If There is a Coronavirus Outbreak What Should Employers be Thinking About?
In recent days the potential for a coronavirus outbreak has grown and it is prudent for employers to consider what actions may be taken in their workplaces in relation to this risk materialising.
Employers are reminded that they have obligations under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees and to provide a safe place of work. Employers may:
Carry out a risk assessment to understand the likelihood of employees contracting the virus, which will depend on factors such as the nature and size of the business and locations at which people are expected to work.
Need to consider whether employees have recently travelled to or are intending to travel to any region where cases of the coronavirus have been positively identified.
consider reducing or suspending (temporarily) business travel to an affected region.
If employees must travel, they should follow the infection control precautions outlined by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Need to ensure that hygiene practices in workplaces are appropriate and to increase the availability of hand hygiene facilities and sanitation wipes.
Provide information and training to staff on the prevention of, and containment of, the spread of infectious diseases.
Need to review relevant insurance policies.
Adhere to any organisation policies and procedures and best medical advice when dealing with employees who may have returned from an affected region.
Ensure that policies and procedures are adhered to including on absence and sick leave.
Consider whether remote working could be offered as an option to employees to minimise potential risks.
Decide to require an employee to attend a medical examination to confirm the employee is fit to work if there are concerns following an employee’s return from an affected region.
At the time of writing (26.02.20) the Department of Foreign Affairs has advised to avoid all non-essential travel to China, and not to travel to the Province of Hubei (see Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Travel Advice). The HSE (as of 26.02.20) has advised that for those who have recently been in an affected area in the past 14 days or may have had contact with coronavirus they should phone HSELive on 1850 24 1850. Given what is a fast-changing situation, employers should keep up to date with any guidance issued by organisations such as the WHO, the HSE, the Department of Health and the Department of Foreign Affairs and review their practices and procedures as required. As this is an evolving situation, please visit the following websites for further details:
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control The World Health Organisation The Health Protection Surveillance Centre