As part of the government’s ‘Living with COVID-19’ plan, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has finally published their updated guidance for employers, businesses, and organisations in England for managing the risk to their workforce from COVID-19 and other respiratory infections.
This guidance is called ‘Reducing the spread of respiratory infections, including COVID, in the workplace’ and it replaces the ‘Working safely through COVID-19’ guidance.
Our HR & Employment Law and Health & Safety experts have summarised the key points to be aware of in this quick article.
The guidance aims to help employers and managers understand how to reduce the spread of respiratory infections such as COVID-19 and flu in the workplace.
It makes it clear that while you no longer need to expressly consider COVID-19 in your risk assessments, you do still have Health & Safety obligations to consider, including respiratory health.
It’s particularly important for you to reduce the spread of respiratory infections such as COVID-19 if there are people in your workplace at higher risk of serious illness through COVID-19.
The guidance says it’s “important for staff and employers to be aware of symptoms so they can take actions to reduce the risk of spreading the infection to other people.”
The symptoms of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections are very similar, so it’s not possible to tell if you have COVID-19, flu or another infection based on symptoms alone. Most people with COVID-19 will have a relatively mild illness, especially if they have been vaccinated.
Symptoms of COVID-19, flu and common respiratory infections include:
It’s important to remember that some people may continue to have a cough or feel tired after other symptoms have improved, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re still infectious.
The guidance simply says that if a member of staff is unwell with symptoms of a respiratory infection such as COVID, they should follow the government guidance ‘People with symptoms of a respiratory infection including COVID-19’. This guidance says that they should:
The employer’s guidance says:
“Employers, in accordance with their legal obligations, may wish to consider how best to support and enable their workforce to follow this guidance as far as possible.”
We would recommend that, if you decide you need employees with COVID-19 symptoms to enter the workplace at any time, you should assess the risk this poses and implement appropriate controls and risk mitigation to protect your wider workforce.
The guidance sets out the following recommendations for managing the risk of transmission:
The guidance states there’s no requirement to report workplace outbreaks of respiratory infections to the local public health team, but if you experience high levels of people with respiratory symptoms in your workplace, you should focus on the actions above to help reduce transmission.
The guidance refers to the specific guidance issued for people at higher risk of serious illness from COVID and states “Employers may wish to consider the needs of employees at greater risk from COVID-19, including those whose immune system means they are at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19.”
We would recommend that, rather than maybe considering the needs of these employees, you should always do so – particularly as many may come within the definition of disabled under the Equality Act.
The new guidance is rather ‘light touch’, but it’s so important that you continue to do what you can to manage the risk of COVID-19 as it’s likely that the HSE and other local authorities will still expect some level of consideration for COVID-19 controls, such as ventilation and hygiene.
We recommend that you have a policy in place detailing the hygiene measures and behaviours you expect from your workers – such as increasing ventilation and working from home where possible if unwell. When it comes to vulnerable staff, we recommend that you consider them on an individual basis and complete an individual risk assessment for each person.
The government has now said that COVID-secure risk assessments are no longer a legal requirement in England.
It may also be wise to try and raise awareness of symptoms among your employees and workers.