough, fever, new loss of taste or smell) send them home immediately and tell them to book a test online at www.gov.uk or by calling 119 and to follow the stay at home guidance.
• Clean premises thoroughly as normal, paying particular attention to anywhere the employee may have touched frequently (door handles, light switches, cash register, computer keyboard, telephone etc).
• Use disposable cloths and cleaning equipment. You can find guidance on cleaning after a case of COVID at www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19- decontamination-in-non-healthcare-settings. 
• Double bag any personal waste.
• It is not necessary to close the business or workplace or send any other staff member(s) home unless you are advised to do so following investigation by the Public Health Agency (PHA).

What happens if an employee or customer tests positive?

The PHA Contact Tracing Service (CTS) will be in touch with the person who has tested positive (the case) to identify all their close contacts – including at work or in businesses they have visited. The case will have to self-isolate for 10 days. If any of those close contacts are co-workers, the case may wish to (but is not obliged to) ask their employer to alert those co-workers.
• Not all people the person has met will be close contacts. The CTS will determine this through their discussion.
• All close contacts will then be called by the CTS and told to self-isolate for 14 days.  If they develop symptoms they should book a test. Close contacts should NOT book tests unless they develop symptoms. Please note a close contact must complete the full 14 days self-isolation even if they receive a negative test result.
• People who live with a close contact of a case will NOT have to self isolate unless they are also a close contact of the case.
• Businesses do not have to close because one employee has tested positive.
• Follow the cleaning advice above and reinforce prevention messages.
• You should support workers who need to self-isolate and must not ask them to attend the workplace if they have been advised to stay at home.

What happens if two employees or customers tests positive?

Where two or more cases may be linked through their employment or attendance at a common business or setting, the PHA will consider this and assess if further investigation is needed. Two cases linked to a setting is not necessarily an outbreak as the link may be coincidental.
• The PHA may contact the business owner to get information and give advice on what todo. This could mean enhanced cleaning, testing of all employees or other preventative measures to break the chain of infection. These are determined on a case by case basis.
• PHA will work with the business owner until any outbreak or cluster is appropriately managed and the business can operate safely. This is designed to be a supportive process.
• Where appropriate the Health and Safety Executive or District Council may be involved in these discussions and action plans.

Can I share the fact that someone has tested positive with other employees? What do I need to consider if I am planning to disclose this information to third parties?

You should keep staff informed about potential or confirmed COVID-19 cases amongst their colleagues. However, you should avoid naming individuals if possible, and you should not provide more information than is necessary.  

As an employer, it’s your duty to ensure the health and safety of all your employees. Data protection doesn’t prevent you doing this and should not be viewed as a barrier to sharing data with authorities for public health purposes, or the police where necessary and proportionate. There are many routes available to share data, using some of the conditions and exemptions in the DPA 2018. You also need to take into account the risks to the wider public which may be caused by failing to share information, and take a proportionate and sensible approach.

Who should be considered at risk?

Clinically extremely vulnerable individuals have been strongly advised not to work outside the home.
Clinically vulnerable individuals, who are at higher risk of severe illness (for example, people with some pre-existing conditions), have been asked to take extra care in observing social-distancing and should be helped to work from home, either in their current role or in an alternative role.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19#who-is-clinically-extremely-vulnerable

If clinically vulnerable (but not extremely clinically vulnerable) individuals cannot work from home, they should be offered the option of the safest available on-site roles, enabling them to stay 2m away from others. If they have to spend time within 2m of others, you should carefully assess whether this involves an acceptable level of risk. As for any workplace risk you must take into account specific duties to those with protected characteristics, including, for example, expectant mothers who are, as always, entitled to suspension on full pay if suitable roles cannot be found. Particular attention should also be paid to people who live with clinically extremely vulnerable individuals.

Steps that will usually be needed:
-Providing support for workers around mental health and wellbeing. This could include advice or telephone support.
See current guidance for advice on who is in the clinically extremely vulnerable and clinically vulnerable groups.

 

 

If an employee feels that it is not safe to work, what should we do?

Ideally, you want to gain the hearts and minds of employees and consult with them comprehensively as to the risks and the policies and procedures being implemented to minimise the risk. Good communication with The Trade Unions is also vital.
Putting in place good cross functional and cleaning teams who meet daily, instils a feeling of reassurance and confidence within the workforce.

If an employee raises specific concerns, the business should of course consider the concerns raised, reassure the employee and see what they can do to remedy the situation.

Induction training when the staff returns to work is a good idea to ensure that all health and safety measures are properly understood.

Phasing staff back to trial measures while also ensuring good feedback to make adjustments or improvements where necessary.

 

 

 

 

What is the policy on social distancing at work?

 

Objective: To maintain 2m social distancing wherever possible, including while arriving at and departing from work, while in work, and when travelling between sites.

You must maintain social distancing in the workplace wherever possible.

• Where the social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full in relation to a particular activity, businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between their staff. Mitigating actions include:

• Further increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning.

• Keeping the activity time involved as short as possible.

• Using screens or barriers to separate people from each other.

• Using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than faceto-face) whenever possible.

• Reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’ (so each person works with only a few others).

• Social distancing applies to all parts of a business, not just the place where people spend most of their time, but also entrances and exits, break rooms and canteens and similar settings. These are often the most challenging areas to maintain social distancing.

Coming to work work and leaving work you should where possible look at;

-Staggering arrival and departure times at work to reduce crowding into and out of the workplace, taking account of the impact on those with protected characteristics.
-Providing additional parking or facilities such as bikeracks to help people walk, run, or cycle to work where possible.
-Limiting passengers in corporate vehicles, for example, work minibuses. This could include leaving seats empty.
-Reducing congestion, for example, by having more entry points to the workplace.
-Using markings and introducing one-way flow at entry and exit points.
-Providing handwashing facilities, or hand sanitiser where not possible, at entry and exit points.
-Providing alternatives to touch-based security devices such as keypads.
Defining process alternatives for entry/exit points where appropriate, for example, deactivating pass readers at turnstiles in favour of showing a pass to security personnel at a distance.

