What is the HSE’s Advice on Coronavirus?

Neil Munro Health & Safety

As the UK sees its biggest daily rise in confirmed coronavirus cases, the Health & safety executive is keen to ensure that those currently unaffected in the workplace remain so.

Coronavirus – now officially designated Covid-19 – is fast taking on pandemic proportions globally and the Worlds Governments are scrambling to contain it as much as possible. One of the main issues with the virus is the incubation period, which can range from two to fourteen days, with the sufferer being contagious during that time, even if they are not exhibiting symptoms. 

To prevent the uncontrolled spread of the disease, people are being told to wash their hands regularly, and maintain a distance of three feet between themselves and others.  That, however, becomes a problem for those in the workplace, and extra advice is being prepared on a country by country basis.

In the UK, that has led to guidance from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) regarding how people in work environments should help protect themselves and others.  The guidance is concerned with how the disease is spread and issues recommendations about behaviour that will limit transmission of the virus. 

These are:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub if your hands are not visibly dirty.
  • Practice good respiratory hygiene i.e. when coughing and sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – discard tissue immediately into a closed bin and clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • Maintain social distancing i.e. leave at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and other people, particularly those who are coughing, sneezing and have a fever.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth – if you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your contaminated hands, you can transfer the virus from the surface to yourself.

Employees are not recommended to wear face or surgical masks to protect against the virus. This type of protection is only recommended to be worn by symptomatic individuals – I.E. those already known to have the virus – to reduce the risk of transmitting the infection to other people via bodily fluids. Bodily contact such as shaking hands should also be avoided.

While it is recognised that office workers and those in a factory environment have a good chance of maintaining all of this advice, it becomes more problematic for customer-facing workers and those who operate in a haphazard way, such as building, construction, and other blue-collar workers.  The HSE advice remains the same as with other workers, but there is a caveat that those in this situation should have an even greater awareness at all times to prevent the close quarters contact becoming an issue.

This issue is actually a more significant problem in educational environments, where teachers may have to maintain close contact with students as part of their work. The HSE offers no extra recommendations but does suggest that teachers should remain extra vigilant and assess students for the possibility of having the virus, while ensuring that they keep to a recommended distance. Teachers should also assess whether a student has recently returned from a recognised highly infected area, and suggest that the student self-isolates for the recommended time.

Customer facing roles share similar problems, with many shop workers needing to be in relatively close proximity to customers, and may be both handing customers goods, and taking money in return. Part of the issue with a virus such as Covid-19 is the relatively long time that it can stay active on hard surfaces, which can be a s long as 48 hours.   Again, to combat this, the HSE recommend that workers sanitise their hands regularly using an alcohol-based hand rub for at least twenty seconds per application.

Covid-19 is a huge concern for the global population and in order to limit its impact, official bodies such as the HSE will put out regular updates on best practice. To stay abreast of these, check back here regularly, where we will post any major cautions from the Government.

If you need assistance with assessing your businesses risk from Covid-19, contact Acorn today and speak to one of our expert Health and Safety consultants.