Coronavirus | Wessex Health and Safety

Coronavirus

For daily global updates on the coronavirus, please visit the World Health Organization’s website. UK-specific updates are available on the Government website.

What is coronavirus? 

COVID-19 is an illness that can affect the lungs and airways. It’s caused by a virus called coronavirus. In January 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared coronavirus a global health emergency. Respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

Whilst the UK Chief Medical Officers have raised the risk to the public to moderate, the risk of catching COVID-19 depends on where you live or where you have travelled recently.

Preventative measures

Employers have a vital role to play in preventing the spread of this disease by taking sensible action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 such as ensuring that workers have access to appropriate hygiene facilities such hot water, soap and bins to get rid of used tissues.  

The risk of catching it within the workplace is low, although an increasing number of employers are encouraging their employees to work from home in order to help to prevent further spread of the virus.

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: 

  • Wash your hands frequently with alcohol-based hand wash or wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Maintain social distancing- maintain at least 1 meter (3 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
  • Stay informed and follow the advice given by health care providers

In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) has advised that most people can continue to go to work, school and other public places, and that self-isolation is only to be undertaken if the individual is advised to do so by the 111 online coronavirus service or a medical professional. Read the full NHS advice here.

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) document Getting your workplace ready for COVID-19 or UK Government Guidance Preparing for emergencies.

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, providing assistance 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.

Managing the safety, health and security of workers:

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 in the media:

IOSH has provided expertise and guidance in the media around the coronavirus and how to protect employees in the workplace.

Media appearances include:

  • BBC Worklife and BBC World News – 20/02/20
  • BBC Radio Oxford – 26/02/20
  • BBC Radio 5 Live – 03/03/20

Useful resources:

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

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