26 February 2020

Coronavirus and viral outbreaks: assuring the health and safety of employees

By Jane Murdoch

When it comes to workplace health and safety, a viral outbreak such as coronavirus is something we may not have considered or anticipated happening.

ISO 45001 concentrates on safeguarding the health and safety of your employees and your duty of care.  It makes sense to have a procedure in place if an outbreak were to occur.

COVID-19 is a current outbreak of novel coronavirus which originated in Wuhan, the capital city of the Hubei province of China on the 31st December 2019. It’s characterised by flu-like symptoms including fever, coughing, sneezing and respiratory problems.

In most people, COVID-19 causes cold and flu-like symptoms but it can lead to further complications and has been deadly in 2% of cases so far.

ISO 45001 specifies requirements for an occupational health and safety management system. Here are some ways which you could use your OH&S management system to protect the health and safety of your employees during a viral outbreak:

  1. Assess the risk that a viral outbreak poses to your organisation and its supply chain and plan actions to address it.
  2. Review your organisation’s process, policies and procedures for preparing and responding to potential emergency situations to ensure that it covers viral outbreaks.
  3. Revise your sick leave policy to include information on viral outbreaks and then distribute it, requesting everybody to read and acknowledge.
  4. Communicate and educate employees on how the outbreak of a virus or other infectious diseases can spread. You may need to schedule mandatory training which outlines everybody’s responsibilities, in particular First Aiders who should be made aware of the initial response.
  5. Circulate general advice about how to avoid the spread of viruses, including contractors and visitors to your organisation.
  6. Reassess travel arrangements to reduce the risk for all employees, ensure there is no travel to areas where a virus is known to be present.
  7. Identify any at-risk employees, for example those with underlying conditions or a weakened immune system, and ensure suitable procedures are put in place to ensure their safety.
  8. Keep up to date on the latest news regarding any viral outbreaks to make sure your organisation can continue to monitor the risk that they represent.
  9. Put a remote working policy in place should any of your employees face being quarantined after possible transmission of a virus and confirm how long an employee should stay out of work if remote working isn’t possible.
  10. Put a procedure in place to report any outbreak of a virus within your organisation and any corrective actions.

A viral outbreak such as coronavirus can present a risk to the day-to-day running of your organisation.  For more information on how ISO 45001 can help to promote and protect workplace health and safety, watch our webinar.

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