Coronavirus (COVID-19): Staying safe at work
COVID-19 spreads easily when you are in close contact with others. So if you can work from home, you should. If you cannot work from home, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading at work.
Employers should consult with their employees to determine who needs to come into the workplace. Extra consideration should be given to those people at higher risk. This includes vulnerable people, the clinically extremely vulnerable and pregnant workers.
Advice on protecting vulnerable workers and pregnant workers can be found on the Health and Safety Executive NI (HSENI) website:
When employers consider if workers should come into their place of work, a COVID-19 workplace risk assessment will need to be completed and appropriate measures should be put in place in line with current Public Health Agency (PHA) guidelines.
The HSENI, in association with the PHA, has produced useful advice and guidance for employers regarding working safely during the coronavirus pandemic:
COVID-19 spreads easily when people are working in shared spaces and across shared surfaces, such as shared kitchens, bathrooms, door handles, refrigerators and kettles.
People who have COVID-19 can infect others from around two days before symptoms start, and for up to 10 days after.
You can pass the infection to others, even if you have no symptoms, which is why you always need to be careful at work.
What you can do to keep yourself safe
Below are some practical things you may wish to consider if you cannot work from home.
- keep two metres apart from colleagues, customers and clients – in all circumstances where possible
- wear a face covering when in shared spaces
- keep windows open as much as possible
- wash your hands with soap and water often, for at least 20 seconds
- use hand sanitiser gel – consider bringing a small bottle of sanitiser gel to work and keeping it in your pocket so that you can use it after touching shared surfaces
- avoid in person meetings where possible – use phone or video conference calls if you can
- when you’re having a break, don’t let your guard down - consider bringing in a packed lunch with you so that you don’t have to use a shared kitchen and, if you can, choose to eat somewhere you can safely social distance
- use your own stationery, mugs and cutlery – if communal items are usually provided, you may wish to consider bringing in your own to work to avoid any possible cross contamination
- keep your work area clear of personal belongings – it is important to keep areas clear to allow for effective cleaning
- if possible, avoid car sharing to commute to work – walk/cycle where possible and if you can't avoid car sharing, guidance is available from the PHA website
Guidance is also available on using public transport:
Detailed guidance for employees who have to self-isolate due to COVID-19 is available on the HSENI website.
The key COVID-19 symptoms for employers and employees to be aware of are:
- a new continuous cough (this means coughing a lot for more than one hour or 3 or more coughing episodes in a 24 hour period). If they usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual; or
- fever/high temperature considered to be 37.8 degrees Celsius or above (this means the temperature before taking any medication to reduce the temperature, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or any other antipyretic); or
- loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste
It is essential that any employee who has symptoms of COVID-19 does not attend work and follows the public health advice summarised below to stay at home and self-isolate.
Furthermore, any employee in the workplace exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms while at work, should be sent home immediately to self-isolate, wear a face covering on the journey home and avoid public transport.
They will need to arrange to be tested and can book a test by visiting the PHA website or calling 119.
Details on how to act on the result of the test are available on the HSENI website.
The PHA Contact Tracing Service (CTS) will be in touch with an employee who has tested positive (the case) to identify all their close contacts - including those at work or in other businesses they may have visited.
If your employees have been informed by the CTS that they should isolate, as an employer you should immediately ensure they are not at work.
They may feel well (the virus could still be incubating) or indeed for some they may not become unwell at all – however both categories must stay at home and self-isolate for 10 days.
You can ask them to work from home if they are able to and they are not unwell.
Other instances when employees will need to self-isolate include:
- employees must self-isolate for 10 days if they live with or are in a support bubble with someone who:
- has symptoms of coronavirus and tested positive; had an unclear result or did not have a test; or
- tested positive but has not had symptoms
- self-isolation for 10 days will also apply to an employee who either:
- gets a test, email or call from CTS telling them to self-isolate, or
- gets an alert from the StopCOVID NI app telling them to self-isolate
- if an employee has no symptoms but has a positive test they should isolate for 10 full days after the date of the test and If they subsequently develop symptoms during the 10 days, they must begin a new 10 day self-isolation period
- employees who have arrived in Northern Ireland from certain countries may have to quarantine for 10 days and should not attend work during this period - further details can be found on the international travel advice page
It is important to note that employees do not require a negative COVID-19 test prior to returning to work. Employees may also be required to self-isolate on more than one occasion.
Support for employees
Detailed information on support for employees can be found at Advice NI .
Self-isolation can be difficult and impact on your well-being. Advice on wellbeing while staying at home is available:
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): taking care of your mental health and wellbeing
- NHS website - staying at home tips
Further guidance for the workplace is available at the following links: