23 Mar 2020

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is urging employers to follow the government's guidance for employers and businesses.

The guidance does not require businesses to conduct contact tracing if an employee has tested positive for, or is suspected of having COVID-19. However, to ensure so far as reasonably practicable the health, safety and welfare of employees, it is recommended that businesses inform at risk teams and offices if an employee has been diagnosed with or is suspected of having COVID-19.

As the government guidance is being updated as the situation progresses we recommend that it is regularly monitored for updates.

Duties to employees and non-employees

As with other diseases and workplace risks, businesses have a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees and the safety non-employees (such as contractors or customers) and this includes taking steps to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

Contact tracing is not currently one of the steps recommended by the government. However, to ensure that all reasonably practicable steps are taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19 it is recommended that businesses inform relevant teams, offices and contractors if an employee has been diagnosed with or is suspected of having COVID-19 and remind them of the public health advice. This is particularly important if an employee in a vulnerable group may have been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

To ensure compliance with any data protection requirements it is not recommended that an individual's personal details or medical history are shared with staff.

The current government guidance does recommend that the following steps are taken by businesses:

  • Keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
  • Ensure employees who are in a vulnerable group are strongly advised to follow guidance. It is recommended that businesses encourage employees to inform them if they are in a vulnerable group so that appropriate additional precautions can be taken
  • Make sure contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
  • Make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) and are clear on any relevant processes
  • If anyone becomes unwell with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature they should be sent home and advised to follow the stay at home guidance
  • Employees who have helped someone who was taken unwell do not need to go home unless they develop symptoms
  • Remind Employees and customers to wash their hands for 20 seconds more frequently than normal
  • Provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff, and encourage them to use them
  • Frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly using standard cleaning products.

Contact tracing

Contact tracing is recommended by Public Health England for certain diseases such as Tuberculosis (TB). It is not currently recommended for COVID-19.

When contact tracing for TB is required, employers provide information to help identify close contacts of a person diagnosed with TB who may require screening. Occupational Health obtain staff contact details and conduct screening.

Businesses should ensure that they have up to date staff contact details and are able to provide information on who has come in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, for example via information from managers and/or calendar appointments etc., should the guidance change.