Diseases, infections and allergies in the workplace

Prevent the spread of coronavirus in the workplace

Guide

As an employer, you must protect the safety and health of everyone in your workplace. This applies to businesses who continue to operate under current the impact of coronavirus.

Health and safety law requires employers to do ‘what is reasonably practicable’ to protect their staff and members of the public.

Employers should follow some simple steps to help protect the health and safety of staff. Best practice workplace measures include:

  • businesses and workplaces should encourage their employees to work at home, wherever possible
  • if someone becomes unwell in the workplace with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they should go home and follow the advice to stay at home
  • remind employees to wash their hands for 20 seconds more frequently and catch coughs and sneezes in tissues
  • frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products
  • ensure good ventilation in the workplace
  • employees from defined vulnerable groups should be strongly advised and supported to stay at home and work from there if possible

See welfare facilities at work for information on the handwashing facilities you must provide.

You should ensure that you follow the latest advice from the Public Health Agency and incorporate this information into your risk assessment.

Review your risk assessment

As an employer, you must complete a risk assessment to spot potential hazards and to make any changes possible to reduce the risk of accidents. You should regularly review your risk assessment to make sure it still meets all requirements and complies with health and safety law.

See assess the health and safety risks in your business.

The Health & Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) provides an example risk assessment template for businesses when carrying out a risk assessment for coronavirus - see COVID-19 risk assessment template.

Follow social distancing rules

Businesses should review their risk assessments and include measures to follow social distancing guidelines.

HSENI advises that workplaces should implement social distancing measures. Staff should closely follow these rules and management should strictly monitor this. The success of any social distancing regime will depend on high levels of collaboration between staff and management.

It is important to ensure that employees observe social distancing both at their workstations and in other areas of their premises - eg workplace canteens.

Workplace canteens may remain open where there is no practical alternative for staff at that workplace to obtain food.

Where you cannot achieve social distancing within the normal working environment, businesses should consider additional means of protection.

Other protective measures may include:

  • reducing the number of workers on-site at any one time
  • relocating workers to other tasks
  • redesigning processes to allow social distancing in place
  • put in place temporary barriers between staff
  • use technology such as teleconferencing instead of face to face meetings
  • adjust workflow or production line speeds

You must consult with all your employees on health and safety. This does not need to be complicated. You can do this by simply listening and talking to them. Your employees are often the best people to understand the risks in the workplace. See consult your employees on health and safety.

Workplace testing

Regular workplace testing can prevent coronavirus from being spread unknowingly. Rapid testing helps to identify those carrying the virus but not showing symptoms. Rapid testing kits are available to all businesses in Northern Ireland. 

Employers wishing to participate in workforce testing schemes should complete an online expression of interest. The Department of Health will work with employers to identify the most appropriate form of testing available based on their requirements.

Small businesses (less than 10 employees) and people working from home can access testing using one of the following options:

See workforce testing for coronavirus.

Using personal protective equipment

Employers must continue to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as required by their risk assessments.

Public Health guidance is available on the use of PPE for health and social care settings. In all other settings, individuals should observe social distancing measures and practice good hand hygiene behaviours.

Working safely in your business

Different types of business will need to take different safety measures. The government, in consultation with industry, has produced guidance on how to work safely in different types of workplace. 

See Coronavirus: Working safely in different business settings

You can also find a guide to making workplaces safer and priority sector list.