20 April 2020

Updated 17 September 2020.

These instructions will be modified as required as we obtain further information on the COVID-19.

If somebody is suspected to have coronavirus at workplace, he/she should carry out a symptom assessment using the Omaolo-websiteHe/she can also book an appointment at a health centre or occupational health care.  
If somebody is diagnosed with a coronavirus infection, efforts are first made to find out where he/she was infected and who else may have been infected by you. This tracing work is carried out in order to help contain the epidemic.  

The preparedness team co-ordinates the preparations

It is recommended that workplaces establish a team that takes responsibility for the actions which are necessary for a potential epidemic.

The team will co-ordinate preparations and employee communications, keep the contingency plan up-to-date and provide instructions as necessary on topics such as organising work, personal protection, cleaning, cases of illness and the effects of the Government’s restrictive measures  

The team will monitor the national situation and follow the instructions given by the Finnish Government, the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and other ministries as well as by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. The team will also assess the impact of various scenarios, such as quarantines, on operations and supply chains.

Occupational safety and risk assessment

  • According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the employer must ensure the health and safety of employees at work.
  • The employer must take account of the changing conditions and situations at work and update the risk assessment accordingly. The occupational safety and health professionals can support the employer when assessing the risks and hazards at the workplace.
  • Prevention measures protect employees, customers and partners alike. The control measures aim to protect the vital functions of society.
  • Primary risk management measures during the coronavirus pandemic are to rearrange work tasks, keep a safe distance from others and ensure good hand hygiene and ventilation. First after these measures the respirators or face masks are needed.
  • Guide employees and make sure they protect themselves and follow the instructions given.
  • Take account of possible increased solitary work when assessing hazards and arranging employee induction training.

Communications and orientation

  • Arrange orientation for employees to new tasks and ensure sufficient competence.
  • Guide the employees and follow that they act according to the instructions.
  • Events for 500 people and more have been allowed since the beginning of  September but the guidelines of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Education and Culture need to be followed. However, if the employer considers, on the basis of its own risk assessment, that the event cannot be arranged, then the employer’s instructions must be followed.
  • See the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Education and Culture guideline on the prevention of coronavirus infections at public events and general gatherings and when visiting public premises
  • See also The web site of the Regional State Administrative Agencies
  • Pay attention to the ability of employees to cope both physically and mentally in the exceptional times we are living. Make sure that employees have sufficient time to recover.
  • Focus on safety communications at the workplace and ensure that everybody is reached. Inform everyone working on the same premises about safety matters.
  • The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH) has drawn up instructions for a safe return to work.

Cleanliness and hygiene

Maintain a high standard of cleanliness and hygiene at the workplace. Unclean surfaces present a risk of infection. Hygiene-related measures also help prevent other infectious diseases, such as seasonal influenza and gastrointestinal diseases.

Remote work

  • In order to prevent COVID-19 close physical contacts need to be avoided. Remote work is an efficient way to avoid close contacts and prevent COVID19 infections.
  • The Government recommends that in a situation where the health authorities state that the COVID-19 epidemic is growing regionally, the Government recommends that workplaces in the region shift to remote work when possible. Employers should also promote work arrangements that reduce close contacts and other risk factors at the workplace.
  • Correspondingly, in a situation where the health authorities state that, despite preventive measures, the epidemic is increasing on the level of population as a whole, public sector workers, whose duties so allow, should shift to remote work as extensively as possible. The Government recommends that extensive remote work practices be adopted by the private sector employers, too.
  • However also at remote work one needs to ensure that the work processes run smoothly, the employees are ok won’t get burn-out. This a challenge for the management.
  • Refer to the guidelines regarding remote work.
  • Recommendation of the Government on 13 August 2020.

Other ways of arranging work

  • Use flexible working hours, where possible, and divide employees into groups that take turns working remotely, for example.
  • Consider staggering mealtimes, breaks and working hours by employee group.
  • Consider online training, meetings and conferences.
  • Try to arrange workspaces in such a way that employees can maintain a safe distance of more than one metre.
  • Encourage employees to cycle or walk to work.