While moving around buildings, you should look where possible at;

-Reducing movement by discouraging non-essential trips within buildings and sites, for example, restricting
access to some areas, encouraging use of radios or telephones, where permitted, and cleaning them between use.

Steps that will usually be needed:
-Reducing job and equipment rotation.
-Introducing more one-way flow through buildings.
-Reducing maximum occupancy for lifts, providing hand sanitiser for the operation of lifts, and encouraging use of stairs wherever possible.
-Making sure that people with disabilities are able to access lifts.
-Reducing occupancy of vehicles used for onsite travel, for example, shuttle buses.
-Regulating use of high traffic areas including corridors, lifts, turnstiles and walkways to maintain social distancing. 

Workplaces and workstations

For people who work in one place, workstations should allow them to maintain social distancing wherever possible.

• Workstations should be assigned to an individual as much as possible. If they need to be shared they should be shared by the smallest possible number of people.

• If it is not possible to keep workstations 2m apart, then extra attention needs to be paid to equipment, cleaning and hygiene to reduce risk.

 

 

 

What about visits to the factory/premises?

Objective:   To minismise the number of unnecessary visits

-Encouraging visits via remote connection or remote working for visitors where this is an option.
-Limiting the number of visitors at any one time.
-Determining if schedules for essential services and contractor visits can be revised to reduce interaction and overlap between people, for example, carrying out services at night.
-Maintaining a record of all visitors, if this is practical. 

 

 

 

 

How does COVID-19 impact health and safety obligations?

The legal framework providing for health and safety obligations has not changed but COVID-19 will impact the existing obligations:

-Employers must do everything reasonably practicable to ensure that people working in or visiting your premises are not exposed to risks to their health (which includes exposure to COVID-19); and
-Employers which have control of premises must take measures to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the premises, all means of access to and egress from the premises, other common parts and any plant (e.g. lifts or escalators) within the premises are without risks to health (including risks posed by COVID-19)

 

 

Risk Assessment – what is reasonably practicable?

What is considered as reasonably practicable depends on the risk to health and safety weighed against the cost of control measures (measured in terms of money, time and resources) involved in eliminating the risk.

Everyone needs to assess and manage the risks of COVID-19. As an employer, you also have a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from risk to their health and safety. This means you need to think about the risks they face and do everything reasonably practicable to minimise them, recognising you cannot completely eliminate the risk of COVID-19.
You must make sure that the risk assessment for your business addresses the risks of COVID-19, using this guidance to inform your decisions and control measures. A risk assessment is not about creating huge amounts of paperwork, but rather about identifying sensible measures to control the risks in your workplace. If you have fewer than 5 workers, or are self-employed, you don’t have to write anything down as part of your risk assessment. Your risk assessment will help you decide whether you have done everything you need to. The Health and Safety Executive has guidance for business on how to manage risk and risk assessment at work along with specific advice to help control the risk of coronavirus in workplaces.

https://www.hse.gov.uk/simple-health-safety/risk/index.htm

https://www.hse.gov.uk/news/working-safely-during-coronavirus-outbreak.htm

https://www.hseni.gov.uk/publications/example-covid-19-risk-assessment-template

Employers have a duty to consult their people on health and safety. You can do this by listening and talking to them about the work and how you will manage risks from COVID-19. The people who do the work are often the best people to understand the risks in the workplace and will have a view on how to work safely. Involving them in making decisions shows that you take their health and safety seriously. You must consult with the health and safety representative selected by a recognised trade union or, if there isn’t one, a representative chosen by workers. As an employer, you cannot decide who the representative will be.
At its most effective, full involvement of your workers creates a culture where relationships between employers and workers are based on collaboration, trust and joint problem solving. As is normal practice, workers should be involved in assessing workplace risks and the development and review of workplace health and safety policies in partnership with the employer.

Sharing your risk assessment

You should share the results of your risk assessment with your employees. If possible, you should consider publishing it on your website

Below you will find a notice you should display in your workplace to show you have followed this guidance

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5eb963fcd3bf7f5d39550303/staying-covid-19-secure.pdf

What preventative measures do I need to take in order of priority?

Employers have a duty to reduce workplace risk to the lowest reasonably practicable level by taking preventative measures. Employers must work with any other employers or contractors sharing the workplace so that everybody’s health and safety is protected. In the context of COVID-19 this means working through these steps in order:
-In every workplace, increasing the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning.
-Businesses and workplaces should make every reasonable effort to enable working from home as a first option. Where working from home is not possible, workplaces should make every reasonable effort to comply with the social distancing guidelines set out by the government (keeping people 2m apart wherever possible).
-Where the social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full, in relation to a particular activity, businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between their staff.

Further mitigating actions include:

– increasing the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning

– keeping the activity time involved as short as possible
– using screens or barriers to separate people from each other
– using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible
– reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’ (so each person works with only a few others)
Finally, if people must work face-to-face for a sustained period with more than a small group of fixed partners, then you will need to assess whether the activity can safely go ahead. No one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment.

In this assessment you should have particular regard to whether the people doing the work are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

 

What control measures should we put in place?

Control measures should be specific to risk assessment results but examples to reduce the risk of coronavirus include:
-Issuing employees with information and advice in relation to the virus, the symptoms and minimising risk;
-Physical demarcation of premises to ensure social distancing on site;
-Providing hand sanitisers, tissues and handwashing facilities;
-Signage reminders of good hygiene and handwashing practices;
-Introducing a reporting procedure for employees with symptoms or self-isloating;
-PPE where appropriate (gloves, aprons, masks, visors etc);
-Enhanced cleaning regimes;
-Review of welfare facilities and arrangements;
-Staggering of shifts, lunch breaks etc.

Top tips: Record keeping, supervision and monitoring!

 

What about PPE equipment?

PPE protects the user against health or safety risks at work. It can include items such as safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear and safety harnesses. It also includes respiratory protective equipment, such as face masks. Where you are already using PPE in your work activity to protect against non-COVID-19 risks, you should continue to do so.

