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Managing a coronavirus outbreak in your workplace

Many employers are having to deal with a situation when one of their employees tells them that they have tested positive for COVID-19. As an employer if you haven’t dealt with that already, you almost certainly will.

What do you have to do if your employee tests positive for coronavirus?

In the first instance you should express sympathy. Even if the person’s symptoms are mild, they are likely to be anxious about what might happen or whether they might have spread the virus to their co-workers or family.
 
If they are notified of a positive test result whilst they are in the workplace, they should be asked to return home immediately and follow the self-isolation government guidance.

Offer them as much support as is reasonable and try to facilitate them to continue to work from home during the isolation period, if practicable and they are still well enough to do so.
 
Establish who they had been in close contact with within the workplace from 2 days before the person was symptomatic until 10 days after. Close contact in the workplace means;

  • a person who has had face-to-face contact (within one metre), with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19

  • a person who has been within 2 metres of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes (unless protected by a Perspex or equivalent screen)

  • a person who has travelled in a small vehicle with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or in a large vehicle or plane near someone who has tested positive.

Employees who have had established “close contact” with the COVID-19 positive person may be contacted via the NHS test and trace system and asked to self-isolate.

Employees who have been following the COVID-19 secure arrangements in place in the workplace including social distancing and hygiene measures would not normally have to self-isolate unless they develop symptoms or receive notification from NHS test and trace.

Immediate actions in the workplace would be to;

  • carry out a thorough clean of the area occupied by the person who has tested positive following government guidance

  • Review your COVID-19 risk assessments to ensure that government COVID-19 secure arrangements are in place and are being adhered to.

  • Remind staff of the need to follow your COVID-19 arrangements and the government advice regarding the need to get tested if displaying symptoms and not to come to work.

  • Provide them with information about the COVID-19 occurrence and your actions in response, without identifying the person involved

What if more than one employee tests positive?

If you are informed about a case or cases of COVID-19 in the workplace call your local PHE Health Protection Team, but only if you need additional advice or support.

There are some circumstances when the PHE HPT would like you to call them (contacts are available on their website) as follows:
  • the number of cases exceeds 5 within 14 days,
  • you’ve taken the action outlined but are still seeing more cases,
  • you’re thinking you might need to close because of the number of people affected,
  • somebody in your workplace has been admitted to hospital; You’re getting significant interest from local media.
​PHE has published sector specific guidance to follow in the event of an outbreak of COVID-19 in the workplace, available on their website.

Returning to work

Prior to anyone returning to a workplace in the current pandemic it is a requirement that a suitable and sufficient COVID-19 risk assessment is in place that outlines the specific COVID Secure arrangements that are in place to minimise the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace. These arrangements need to be in line with industry sector government guidance and employees must adhere to them.

The HSE are running a campaign of spot checks across all business sectors to ensure COVID Secure arrangements are in place and are appropriate. Failure to comply with the spot check or failing to implement suitable and sufficient COVID Secure arrangements could lead to enforcement action including prosecutions. Find out more about what happens when a HSE inspector calls.

For expert advice on how to protect you, your employees, visitors and customers in carrying out a COVID-19 risk assessment and reviewing your COVID Secure arrangements, please contact Alcumus PSM.

Contact Alcumus PSM to speak to one of our experts who can advise you further on 01484 439930 or email office@alcumusgroup.com.

Alcumus PSM (People & Safety Management) specialises in human resources (HR) and health and safety (H&S) consulting for small and medium-sized enterprises.

*Please note this advice is for businesses in England only.

Written by Steve Ross, Senior H&S Consultant