In the light of developments relating to the Coronavirus the NIPSA Health and Safety Committee have produced the following information. This is not intended to raise concern but to offer some practical information on what steps employers and employees should take to protect from the spread of the virus.
What Is Coronavirus/COVID-19?

According to the PHA the following symptoms may develop in the 14 days after exposure to someone who has COVID-19 infection:

  • cough
  • difficulty in breathing
  • fever

Generally, these infections can cause more severe symptoms in people with weakened immune systems, older people, and those with long-term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease. The Public Health Agency publishes daily updates with the latest stats and advice; including guidance for employers and employees.

The Labour Relations Agency has also produced workplace specific guidance which sets out the steps employers should be taking.

Health and Safety Steps for Employers

Employers should take the following steps to protect the health, safety and welfare of staff:

  • Ensure regular updates and engagement takes place with Health and Safety Reps and Safety Committees;
  • Ensure the Public Health Agency advice and posters on hand washing guidance are prominently displayed in all public areas and toilets;
  • Keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace;
  • Make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date;
  • Make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of Coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace develops the virus;
  • Make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly;
  • Give out hand sanitisers and tissues to staff, and encourage them to use them;
  • Consider if protective face masks might help for people working in particularly vulnerable situations. See also reference to face masks below;
  • Consider if any travel planned to affected areas is essential;
  • If there is a capacity to do so, designate an ‘isolation room’ where an employee who feels ill can go and sit from the rest of the staff and privately call ‘111’ before taking any further necessary action.
Health and Safety Steps for Employees

Public Health England (PHE) and the Public Health Agency (PHA) recommends that the following general cold and flu precautions are taken to help prevent people from catching and spreading COVID-19:

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze. CATCH IT, BIN IT, KILL IT;
  • Put used tissues in the bin straight away;
  • Wash your hands with soap and water often – use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available. See hand washing guidance produced by NHS;
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell;
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces;
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.

If an employee is worried about symptoms, they should call their GP. Do not go directly to the GP or other healthcare environment.

Face masks for the general public are not recommended to protect from infection, as there is no evidence of benefit from their use outside healthcare environments.

How long any respiratory virus survives will depend on a number of factors, for example:

  • what surface the virus is on;
  • whether it is exposed to sunlight;
  • differences in temperature and humidity;
  • exposure to cleaning products.

Under most circumstances, the amount of infectious virus on any contaminated surfaces is likely to have decreased significantly by 72 hours.

Once similar viruses are transferred to hands, they survive for very short lengths of time. Regular cleaning of frequently touched hard surfaces and hands will, therefore, help to reduce the risk of infection.