When managing the risk of COVID-19, additional PPE beyond what you usually wear is not beneficial. This is because COVID-19 is a different type of risk to the risks you normally face in a workplace, and needs to be managed through social distancing, hygiene and fixed teams or partnering, not through the use of PPE. The exception is clinical settings, like a hospital, or a small handful of other roles for which Public Health England advises use of PPE. For example, first responders and immigration enforcement officers. If you are in one of these groups you should refer to the advice at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronaviruscovid-19-personal-protective-equipment-ppe-plan/covid-19personal-protective-equipment-ppe-plan

and 

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19decontamination-in-non-healthcare-settings/covid-19decontamination-in-non-healthcare-settings.

Workplaces should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against COVID-19 outside clinical settings or when responding to a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19. Unless you are in a situation where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is very high, your risk assessment should reflect the fact that the role of PPE in providing additional protection is extremely limited. However, if your risk assessment does show that PPE is required, then you must provide this PPE free of charge to workers who need it. Any PPE provided must fit properly .

Key considerations when using PPE include:
-Ensure that suitable PPE is provided;
-Ensure that PPE offers adequate protection for the intended use;
-Ensure that those using PPE are adequately trained in its safe use;
-Ensure the PPE is properly maintained and any defects are reported; and
-PPE is returned to its proper storage (cleaned or disposed of) after use.

 

 

Do we have a legal right to take employees' temperatures at work?

The legal issues involved in testing temperatures at work are complex and involve data protection laws.  The Northern Ireland guidance does not address general workplace temperature testing, so the decision is left to employers in many cases.

In the absence of a Government requirement for temperature testing requirement, employers can decide not to undertake testing. Displaying a high temperature is one of the main symptoms (along with a new continuous cough and loss of smell or taste) of a COVID-19 infection but equally someone who is infected may show no symptoms at all. On the other hand, employers may decide to follow the lead of other countries and try temperature testing to discharge their health and safety duties. Employers may decide employees need reassurance that the workplace is safe, and staff representatives may suggest temperature testing during Coronavirus risk assessments.

Voluntary temperature testing

For businesses that decide to test, the legal position concerning taking employees’ temperatures for Coronavirus is similar to the medical testing of employees for other reasons. The easiest way for employers to conduct such medical tests would be on a voluntary basis. The contractual terms agreed in the employment contract or accompanying policies may also be of assistance to employers who want to check employees’ temperatures at work.

Employers who wish to monitor employees’ temperatures should openly explain the current Coronavirus advice, their concerns and risk management strategy. Employees may then choose to have their temperatures taken based on this advice.

If employees do not agree and there is no contractual provision or agreed policy covering the situation then taking an employee’s temperature is unlawful. Certainly, an employer should not try to force employees into having their temperature taken, or issue threats of suspensions, disciplinary or dismissal processes.

 

 

Are there data protection implications with regards testing?

 

The critical issue remains whether the tests and keeping any resulting records are necessary and proportionate. Employers can ask employees to notify any COVID-19 diagnosis as this processing of health data is justified under the GDPR as being necessary to comply with employment and social protection law or for reasons of public interest in health.

If employers process information that relates to an employee, they need to comply with the GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 (similarly to drug testing). Any data that an employer has about an employee’s temperature, symptoms, where the employee has been and whether he or she has tested positive for Coronavirus is health data, and is referred to as ‘special category data’ under data protection law. For example, if an employee is tested through the test and trace system and forwards emails confirming their status may be special category data because it is medical information. Additional requirements apply to ensure the data is processed fairly and lawfully. Under these circumstances, it is likely that an employer will be required to have a policy document covering the processing to ensure compliance with key data protection principles including transparency, data minimisation and security requirements.

Employers may be entitled to process such employee information on the basis of the employer’s health and safety duties. This is provided that it can be shown that temperature information is necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of employees. Only necessary data should be kept – don’t collect personal data that you don’t need. Employers should consider and document the risk to employees and any alternatives to obtaining and processing the data that have been considered. The health and safety context, such as decisions relating to office closures or disinfecting the workplace will also be relevant to justify the processing.

Transparency is very important. As an employer, you should be clear, open and honest with employees from the start about how and why you wish to use their personal data. If you are testing employees for COVID-19 or checking for symptoms, you should be clear about what decisions you will make with that information.

Before carrying out any tests, you should at least let your staff know what personal data is required, what it will be used for, and who you will share it with. You should also let them know how long you intend to keep the data for. It would also be helpful for you to provide employees with the opportunity to discuss the collection of such data if they have any concerns. 

See NI specific guidance on GDPR here:

https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr

Do we have a legal right to take employees' temperatures at work?

The legal issues involved in testing temperatures at work are complex and involve data protection laws.  The Northern Ireland guidance does not address general workplace temperature testing, so the decision is left to employers in many cases.

In the absence of a Government requirement for temperature testing requirement, employers can decide not to undertake testing. Displaying a high temperature is one of the main symptoms (along with a new continuous cough and loss of smell or taste) of a COVID-19 infection but equally someone who is infected may show no symptoms at all. On the other hand, employers may decide to follow the lead of other countries and try temperature testing to discharge their health and safety duties. Employers may decide employees need reassurance that the workplace is safe, and staff representatives may suggest temperature testing during Coronavirus risk assessments.

Voluntary temperature testing

For businesses that decide to test, the legal position concerning taking employees’ temperatures for Coronavirus is similar to the medical testing of employees for other reasons. The easiest way for employers to conduct such medical tests would be on a voluntary basis. The contractual terms agreed in the employment contract or accompanying policies may also be of assistance to employers who want to check employees’ temperatures at work.

Employers who wish to monitor employees’ temperatures should openly explain the current Coronavirus advice, their concerns and risk management strategy. Employees may then choose to have their temperatures taken based on this advice.

If employees do not agree and there is no contractual provision or agreed policy covering the situation then taking an employee’s temperature is unlawful. Certainly, an employer should not try to force employees into having their temperature taken, or issue threats of suspensions, disciplinary or dismissal processes.

 

 

Can I make it mandatory that my staff are checked for COVID-19 symptoms or tested?

 

Making testing mandatory is not simply a question of data protection. You can actively encourage members of staff to be checked for symptoms or to be tested, but there are many other factors to consider such as employment law and your contracts with employees, health and safety requirements and equalities issues. You should consider other regulations in your industry and the latest government guidance for your sector. The Government’s own testing programme is voluntary.

