UPDATE: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advice for Employers

Under health and safety law, employers have a duty of care to protect employees from infectious diseases at work. Coronavirus is the most recent outbreak of disease and it is the employer’s responsibility to take precautions to prevent exposure to the disease and ensure the health and safety of employees. Developing a plan or a policy on reducing the risk of infection and what to do in the event of an outbreak is the best way to be prepared for an outbreak in the workplace.

It is important to note that the current position with COVID-19 is constantly developing, therefore it is imperative for employers to keep up to date with Government advice, utilising sources such as the NHS, Public Health England (PHE) and Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC). Government advice and guidance is available for employers on the Gov.uk website.

Public Health England also provide useful further information via their blog "Public Heath Matters" which is updated daily, and we encourage employers to keep up to date with it.

What are the symptoms of someone with coronavirus?
The following symptoms may develop within 14 days of coming into contact with someone who is infected by COVID-19:

  • A cough
  • A fever
  • Difficulty breathing

Important: These symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. The symptoms are like many other illnesses that are much more common, such as a flu or a common cold. Generally, these infections can cause more severe symptoms in people with weakened immune systems, older people, and those with long-term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease.

So, what to do if a member of staff displays symptoms of coronavirus?
111 should be everyone’s first port of call. When there’s a disease outbreak, the public can become very weary and, in some cases, over exaggerate. A simple fever or cough doesn’t necessarily mean you have Coronavirus. This why it is important to seek medical advice before making assumptions. NHS 111 offer an online coronavirus service which is in the form of a questionnaire for people who believe they may be showing symptoms. This is a series of questions which will determine if you need to seek further medical help.

The NHS have asked the public not to go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. This is simply a control measure to prevent the spread of the disease. Remember to stay calm and seek the advice through 111 first.

What practises can we adopt to help protect employees from infection?
At the time of writing, there is no vaccine for Coronavirus. The most efficient way to prevent the infection is to avoid exposure. Maintaining and encouraging good levels of hygiene is highly important. Methods you could employ are:

  • Ensure hand washing facilities are available to staff, with warm running water and soap. Additionally, sanitizer gels could be made available
  • Encourage frequently cleaning hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water
  • Following the standard procedure of covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. This then needs to be thrown away immediately - Catch it, Bin it, Kill it
  • Avoiding close contact with anyone who has a cough or a fever
  • Ensuring work surfaces are cleaned
  • Remove waste daily

Other steps to explore to mitigate the risks are:

  • Risk assess your activities to help identify potential sources of exposure and formulate suitable control measures, e.g. can some face to face meetings where there is the potential to increase the risk of contact be just as easily carried out via video conference calls, or conference calls?
  • If circumstances in the UK become more extreme, look at instances where remote working can be carried out to avoid travel
  • Monitor staff who have pre-existing medical conditions, pregnant workers, persons with weak immune systems etc. as further steps may be required to reduce risk
  • Keep information to employees clear, concise and up to date – ensure effective communication

What if I have staff returning to the UK from other countries?
It is down to the employer to assess the risk of the employee returning to work. As of right now, infected countries have been split into two categories. Category 1 consists of Wuhan City and Hubei Province (China), Iran, Daegu or Cheongdo (Republic of Korea) and any Italian town under containment measures. Category 2 consists of Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Italy (North), Japan, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam. It has been advised that people traveling back from Category 1 should self-isolate, even if asymptomatic, and use the 111 online Coronavirus service to find out what to do next. Travellers from Category 2 have been advised not to take any specials measures unless they develop symptoms, in which case they should self-isolate and call 111. Over time, countries in the categories may change, so for updated categories please refer to the list on the Government website.

If asked to self-isolate you will find advice here.

As the spread of Coronavirus is changing by the day, it is most important that you keep up to date with the latest information and advice provided by the government.

As ever, if you have any questions about this or any of our other services, please don't hesitate to contact BusinessGuard on 0121 380 4612.