Coronavirus: How to help minimise the risks in your workplace

Although there have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Ireland to date, public health advice dictates that you minimise the risks to your people and your business.

BrightHR Team

The coronavirus (also referred to as Covid-19) has dominated news headlines for the past few weeks now. It’s infected thousands of Chinese citizens and has spread to more than 20 countries around the globe.

And while there are no cases of the coronavirus in Ireland, nine people have tested positive for the virus in the UK, so it’s getting closer to home.

With that in mind, let’s find out more about the virus and what you can do to help minimise the risks in your workplace.

What exactly is the coronavirus?

It’s a new type of virus that was first identified in Wuhan City, China. Typical symptoms include fever and a cough, which could progress to severe pneumonia causing shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

The virus can be especially dangerous in older people, patients with weakened immune systems, or those with long-term health conditions like cancer or diabetes.

How does it spread?

The coronavirus spreads like the common cold, with people coughing or sneezing droplets containing the virus into the air.

But unless you or your employees have been to an affected country or been in contact with someone with the virus, your chance of picking up the infection is very low.

What part can I play in managing the virus?  

As an employer, it’s your job to take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of your workforce. And while the risks are low, you need to reassure your staff that you’re taking the outbreak seriously.

Follow these steps to help minimise the risks to your people and your business:

1. Promote a clean workplace

It’s important that everyone in your business practices good hygiene to stop viruses like this one from spreading. The World Health Organisation advises that people: 

  • Use alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water to clean their hands regularly.
  • Cover their mouth and nose with an elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing—if you use a tissue, they advise that you throw it away immediately and wash your hands.
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever and cough.

You could also put up posters in your staff’s toilets or kitchen areas, or place extra hand sanitisers around your workplace.

2. Rethink travel plans

If you or an employee has plans to travel to China or other affected areas for business, you should consider postponing the trip or carrying out meetings via Skype.

But if you or your employee do decide to travel, think about the risks beforehand. Give your employees clear instructions on hygiene and ask them to communicate where they’re traveling to on their trip.

And if an employee reports any symptoms of the virus while they’re travelling, you need to support them. So how do you do this?   

3. Support employees returning from affected areas

The government’s guidance is that anyone who’s returned from the Hubei province (the area where the outbreak originated from) in the last 14 days should contact their local Department of Public Health for advice.

If employees have any symptoms on arrival or at any time in the 14 days following their return, they should stay indoors and phone their GP or emergency department rather than turning up in person. Employees who have recently returned from China will be prioritised by their local Department of Public Health.  

If employees have travelled anywhere else in the world and have no symptoms, they should be fine to attend work. But if you have any concerns about their health, you should play it safe and give them a brief period of suspension on full pay as a precaution.

4. Keep an open door policy

It’s important to not just support your employees’ physical health, but their mental health too. So make sure that your staff know your door is always open if they need to talk about their concerns.

Reassure them that you’re taking all the necessary precautions and remind them to use any support programmes they have access to like Bright Wellbeing & Counselling

Got a question not covered in this blog?

Speak to one of our HR experts today. They can’t give out any medical advice, but they can give you practical guidance on how to take extra precautions and help you protect your people’s health and wellbeing in the workplace.

And if you’re concerned about future travel plans or employees travelling back from affected regions, our HR experts can advise you on the best ways to handle this, too. Call BrightAdvice today on 1800 279 841.