Data protection law will apply to any personal information that you collect and use. This must be necessary, lawful, fair and transparent. If you make checks and tests mandatory, you must carefully consider whether your use of the data is fair and proportionate. You should take into account any potential negative consequences for individuals and whether using a voluntary approach could achieve the same or similar results. Before you put such measures in place, you must complete a data protection impact assessment

See more info and a template here:

https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/data-protection-impact-assessment

 

Is there standard guidance for home-workers?

 

 Your health and safety obligations extend to homeworkers. The extent of what you need to do will be largely dictated by the duration of the homeworking (short-term versus long-term) and what the employees are doing at home. If computers are being used, the Health ad Safety (Display Screen Equipment) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 1992 will apply.
Common measures introduced would include desktop questionnaires and ensuring proper equipment is provided. 

 

 

Should we provide face coverings?

There are some circumstances when wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure. The evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you, but it may protect others if you are infected but have not developed symptoms. A face covering can be very simple and may be worn in enclosed spaces where social distancing isn’t possible. It just needs to cover your mouth and nose. It is not the same as a face mask, such as the surgical masks or respirators used by health and care workers. Similarly, face coverings are not the same as the PPE used to manage risks like dust and spray in an industrial context. Supplies of PPE, including face masks, must continue to be reserved for those who need them to protect against risks in their workplace, such as health and care workers, and those in industrial settings like those exposed to dust hazards. It is important to know that the evidence of the benefit of using a face covering to protect others is weak and the effect is likely to be small, therefore face coverings are not a replacement for the other ways of managing risk, including minimising time spent in contact, using fixed teams and partnering for close-up work, and increasing hand and surface washing. These other measures remain the best ways of managing risk in the workplace and government would therefore not expect to see employers relying on face coverings as risk management for the purpose of their health and safety assessments. Wearing a face covering is optional and is not required by law, including in the workplace. If you choose to wear one, it is important to use face coverings properly and wash your hands before putting them on and taking them off. Employers should support their workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one.

This means telling workers:

-Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on, and after removing it.

• When wearing a face covering, avoid touching your face or face covering, as you could contaminate them with germs from your hands.

• Change your face covering if it becomes damp or if you’ve touched it. • Continue to wash your hands regularly. • Change and wash your face covering daily.

• If the material is washable, wash in line with manufacturer’s instructions. If it’s not washable, dispose of it carefully in your usual waste.

• Practise social distancing wherever possible. You can make face-coverings at home and can find guidance on how to do this and use them safely on GOV.UK.

 

 

 

 

Should food vending machines be removed?

There is no obligation to do this nor does the guidance state this. Consideration should be given to the operation and whether it is a necessity. Anything which causes a queue should be considered. Given that a vending machine would present a frequent touchpoint and if they are being used out of necessity, then they should be cleaned frequently. Alternatives of course include ensuring that employees bring packed lunches.

 

 

 

 

What guidance is there on cleaning before reopening?

 

Before reopening
Objective: To make sure that any site or location that has been closed or partially operated is clean and ready to restart, including:

• An assessment for all sites, or parts of sites, that have been closed, before restarting work.

• Cleaning procedures and providing hand sanitiser, before restarting work.

Steps that usually will be needed;

-Checking whether you need to service or adjust ventilation systems, for example, so that they do not automatically reduce ventilation levels due to lower than normal occupancy levels.    

-Most air conditioning systems do not need adjustment, however where systems serve multiple buildings or you are unsure, advice should be sought from your heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) engineers or advisers.

-Positive pressure systems can operate as normal. 

 

 

 

What is RIDDOR reporting?

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1997, places a legal duty on employers, self-employed people and people in control of premises to report:
-work-related deaths
-major injuries or over-three-day injuries
-work related diseases
-dangerous occurrences (near miss accidents)

The government has added Covid-19 to the list of notifiable causative agents under the Health Protection (Notification) Regulations 2010.

There are three potentially relevant obligations:

1.  The requirement to report any dangerous occurrences, which includes any accident or incident which results or could have resulted in the release or escape of a biological agent likely to cause severe human infection or illness – IE An unintended incident at work has led (or could lead) to someone’s possible or actual exposure to coronavirus;

2.  The requirement to report a diagnosis of any disease attributed to an occupational exposure to a biological agent – IE A worker has been diagnosed as having COVID 19 and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work;

3.  The requirement to report work-related fatalities which result from exposure to Covid-19 – IE If a worker dies as a result of exposure to coronavirus from their work

 

 

 

What is the NI Executive guidance?

Initial guidance from the Executive – key messages:
-Anyone who can work from home must work from home;
-health and safety obligations on employers to ensure as much as reasonably practicable the health, safety and wellbeing of employees during the COVID-19 emergency.

On 22 April, the Minister for the Department of the Economy published further guidance and a list of Priority Sectors to clarify what constitutes a priority sector at this time – to allow companies to make their own decisions as to whether they continue to operate.

The key message is that if a company can work within the social distancing guidelines then it should do so but adherence to social distancing guidance is mandatory 

 

What HSENI guidance has been given?

The HSENI has published guidance for businesses which is accessible on the HSENI website – www.hseni.gov.uk
-It has recently reported a 900% increase in complaints and queries stemming from COVID-19
-HSENI inspectors are contacting businesses in response to concerns to ensure that measures are put in place to maintain social distancing and minimise the risks associated with COVID-19 and requiring employers to provide evidence of the measures being taken.
-The HSENI has stated that is imperative that policies and procedures implemented are “strictly monitored by management.”
-The HSENI has the power to issue enforcement notices if it considers employers are not taking appropriate measures

Top tip: evidence of monitoring and supervision is critical to demonstrating compliance with health and safety obligations!

 

What specific measures should manufacturers consider?

