• How to help prevent spread of respiratory infections including COVID-19
  • How to help prevent spread of respiratory infections including COVID-19

    2020-04-14 18:03

    Getting your workplace ready in case COVID-19 arrives in your community

    Develop a contingency and business continuity plan for an outbreak in the communities where your business operates.

    • The plan will help prepare your organisation for the possibility of an outbreak of COVID-19 in its workplaces or community. It may also be valid for other health emergencies.
    • The plan should address how to keep your business running even if a significant number of employees, contractors and suppliers cannot come to your place of business – either due to local restrictions on travel or because they are ill.
    • Inform your employees and their representatives as well as your contractors about the plan and make sure they are aware of what they need to do – or not do – under the plan. Emphasise key points such as the importance of staying away from work even if they have only mild symptoms or have had to take simple medication (e.g. paracetamol, ibuprofen) which may mask the symptoms.
    • Be sure your plan addresses sick leave arrangements (see #Certifying absence from work), and the mental health and social consequences of a case of COVID-19 in the workplace or in the community and offer information and support.
    • For small and medium-sized businesses without in-house occupational health support, consult the information available online from your occupational health service, public health and labour authorities in advance of any emergency. Consult any guidance given by your sectoral organisations (employers’ associations, chambers of commerce, sectoral social services).COVID19 1.jpg

    Preventing spread of infection

    There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus. Prevention measures such as those described below should be taken now, even if COVID-19 has not arrived in your community. They can already reduce working days lost due to illness and stop or slow the spread of COVID-19 if it arrives. The measures should be included in the workplace risk assessment that covers all risks, including those caused by biological agents, as set out in EU and national occupational health and safety legislation.

    Employers should:

    • Place posters that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to the workplace and in other areas where they will be seen.
    • Provide employees with tissues and waste bins lined with a plastic bag so that they can be emptied without contacting the contents.
    • Instruct employees to clean their hands frequently, using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60-95% alcohol, or to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
    • Provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace. Ensure that adequate supplies are maintained. Place hand rubs in multiple locations and in common areas to encourage hand hygiene.
    • Continue routine environmental cleaning and consider additional measures as described later in this document.
    • Brief the employees, contractors and customers that, if COVID-19 starts spreading in your community, anyone with even a mild cough or low-grade fever (37.3 C or more) needs to stay at home. They should also stay home (or work from home) if they have had to take simple medications, such as paracetamol/acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin, which may mask symptoms of infection
    • Any employees who develops flu-like symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath, fever) should go home immediately and contact the public health service. If there is any reason to suspect that they may have been in contact with COVID-19, then follow the measures described in #What to do if an employee or a member of the public becomes unwell and believe they have been exposed to COVID-19.

    If it is feasible for your business, promote teleworking across your organisation and allow employees to work flexible hours to minimise crowding the workplace. If there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in your community, the health authorities may advise people to avoid public transport and crowded places. Teleworking will help your business keep operating while your employees stay safe.

    Routine environmental cleaning:

    • Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and door handles. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label.
    • No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.
    • Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.

    The best way to reduce any risk of infection is good hygiene and avoiding direct or close contact (closer than 2 metres) with any potentially infected person. Any worker who deals with members of the public from behind a screen should be protected from airborne particles.

    What to do if an employee or a member of the public becomes unwell and believe they have been exposed to COVID-19

    Follow the advice of your local public health authorities on criteria for possible exposure to COVID-19 (for example, areas where the person may have travelled to) to identify those that may have been exposed.

    If someone becomes unwell in the workplace and there is reason to suspect they may have come into contact with COVID-19 (e.g. has travelled to China or other affected countries), the unwell person should be removed to an area which is at least 2 metres away from other people. If possible, find a room or area where they can be isolated behind a closed door, such as a staff office. If it is possible to open a window, do so for ventilation.

    The individual who is unwell should use their mobile phone to call the designated public health service number. If it is an emergency (if they are seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk) then you should call 112 and explain the situation and relevant information, such as which country they have returned from in the last 14 days and outline their current symptoms.

