Coronavirus: A Guide for Employers
Coronavirus, formally known as Wuhan novel Coronavirus (WN-CoV) is part of the same family as Sars and Mers. This family of viruses originate in animals and jump to humans and there are seven variants. All these viruses present similar cold and flu like symptoms which make them exceptionally easy to spread and tricky to diagnose.
Symptoms to look out for include tiredness, cough and/or sore throat, breathing difficulties and high temperature. As these symptoms are so common in every workplace – it’s people who have travelled to or from the affected countries recently who should be on high alert. For now, at least.
Coronavirus is already a significant threat. It has killed 170+ people and infected 27,000 in 18 countries including China, USA, India, Canada, France, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, South Korea, Japan and Germany. Over 100 people in the UK have been tested and Public Health England (PHE) think it’s ‘likely’ to come to the UK at some point.
**At of the time of publishing – the first two breaking UK cases are just being confirmed**
Dr. Mike Ryan, head of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said that the “whole world needs to be alert” to fight the virus.
Coronavirus is a particular problem for scientists and doctors because of its long incubation period. It can be up to 11 days before symptoms show in a patient and incubation overall can be up to two weeks meaning it can spread before you even know you are carrying it.
The virus is understood to be mutating already and its effect has been compared with the Spanish flu in 1918 and the recent H1N1 outbreak which was one of the most devastating in modern history. Some professionals suggest it’s spread appears to be faster than Sars, and it’s no wonder when we consider that the world is faster paced and more technologically advanced today than it was nearly two decades ago. People can move much more freely thanks to better travel infrastructure and cheap flights meaning before Wuhan province even knew it had a problem, the virus was already on the move around the globe.
The virus is ‘transmissible’ enough that the average sick person, according a recent paper, will infect around two others, just enough to keep the outbreak going, but less than could be expected of some viruses.
Who Is At Risk?
Currently there is no cure for Coronavirus, so preventing it is critical. It affects all age groups indiscriminately (although the usual categories are worst affected).
If a UK outbreak happens – anyone working with or who has children at home is at higher risk as children are a major vector for viruses. Ensure your children understand the hand hygiene basics and keep children at home if they are showing signs of being unwell.
Our healthcare customers are no doubt at significant risk as they are at the frontline of medical care. The Public Health England (PHE) advice has recently been extended to include specific guidance on cleaning procedures. The recognition of their importance in the spread of the virus, as well as their power to prevent further contamination and outbreaks shows how simple these things can be to minimise if everyone is informed.
For businesses operating healthcare or elderly care facilities – we advise you read (and keep up to date daily) with the .Gov page for health and care professionals which can be found here.
The quick spread and serious potential impact of Coronavirus has had elsewhere has prompted UK employers to think about employee safety and how to prevent an outbreak in the workplace should it occur…
So, How Do You Stop a Deadly Virus Outbreak in Your Workplace?
The simplest solution is to understand how it spreads. Like the common cold Coronavirus is spread via droplets from sneezing or coughing, or by being picked up by touch of a contaminated surface (much ongoing research is happening to identify the most prevalent ways the virus is being passed on). It’s likely the spread can also come from other secretions too, although this is less well understood.
Hand hygiene is without doubt our best defence, followed by effective, regular cleaning.
As humans naturally touch their face over 15 times an hour – we are constantly subconsciously spreading the germs we pick up. The most basic advice applies but sometimes a little reminder to staff can help too.
You can use educational posters and internal communications to raise awareness of hand hygiene and how to reduce the spread of infections diseases.
- Wash hands thoroughly regularly.
- Use hand sanitiser.
- Avoid contact with infected persons.
- Don’t share food.
- Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough.
- Clean hard surfaces regularly.
- Don’t share linens – towels etc.
- Keep your working environment dry and well ventilated (germs and bugs love a musty, moist environment).
Masks are commonly seen in Asia and are becoming an increasingly common sight in the UK (London particularly). Interestingly however, the NHS do not currently recommend masks. The reason being that they are mostly ill-fitting and poorly made.
Over time masks become damp from your breath and can incubate rather than prevent the virus’ spread. Not only this, but the masks used by anyone infected would be become a bio-hazard and their disposal would need to be carefully considered. In the event of an epidemic – it is easy to see how they could in fact worsen the problem.
What Should I Be Doing Beyond Promoting Better Hygiene?
It’s up to you how prepared you wish to be now or in the instance that we get confirmed cases in the UK but here are some things to consider now:
- Ensure you encourage employees watch for news updates on affected areas and the spread.
- Limit non-essential business travel (if possible) to the affected countries and regions.
- Educate staff about the risks of taking personal trips and holidays to high risk areas. Unless you have specifically covered this in your employee terms and conditions, it’s unlikely you can legally prevent any such trips, but guidance may be beneficial.
- Give advice and training on how to protect yourself from exposure and how to react should they think they are exposed and ill.
- Increase the use of video conferencing and digital connectivity to ensure sick employees stay away from the office for as long as needed to clear the incubation period.
Going a step further:
- Review your HR policies, health and safety processes and procedures relating to disease management.
- Review your internal and external communications channels and procedures. Quick communication is important both to prevent spread AND help keep people informed and reduce anxiety and panic.
- Ensure you have a business continuity plan in place.
In the USA, employers are considering and implementing more extreme measures in places, such as medical screening and imposing quarantines on employees who have travelled to affected areas (enforced home working basically). Clearly these types of measures could have a huge impact on a business’s productivity. In turn, for the worst affected places – it’s likely to affect their GDP longer term too.
Yet, with a wealth of information available on basic prevention techniques in today’s hyper-connected workplaces – if employers are prepared in good time – the impact could be significantly minimised.
Businesses in the UK should use their time advantage wisely to ensure they are prepared and well equipped to manage the threat.