-Consultation with Employees (and trade unions)
Information and training
Reporting procedures
Safeguarding employees’ mental and physical health

– Travel to and from site
Consider means of transport, car parks and access points

-Movement of personnel between sites should be restricted

-Administration staff If they can work from home they should

-External parties (visitors, contractors)
Should be restricted
Induction as to social distancing measures should be given

-Social distancing measures on site
physical demarcation and barriers and one way systems
Monitoring and supervision

-Signage
encouraging handwashing and social-distancing
Access signs – those with symptoms should not enter

-Welfare facilities
Consider configuration of common areas, toilets, handwashing stations and changing areas
Social distancing measures

-Cleaning regimes
Should be enhanced especially common areas and frequent touch points
Keep records

-Canteens
Must cease selling food for consumption on premises
Consider alternatives – takeaway/packed lunches

-Operational procedures
Should consider each and every procedure on site
May require reconfiguration of production lines
May require staff rotations/stagger shifts and breaks

-Maintenance procedures
Consider when and how this occurs
May require modification of regimes

-Distribution and delivery procedures
Should consider means of deliver
contactless delivery where possible

-Management procedures
Meetings should take place remotely
Restrict non-essential travel

-Supply chain continuity (check out our free resources and training on www.mnisupplychain.com)
Consider supply chain pressure
Consider continuity plans

-Client engagement
Manage client expectation

-Repurposing of production to support fight against virus
Health and safety implications

 

Guidance for work-related travel

Objective: To avoid unnecessary work travel and keep people safe when they do need to travel between locations.

Steps that will usually be needed;

-Minimising non-essential travel – consider remote options first.
-Minimising the number of people travelling together in any one vehicle, using fixed travel partners, increasing ventilation when possible and avoiding sitting face-to-face.

-Cleaning shared vehicles between shifts or on handover.
-Where workers are required to stay away from their home, centrally logging the stay and making sure any overnight accommodation meets social distancing guidelines.

What about deliveries to other sites;

-Putting in place procedures to minimise person-to-person contact during deliveries to other sites.
-Maintaining consistent pairing where two-person deliveries are required.
-Minimising contact during payments and exchange of documentation, for example, by using electronic payment methods and electronically signed and exchanged documents

How do we maintain good health and safety procedures for inbound and outbound goods?

 

 

 

Objective: To maintain social distancing and avoid surface transmission when goods enter and leave the site, especially in high volume situations, for example, distribution centres, despatch areas.

Steps that usually will be needed;

-Revising pick-up and drop-off collection points, procedures, signage and markings.
-Minimising u nnecessary contact  at  gatehouse  security,  yard and  warehouse.  For  example,  non-contact  deliveries where the  nature  of  the  product  allows for  use  of  electronic  prebooking.
-Considering methods to reduce frequency of deliveries, for example by ordering larger quantities less often. -Where possible and safe, having single workers load or unload vehicles.
-Where possible, using the same pairs of people for loads where more than one is needed.
-Enabling drivers to access welfare facilities when required, consistent with other guidance.
-Encouraging drivers to stay in their vehicles where this does not compromise their safety and existing safe working practice, such as preventing drive-aways.

COVID-19: guidance for the public on mental health and wellbeing

The coronavirus (COVID19) outbreak is going to have an impact on everyone’s daily lives, as the government and the NHS take necessary steps to manage the outbreak, reduce transmission and treat those who need medical attention.

It may be difficult, but by following guidance on social distancing, or staying at home, you are helping to protect yourself, your family, the NHS and your community.

During this time, you may be bored, frustrated or lonely. You may also feel low, worried, anxious, or be concerned about your health or that of those close to you. Everyone reacts differently to events and changes in the way that we think, feel and behave vary between different people and over time. It’s important that you take care of your mind as well as your body and to get further support if you need it.

Background

This guide provides advice on how to look after your mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

For wider guidance on how to protect yourself and others, and actions to take if you think you may have contracted the virus please see the guidance on this page.

This guidance will be updated in line with the changing situation.

What can help your mental health and wellbeing

Consider how to connect with others: Maintaining relationships with people you trust is important for your mental wellbeing. Think about how you can stay in touch with friends and family via telephone, video calls or social media instead of meeting in person – whether it’s people you normally see often or connecting with old friends.

Help and support others: Think about how you could help those around you – it could make a big difference to them and can make you feel better too. Could you message a friend or family member nearby? Are there community groups that you could join to support others locally? Remember it’s important to do this in line with guidance on coronavirus (COVID-19) to keep yourself and everyone safe. And try to be accepting of other people’s concerns, worries or behaviours.

Talk about your worries: It is quite common to feel worried, scared or helpless about the current situation. Remember that this is a difficult time for everyone and sharing how you are feeling and the things you are doing to cope with family and friends can help them too. If you don’t feel able to do that, there are people you can speak to via NHS recommended helplines or you could find support groups online to connect with.

Look after your physical wellbeing: Your physical health has a big impact on how you are feeling emotionally and mentally. At times like these, it can be easy to fall into unhealthy patterns of behaviour which in turn can make you feel worse. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, drink enough water, exercise inside where possible and outside once a day, and try to avoid smoking, alcohol and drugs.

If you are able to go outside, consider walking or gardening (keeping the recommended 2 metres from others as outlined in the social distancing guidance). If you are staying at home, you can find free easy 10 minute work outs from Public Health England or other exercise videos to try at home on the NHS Fitness Studio. Sport England also has good tips for keeping active at home.

Look after your sleep: Feeling anxious or worried can make it harder to get a good night’s sleep. Good-quality sleep makes a big difference to how you feel mentally and physically, so it’s important to get enough.

Try to maintain regular sleeping patterns and keep good sleep hygiene practices – like avoiding screens before bed, cutting back on caffeine and creating a restful environment. The Every Mind Matters sleep page provides practical advice on how to improve your sleep.

Try to manage difficult feelings: Many people find the news about coronavirus (COVID-19) concerning. However, some people may experience such intense anxiety that it becomes a problem. Try to focus on the things you can control, including where you get information from and actions to make yourself feel better prepared.

It is okay to acknowledge some things that are outside of your control right now but constant repetitive thoughts about the situation which lead you to feel anxious or overwhelmed are not helpful. The Every Mind Matters page on anxiety and NHS mental wellbeing audio guides provide further information on how to manage anxiety.

Manage your media and information intake: 24-hour news and constant social media updates can make you more worried. If it is affecting you, try to limit the time you spend watching, reading, or listening to media coverage of the outbreak. It may help to only check the news at set times or limiting to a couple of checks a day.