    Whilst waiting for advice from the designated public health or emergency service, the affected person should remain at least two metres from other people. They should avoid touching people, surfaces and objects and should cover their mouth and nose with a disposable tissue when they cough or sneeze and put the tissue in a bag or pocket then throw the tissue in the bin. If they don’t have any tissues available, they should cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow.

    If they need to go to the bathroom whilst waiting for medical assistance, they should use a separate bathroom if available.

    Consider identifying persons who have conditions that put them at higher risk of serious illness (e.g. diabetes, heart and lung disease, older age) and advising them to take additional precautions, such as staying at home.

    What to do if a member of staff or the public with suspected COVID-19 has recently been in your workplace

    For contacts of a suspected case in the workplace, follow the guidance given by your national authorities. The management team of the office or workplace will be contacted by the designated public health services to discuss the case, to identify people who have been in contact with them and to advise on any actions or precautions that should be taken.

    A risk assessment of each situation will be undertaken by the designated public health services with the lead responsible person in your workplace. They will provide advice on how to manage staff and members of the public, based on their assessment of the risk.

    The designated public health services will also be in contact with the affected person directly to advise on isolation and identifying other contacts and will be in touch with any persons they have contacted to provide them with appropriate advice.

    If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality.

    Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should be given instructions on what to do according to your company policies and the national authorities´ guidance.

    Advice on cleaning of communal areas such as offices or toilets will be given by designated public health services (see #Cleaning offices and public spaces where there are suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19).

    Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their employer and refer to national health services guidance as to how to assess their potential exposure and the measures to take.

    When individuals in the workplace have had contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19

    If a confirmed case is identified in your workplace, the designated public health services will provide advice to:

    • any employee that has been in close face-to-face or touching contact
    • anyone talking with or being coughed on for any length of time while the employee was symptomatic
    • anyone who has cleaned up any bodily fluids
    • close friendship groups or workgroups
    • any employee living in the same household as a confirmed case

    Contacts are not considered cases and if they are feeling well, they are very unlikely to have spread the infection to others:

    • those who have had close contact will be asked to self-isolate at home for 14 days from the last time they had contact with the confirmed case and follow the advice they will be actively followed up by the designated public health services
    • if they develop new symptoms or their existing symptoms worsen within their 14-day observation period they should call the designated public health services for reassessment
    • if they become unwell with cough, fever or shortness of breath they will be tested for COVID-19
    • if they are unwell at any time within their 14-day observation period and they test positive for COVID-19 they will become a confirmed case and will be treated for the infection
    • Staff who have not had close contact with the original confirmed case do not need to take any precautions other than monitoring their health for flu-like symptoms and can continue to attend work.

    A confirmed case of COVID-19 in the workplace will cause anxiety among co-workers and some may become stressed. Clear communication is important, directing workers to reliable sources of information about COVID-19. Managers should be supportive and understanding and as far as possible flexible on working arrangements.

    Cleaning offices and public spaces where there are suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19

    Coronavirus symptoms are similar to a flu-like illness and include cough, fever, or shortness of breath. Once symptomatic, all surfaces that the person has come into contact with must be cleaned including:

    • all surfaces and objects which are visibly contaminated with body fluids
    • all potentially contaminated high-contact areas such as toilets, door handles, telephones

    Public areas where a symptomatic individual has passed through and spent minimal time in (such as corridors) but which are not visibly contaminated with body fluids do not need to be specially cleaned and disinfected.

    If a person becomes ill in a shared space, these should be cleaned using disposable cloths and household detergents, according to current recommended workplace legislation and practice. Precautionary measures should be taken to protect cleaners.

    All waste that has been in contact with the individual, including used tissues, and masks if used, should be put in a plastic rubbish bag and tied when full. The plastic bag should then be placed in a second bin bag and tied. It should be put in a safe place and marked for storage until the result is available. If the individual tests negative, this can be put in the normal waste. Should the individual test positive, you will be instructed what to do with the waste by public health authorities.

    You can find more information here.


    Source of information: European Agency for Safty and Health at Work

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