Since the emergence of the pandemic, we have been bombarded with information from all directions – press conferences, official guidelines and new legislation, media reports, industry advice… the list seems almost endless. The purpose of this series of posts is to present the key information to help you keep yourself, your colleagues and your customers safe in your workplace.
We look at the virus and its impact on our daily lives, then examine the steps you need to take to minimise the risks it poses. We signpost key pieces of expert information that relate to specific sectors, as well as links that will allow you to keep yourself updated with the latest regulations and legislation in your UK location.
Through three sections of the ‘Knowledge’, we will cover:
- Symptoms of the disease, methods of transmission and preventative measures
- Including covid-19 in your workplace risk assessment
- Implementing a Covid Worksafe plan
Background and current situation
The novel Coronavirus 2019, officially named Covid-19 by the World Health, emerged in the far East, in late 2019. The virus quickly spread through countries and continents, officially reaching pandemic level in March 2020. The virus combines an ability to spread very quickly with symptoms that prove fatal in some cases – these two factors have created a health crisis of a scale that has not before been experienced in living history.
Different nations have taken different approaches to managing the disease. At the time of writing, the approach in the UK is a government driven programme of guidelines and legislation, aimed at reducing contact between individuals and households, in order to reduce spread and keep infection levels at a manageable level.
1. Symptoms of the disease, methods of transmission and preventative measures
Symptoms and characteristics of the disease
According to the NHS, the main symptoms of coronavirus are:
- A high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
- A new continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
- A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal
Most people with coronavirus have at least 1 of these symptoms. For the latest symptom information, go to the NHS website.
However, we also know that a significant number of people can carry the disease without displaying symptoms – described as ‘asymptomatic’. This is potentially dangerous as a carrier may underestimate the risk of their own actions, and pass onto others.
Certain people are particularly vulnerable to contracting and / or suffering serious consequences of covid-19. These include:
- Those who are 60-years old or over
- Those who have underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma and cardiovascular disease, or are obese
- People who smoke
- People who have difficulty understanding the situation and applying safe practices, including those with special educational needs or dementia.
Whilst knowledge surrounding the virus was limited as it emerged, we now have access to more definitive research about the ways in which it spreads from infected to non-infected people. The virus is carried in droplets formed in the respiratory system, and then passed between people in several ways, including:
During close contact between people – droplets pass from one to the other through air. This is most likely to happen over a distance of 2 metres or less.
Via airborne transmission – unfortunately the virus is particularly resistant and can remain in the air for a period of time, especially in an enclosed space with low ventilation.
Through contact with contaminated surfaces – due to its resistant nature, covid-19 can remain present for considerable periods of time on surfaces, allowing transmission from an infected person to another person by touching the same surface.
Because of the transmission methods described above, one of the most useful methods of reducing the spread of the virus is maintaining a distance from other people. Ideally this distance should be 2 metres, taking into account the possible reach of airborne particles.
Personal hygiene – Regular thorough handwashing with soap and water reduces the spread of the virus through touch; a high alcohol hand sanitiser is a good substitute in situations where handwashing cannot be carried out. Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing – ideally with a disposable tissue. If necessary, sneeze into the crook of your elbow, rather than your hand. People who have a high probability of coming into contact with people from other households (for instance those in caring or teaching roles) are also advised to wash clothes daily, removing them as soon as possible when re-entering the home.
Face coverings and personal protective equipment (PPE)
The current WHO advice states that non-medical face coverings should be worn in public when social distancing is not possible. Research suggests that face coverings, when worn properly, restrict the transmission from the wearer to others. Some people are exempt from wearing face coverings, and if you are in a position where you need to enforce the wearing of masks, it is useful to consider a plan that addresses this sympathetically – for instance, a poster encouraging exempt people to make you aware of their exemption.
The use of gloves can be helpful in situations where objects are passed between one person to another – however, gloves can create a false sense of security and discourage regular handwashing, so consider their use carefully.
Because of the impact of the virus on supplies needed for health and care settings, the use of medical grade PPE is only recommended in workplaces that genuinely require its use.
Regular thorough cleaning of surfaces and touch points (such as door handles, handrails, card payment machines) restricts the spread of the virus via contact. Cleaning schedules should be revised to allow cleaning of surfaces between users wherever possible.
Self-isolation and shielding
If a person displays symptoms or has a positive test, they will need to isolate themselves, i.e. stay in their home and avoid all contact with people outside their household. Those who are particularly vulnerable to the disease, for instance those with underlying health conditions may be advised to shield – that is, to keep themselves isolated throughout the period when the disease remains a danger. This can present a difficult situation for an employer and their member of staff. In all cases, the best way forward is for the member of staff and their employer to agree a suitable way forward; solutions could include switching to suitable duties that can be carried out from home, undertaking remote training or taking a period of annual or unpaid leave. However, employer and employee often have different, equally valuable viewpoints – in these cases the employment advisory service ACAS can prove an invaluable source of advice and experience.