Get the facts: Gather high-quality information that will help you to accurately determine your own or other people’s risk of contracting coronavirus (COVID-19) so that you can take reasonable precautions. Find a credible source you can trust such as GOV.UK, or the NHS website, and fact check information that you get from newsfeeds, social media or from other people.

Think about how possibly inaccurate information could affect others too. Try not to share information without fact-checking against credible sources.

Think about your new daily routine: Life is changing for us all for a while. Whether you are staying at home or social distancing, you are likely to see some disruption to your normal routine.

Think about how you can adapt and create positive new routines – try to engage in useful activities (such as cleaning, cooking or exercise) or meaningful activities (such as reading or calling a friend). You might find it helpful to write a plan for your day or your week.

Do things you enjoy: When you are anxious, lonely or low you may do things that you usually enjoy less often, or not at all. Focussing on your favourite hobby, learning something new or simply taking time to relax indoors should give you some relief from anxious thoughts and feelings and can boost your mood.

If you can’t do the things you normally enjoy because you are staying at home, try to think about how you could adapt them, or try something new. There are lots of free tutorials and courses online and people are coming up with innovative online solutions like online pub quizzes and streamed live music concerts.

Set goals: Setting goals and achieving them gives a sense of control and purpose – think about things you want or need to do that you can still do at home. It could be watching a film, reading a book or learning something online.

Keep your mind active: Read, write, play games, do crossword puzzles, sudokus, jigsaws or drawing and painting. Find something that works for you.

Take time to relax and focus on the present: This can help with difficult emotions, worries about the future, and can improve wellbeing. Relaxation techniques can also help some people to deal with feelings of anxiety. For useful resources see Every Mind Matters and NHS’ mindfulness page.

If you can, once a day get outside, or bring nature in: Spending time in green spaces can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing. If you can’t get outside much you can try to still get these positive effects by spending time with the windows open to let in fresh air, arranging space to sit and see a nice view (if possible) and get some natural sunlight, or get out into the garden if you can.

Remember that social distancing guidelines enable you to go outside to exercise once a day as long as you keep 2 metres apart from others who are not members of your household group.

Staying at home

Recent guidance is clear about the need for people to stay at home. If you are feeling anxious it might help to think about potential challenges and make a plan for them.

Practical issues

Supplies: Think about how you can get any supplies you need – either from a neighbour, family friends or a delivery service so you don’t worry about running out. Try to pick healthy food, especially as you might not get as much exercise as normal.

Financial concerns: You may be worried about work and money if you have to stay home – these issues can have a big impact on your mental health. For guidance on what your rights are at work, what benefits you are entitled and what further support is available please see our guidance for employees or advice from citizens advice or the National Debt line.

If you care for other people: You may be worried about how to ensure care for those who rely on you – either your dependants at home or others that you regularly visit. Let your local authority know if you provide care, or support someone you don’t live with. Further advice on creating a contingency plan is available from Carers UK.

If you are being treated or taking medication for existing conditions

Continue accessing treatment and support where possible: Let relevant services know that you are staying at home, and work out how to continue receiving support during this time:

  • ask about having appointments by phone, text or online. For example, this could be with your counsellor, therapist or support worker, nurse, care worker or befriender

  • if you use care services that will be affected by staying at home, you should let your local authority and care provider know so alternative arrangements can be put in place

  • make it clear if any support is still needed. Tell them that alternative arrangements are required if any of the usual support can’t continue. This may include things like carers visiting, day centre sessions, or friends and family coming over to help

Keep taking your medication: You might be able to order repeat prescriptions by phone, or online using an app or website if your doctor’s surgery offers this.

  • ask your pharmacy about getting your medication delivered or think about who you could ask to collect it for you. The NHS website has more information about getting prescriptions for someone else and checking if you have to pay for prescriptions

  • continue to order your repeat prescriptions in your usual timeframe. There is no need to order for a longer duration or larger quantities

  • your GP practice (or clinical team) may move your prescriptions to repeat dispensing arrangements so you only have to contact your pharmacy to get a repeat of your medicine rather than your practice

  • be careful about buying medication online. You should only buy from registered pharmacies. You can check if a pharmacy is registered on the General Pharmaceutical Council website

  • you can contact NHS 111 in England if you’re worried about accessing medication

Where to get further support

Managing physical symptoms that are triggered by stress and anxiety

It is quite common to experience short-lived physical symptoms when your mood is low or anxious, for example:

  • faster, irregular or more noticeable heartbeat
  • feeling lightheaded and dizzy
  • headaches
  • chest pains or loss of appetite

It can be difficult to know what is causing these symptoms, but often people who experience them due to stress, anxiety or low mood find that they get worse when they focus on them. See advice from the NHS on managing the physical symptoms.

If you are concerned about your physical symptoms, then do contact NHS 111 online.

For advice on coronavirus (COVID-19) and any symptoms see the NHS website.

If you are experiencing stress, feelings of anxiety or low mood, you can use the NHS mental health and wellbeing advice website for self-assessment, audio guides and practical tools Every Mind Matters also provides simple tips and advice to start taking better care of your mental health. If you are still struggling after several weeks and it is affecting your daily life, please contact NHS 111 online. If you have no internet access, you should call NHS 111.

In a medical emergency call 999. This is when someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk. A mental health emergency should be taken as seriously as a physical health emergency.

Additional advice for groups with specific mental health needs

Existing mental health problems

If you already have a mental health problem, then you may be finding the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak particularly challenging. The advice above should help, but here are a few extra things that you may want to think about. This advice is part of comprehensive guidance provided by Mind.

Managing difficult feelings or behaviours to do with hygiene, washing or fears of infection

Some mental health problems can cause difficult feelings or behaviours to do with washing or hygiene. If you experience this, you might find it hard to hear advice about washing your hands.

