It is possible that an organisation has or will be affected by Covid-19 in the workplace. When this happens, it is very important that the correct steps are followed to ensure the employer’s duty of care to the safety of their employees is met. Employees will be reassured if you are seen to have proper procedures in place. This will facilitate their swift return to work / work stations, enabling your business to trade quickly again.
1. When a case is suspected
If someone is awaiting a Covid-19 test result, they should not attend work. If an employee displays symptoms whilst at work, he or she should be instructed to leave the premises, take a Covid-19 test and self-isolate until the results are known.
“Close contacts at this stage do not need to self-isolate unless requested to do so by NHS Test and Trace or a public health professional…”
2. When a case is confirmed
If someone tests positive for Covid-19, he or she should self-isolate for the required period and comply with NHS Test and Trace procedures.
If any employee is notified by NHS Test and Trace to self-isolate, they must do so or face a fine for non-compliance. Employers can also face penalties for not following legal requirements regarding self-isolation:
“Employers can be fined up to £10,000 if they knowingly ask or encourage a worker or employee who needs to self-isolate to come to the workplace.”
3. Dealing with a (potentially) contaminated area
An organisation should refer to its Covid-19 risk assessment. This should include measures to be taken to decontaminate areas where a person suspected or confirmed as having Covid-19 has been in contact with.
The longer that contaminated areas are not accessed, the less the risk becomes of infectious traces of the virus remaining. However, it is not always practical for organisations to keep areas off limits for long periods of time. Therefore, stringent cleaning and disinfection is essential.
Isolating and Cleaning the Area
The area where the affected employee has been working, together with any communal areas they may have passed through, will need to be isolated until these areas have been cleaned and disinfected. This could be managed in-house or by using the services of a reputable and competent cleaning company.
“All surfaces that the symptomatic person has come into contact with should be cleaned and disinfected, including all potentially contaminated and frequently touched areas such as bathrooms, door handles, telephones, grab rails in corridors and stairwells”.
“Use disposable cloths or paper roll and disposable mop heads, to clean all hard surfaces, floors, chairs, door handles and sanitary fittings – think one site, one wipe, in one direction.
Use one of the options below:
- a combined detergent disinfectant solution at a dilution of 1,000 parts per million available chlorine (ppm av.cl.)
- a household detergent followed by disinfection (1000 ppm av.cl.). Follow manufacturer’s instructions for dilution, application and contact times for all detergents and disinfectants
- if an alternative disinfectant is used within the organisation ensure that it is effective against enveloped viruses”
In addition, the application of sanitising products via a fogging machine is an option for making areas safe:
“Fog, mist, vapour or UV (ultraviolet) treatments may be suitable options to help control the spread of coronavirus, by cleaning and disinfecting a larger space or room. Any use of these treatments for these purposes should form part of your COVID-19 risk assessment. Users must be competent and properly trained.”
There are rules and regulations around the disposal of waste depending on its classification. Waste produced from cleaning after a case of Covid-19 is classed as category B infectious waste. If it is to be disposed of straight away, it should be double bagged and tied when full. It needs to be disposed of as hazardous waste. If you are able to store the waste securely for 72 hours, without it contaminating other areas, it can then be downgraded and disposed of as general waste.
By removing the symptomatic person from the premises and then following these guidelines, any contaminated area should then be safe to re-use and any risk of re-infection minimised.