It is important to follow government advice on helping to avoid the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), but if you find you are going beyond the recommendations, if this is making you feel stressed or anxious, or if you are having intrusive thoughts here are some things you could try:

  • don’t keep re-reading the same advice if this is unhelpful for you
  • let other people know you’re struggling, for example you could ask them not to discuss the news with you
  • breathing exercises can help you cope and feel more in control. You can find a simple breathing exercise on the NHS website and Mind’s pages on relaxation have some relaxation tips and exercises you can try
  • set limits, like washing your hands for the recommended 20 seconds
  • plan something to do after washing your hands, which could help distract you and change your focus
  • it could also help to read some of Mind’s tips in their information on obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

Speaking to your mental health team

If you are already receiving mental health care, contact your mental health team to discuss how care will continue, and to update safety/care plans.

Managing panic and anxiety

If you have panic attacks or flashbacks, it might help to plan a ‘safe space’ in your home that you’ll go to.

You can also find ways to comfort yourself if you’re feeling anxious. For example, Mind has games and puzzles you can use to distract yourself, and breathing exercises which may help.

Managing feelings of being trapped or claustrophobia

You are probably spending more time than usual at home so try to get outside if you can, once a day. You could also open the windows to let in fresh air, find a place to sit with a view outside, or sit on your doorstep or in your garden if you have one. It can also help to regularly change the rooms you spend time in (if possible). This can help to give you a sense of space.

If you are reducing your drinking significantly

If you are reducing your drinking, remember it can be dangerous to stop too quickly without proper support. If you have physical withdrawal symptoms (like shaking, sweating or feeling anxious until you have your first drink of the day) you should seek medical advice. For further advice available in your area (including remote services) see NHS advice.

People with a learning disability

You may be finding the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak stressful. You may be worried about changes that might happen because of it, including having to stay at home. You may also be worried about your family or those close to you.

Public Health England has easy read guidance on coronavirus (COVID-19) and how it may affect you. There is also other information available about coronavirus (COVID-19) from Mencap and how to manage difficult feelings you are having.

There are ways you can take care of yourself and prevent spreading the virus:

  • as you are asked to now stay at home you should keep in touch with people you trust (like friends, family and employer) over the phone or internet – follow the advice from the stay at home and social distancing guidance
  • there may also be self-advocacy groups in your area offering more support online or by phone – you can ask your families or carers for help to search for these groups
  • it is also important to get information about coronavirus (COVID-19) only from places you can trust, such as the NHS website

While it is important to be aware of coronavirus (COVID-19), it is important not to forget about any other health conditions you might have. Make sure you take any medication you have been prescribed, keep any hospital appointments you have (unless you have been told otherwise by the hospital) and tell people if you can’t attend appointments.

Autistic people

You may be finding the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak stressful and be worried about getting the virus or changes that might happen because of it, including having to stay at home. There are ways you can take care of yourself and prevent spreading the virus:

Understand what is happening

Keep up to date with information about Coronavirus (COVID-19) from sources you can trust, such as the NHS website.

Help to stop the virus from spreading

There are 4 easy steps you can take to reduce the risk of getting coronavirus or spreading it to others:

  • wash hands regularly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water
  • use a tissue for coughs and sneezes and bin it
  • avoid touching your face, including your mouth and eyes
  • get up to date information about staying at home or what to do if you feel unwell on the NHS 111 website. If you are unsure about your symptoms speak to someone you trust about them, like a support worker.

Plan to keep mentally well

Do the things you would usually do to keep well, like eating food you enjoy and taking exercise, once a day outside if you can. If you have support from others, plan with them how you can remain well and relaxed. There are also other things you can do to help to manage your emotions if you feel you are losing control, such as:

  • keeping a diary
  • using apps like Brain in Hand
  • learning relaxation techniques
  • creating a plan with your carer for when you feeling anxiety

You know what strategies have helped in the past, so use them again now. The National Autistic Society guidance on managing anxiety might also be helpful.

Get help if you are struggling

Hearing about coronavirus (COVID-19), and the changes it causes in your daily life, might make you feel like you don’t have control, or make you worried or scared about your health. These feelings are common. Try to speak to someone you trust such as a friend, family member or supporter.

If you do become unwell and need medical treatment, share your hospital passport or autism diagnosis so staff know the best way to support you.

If you are still feeling worried and want more help. You can call the Autism Helpline on 0808 800 4104.

Older people

Government guidance is that older people are at increased risk of severe illness and need to be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures and staying at home. Given this, it is natural for older people, particularly those with pre-existing medical conditions, to feel concerned or affected by changes you have to make to your daily life. The following suggestions may help with any difficult feelings and look after your mental health:

Stay connected

Draw on support you might have through your friends, family and other networks. Try to stay in touch with those around you, this might be over the phone, by post, or online. If you have been advised to stay at home, let people know how you would like to stay in touch and build that into your routine.

Get practical help

If you need help, for example with shopping or running errands, ask for it and let those around you know what they can do. If you need help but you’re not sure who to contact, Age UK runs an advice line (0800 678 1602 – lines are open every day 8am-7pm) that can put you in touch with local services.

People living with dementia

You may feel concerned about coronavirus how it could affect you. Alzheimer’s Society have published information on coronavirus for people affected by dementia.

If you’d like to connect and talk with other people affected by dementia, you can visit the Alzheimer’s Society online community Talking Point.

A range of information on information on dementia is also available from Alzheimer’s Research UK

If you are still feeling worried and want more help you can call the Alzheimer’s Society Helpline on 0300 222 11 22

You can also speak to a dementia specialist Admiral Nurse on Dementia UK’s Helpline, on 0800 888 6687.

Dealing with a mental health crisis or emergency

You may find that the added stress of the current situation could have a big impact on your mental health. In some cases, you may feel that you are having a mental health crisis as you no longer feel able to cope or be in control of your situation.

You may: feel great emotional distress or anxiety, feel that you cannot cope with day-to-day life or work, think about self-harm or even suicide, or experience or hear voices (hallucinations).

If this sort of situation happens, you should get immediate expert assessment and advice to identify the best course of action:

  • If you have already been given a Crisis Line number from a health professional, please call it.

  • If you’re under the care of a mental health team and have a specific care plan that states who to contact when you need urgent care, follow this plan.

  • Mind also provides information about how to plan for a crisis.

  • Samaritans has a free to call service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, if you want to talk to someone in confidence. Call them on 116 123.

  • Find local crisis support services near you that can support you.

  • You can contact NHS 111 if you need urgent care but it’s not life threatening.

  • In in a medical emergency call 999 if you are seriously ill or injured and your life is at risk. A mental health emergency should be taken as seriously as a physical health emergency.

See further advice from the NHS on dealing with a mental health crisis.

Do employers have to pay employees who are self-isolating?

Firstly, the employee should check with the Public Health Agency (https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/covid-19-coronavirus) whether or not they need to self-isolate.

There’s no legal or statutory right to pay an employee who’s not sick, but cannot work because they:

  • have been told by a medical expert to self-isolate
  • have had to go into quarantine
  • are abroad in an affected area and not allowed to travel back to the UK

It’s good practice for an employer to treat self-isolation as sick leave and follow their usual sick pay policy or agree for the time to be taken as holiday. Otherwise there’s a risk the employee will come to work because they want to get paid. If they have the virus, they could spread it. But the employee must tell their employer as soon as possible if they cannot work. It’s helpful to let employers know the reason and how long they are likely to be off for.

Employees who can continue working from home
If employees are self-isolating as a precautionary measure, depending on the nature of their role, they may be able to continue working from home. In such instances, employees would continue to receive full pay because they are still fulfilling their duties to their employer.

Employees who cannot work from home and have no symptoms
There is no automatic right for employees who are self-isolating and cannot work from home to receive sick pay, unless they are showing symptoms. However, Labour Relations Agency guidance states that if employees have reason to believe that they have been exposed to the virus or have had to go into quarantine, employers should “follow best practice” and treat it as sick leave or agree that the time off will be taken as annual leave.

Employees who develop symptoms
If employees who are self-isolating develop symptoms and become unwell, they will usually be entitled to either company sick pay or statutory sick pay (“SSP”) in the usual way.

Employees returning from an affected area
Employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their workforce. Therefore, it is understandable that employers are concerned about employees returning to the workplace after they have visited an affected area. If employers knowingly permit employees who have been advised to self-isolate to come into work, they could be in breach of their health and safety duties, especially to other high-risk employees such as those with underlying respiratory conditions or those who are pregnant.

Employers should keep a close eye on the emergency legislation being introduced and also on NI specific guidance and/or legislation that may follow.

What can we do about employees who are afraid to come to work because of Coronavirus?

As a general tip, employers should encourage open dialogue with their staff where concerns can be voiced; this will help businesses assess if concerns are genuine and reasonable. Particular caution should be exercised in relation to high risk employees. In these circumstances, employers should meet with the employee and discuss possible flexible working arrangements such as homeworking.

If employees refuse to attend work due to genuine concerns about contracting Covid-19, you may consider letting employees take unpaid leave or using their annual leave. Ultimately, it is a balance of taking action that will be least disruptive to business needs whilst also trying to maintain good working relationships with employees.

Can we make an employee stay at home who has just returned from an affected area?

Employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their workforce. Therefore, it is understandable that employers are concerned about employees returning to the workplace after they have visited an affected area. If employers knowingly permit employees who have been advised to self-isolate to come into work, they could be in breach of their health and safety obligations, especially to other high-risk employees.

Employers should check their policies and contracts to see if there are any provisions that lawfully enable them to require employees to stay at home. If employers are making employees stay at home, generally the employees should be paid as normal, unless there is a contractual provision to the contrary or they are declared unfit for work and will instead receive sick pay (see below).

What information can employers communicate to their workforce if an employee tests positive to coronavirus?

Communicating information about an individual’s health will constitute processing of sensitive personal data under the GDPR. In accordance with Article 9 of the GDPR, employers must satisfy an additional lawful basis for processing this personal data.

It is unlikely that one of the additional processing grounds under Article 9 would be appropriate in the circumstances. Therefore, employers will need to ensure that any communication does not actually identify the individual.

At the same time, it is important that employers provide a safe working environment for the rest of the workforce. Notifying other employees in the same location as the infected employee would be necessary step to ensure that those in close contact with the employee can take precautionary measures and get tested for the virus.

Depending on the size of the workforce, it is possible that other employees will be able to work out which employee is suffering from coronavirus without the employee actually identifying them. Nevertheless, it is important from a data protection perspective that the employee’s identity is not divulged by the employer unless the employee has given their explicit consent.

Do we have to cover Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)?

The Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme will repay employers the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid to current or former employees.

  • The repayment will cover up to 2 weeks starting from the first qualifying day of sickness, if an employee is unable to work because they either:
    – Have coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms;
    – Cannot work because they are self-isolating because someone they live with has symptoms; or
    – Are shielding and have a letter from the NHS or a GP telling them to stay at home for at least 12 weeks.

    The online service you’ll use to reclaim SSP is not available yet. HMRC will announce when the service is available and the guidance linked above will be updated.

    https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-back-statutory-sick-pay-paid-to-employees-due-to-coronavirus-covid-19?&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=covid19&utm_content=ssp%E2%80%A6

What can businesses do if faced with a coronavirus outbreak in the office?
  • Tell staff there’s a possibility the workplace could close
  • Update any policies or procedures (eg sickness absence, dependent care leave, flexible or home working), which may be affected by an outbreak of coronavirus such as the requirement to obtain a fit note from a doctor
  • Contact The Public Health Agency immediately
  • Contact a hazmat company to clean and disinfect the workplace
  • Inform other employees of potential signs and symptoms
  • Appoint one person to communicate to employees
  • Use multiple communication channels, from digital communications to physical handouts
  • Restate the sick leave policy and encourage employees to take time off if they start showing coronavirus-like symptoms
  • Consider creating a special policy to tackle the situation as a precautionary measure
  • Introduce a business continuity plan that incorporates flexible working
  • Allow employees to work from home. If individuals have only worked in office settings then managers need to communicate their expectations for remote workers e.g. establishing how they want to communicate, if there are organised times they want to communicate and what they expect each day
  • Schedule weekly meetings in efforts to include remote workers so that employees feel involved
  • Explore salary reduction or unpaid leave as an alternative to termination of employment, where business has slowed down working arrangements wherever possible
Stay at home guidance for households