Personal protective equipment and face masks

  • The employer has the obligation to assess whether employees should use personal protective equipment or face masks in their work. However, the safety of employees should primarily be ensured using technical means and work arrangements.
  • When assessing the need for protection, the situation with the infection in the area must also be taken into consideration.
  • If protection is needed, the employer must acquire the necessary protective equipment and supervise its use. Employees, in turn, have the obligation to use the protective equipment provided by the employer. See Regional State Administrative Agency (AVI), Occupational Safety and Health: Coronavirus page and Protective Equipment at Work

Protection during the coronavirus pandemic

  • Primary risk management measures during the coronavirus pandemic are arranging work in a new way and observing safety distances, hygiene and good air-conditioning.
  • Personal protective equipment includes respiratory protective equipment (FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3) and visors. Respiratory protective equipment is used to protect the respiratory tract.
  • The employer can also provide employees with face masks and make it obligatory for them to wear masks on the basis of a risk assessment. Masks may be needed in situations where safe distances cannot be observed, close contacts last over 15 minutes and there is a need to protect others from the mask user’s respiratory excretions.
  • The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) does not recommend face masks for situations where the same group whose members know each other repeatedly meets indoors for a longer time. Office-type work communities are examples of communities of this kind. See the recommendation of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare about the use of face masks

Face masks and respiratory protective equipment must be used correctly

  • Face masks can be disposable or washable cloth masks. Breathing resistance and filtration capacity may be indicated on some of the masks.
  • The employer must ensure that it is possible to use a mask or protective equipment correctly in work and that employees know how to use them correctly. High temperature in the working environment as well as age-related physiological changes as well as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases can make it difficult to use face masks and respiratory protective equipment. Occupational health services can conduct a health check-up in order to determine whether an employee can be required to use protective equipment or a face mask. If not, employee safety must be ensured through other arrangements. See also Management of adverse effects of work in a hot environment, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health: https://www.ttl.fi/tyoymparisto/altisteet/kuumassa-tyoskentely/kuuman-haittojen-hallinta/
  • A sufficient amount of respiratory protective equipment or face masks must be available for protecting people against coronavirus infection. When the protective equipment must be taken off, it must always be replaced with clean equipment. The protective equipment should be put on with clean hands. Hands should be washed before and after taking the protective equipment off. The outer surface of a used mask must not be touched without washing the hands afterwards. Reusable face masks should be kept in a plastic after use and before washing.
  • Reusable face masks should be washed in a machine at a minimum temperature of 60°C or boiled in water with detergent for 5 minutes, after which they should be rinsed and dried in clean conditions.
  • Disposable protective equipment should be placed in mixed waste. Link to cleaning instructions
  • Information on cloth face masks

COVID-19 mechanism of transmission and the severity of the disease

The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) primarily spreads by droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks or sings. When in close proximity to others, coronavirus can also be transmitted via contact if, for example, an infected person coughs in his hands and then touches another person.  There are no known cases of infection via items, animals or foodstuff.

The majority of those infected with coronavirus have a mild illness and they recover well. However, some people may experience serious symptoms. The majority of patients who have experienced serious symptoms have been elderly, and many of them also have underlying illnesses.  The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare’s Information page on the novel coronavirus.

Sickness absence and coronavirus tests

Consider whether there is a need to change the sick leave policies of the workplace.

  • When an employee has symptoms consistent with a coronavirus infection, they have the opportunity to be tested for the coronavirus.  The employee must contact the occupational health services, where they will be referred for a test if necessary.  Tests are performed both by several private health care providers and by the public health centres and hospitals.  See corona tests (the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare)
  • Please adopt the practice of self-certified sick leave at the workplace.  The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health supports the recommendation by the Confederation of Finnish Industries on adopting the practice of self-certified sick leave during epidemics. This would make it possible for employees to stay home to recover by notifying the employer themselves, without a doctor’s certificate, for 3–7 days, for example.  Guideline of the Confederation of Finnish Industries

Employees in risk groups

  • Please see the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health guidelines for the protection of employees in risk groups.
  • If an employee belonging to the risk group is concerned about the risk of infection in the workplace, they can be referred to the occupational health services. The occupational health care helps with risk assessment and you can negotiate and agree together on possible changes in work arrangements or work tasks.

If an employee develops COVID-19

  • If an employee becomes infected with the coronavirus, they will receive instructions regarding further action from the physician in charge of communicable diseases and from the authority in charge.
  • Please also see the Data Protection Ombudsman’s Guidelines, which, among other things, deal with the processing of employee health data in the event of illness.

Travel and quarantine

  • Prepare a travel policy to prevent employees from unnecessary exposure to infection.
  • When doing the risk assessment for the travelling use the THL traffic light model.

When a traveller returns from a trip abroad

    • Remote work arrangements can be agreed on with quarantined employees if necessary.
    • Kela can pay a sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease when an employee is ordered to stay away from work in order to prevent the spread of a communicable disease such as the novel coronavirus. The sickness allowance is also available to the provider of a child under the age of 16 who is placed in quarantine, making it impossible for the provider to continue working while the quarantine is in effect.
    • Kela press release on sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease
      Information on quarantine on the THL website

Further information please contact viestinta@ttl.fi 

Kristiina Kulha, Senior Communications Specialist, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, kristiina.kulha@ttl.fi

The guidelines of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH) are drawn up together with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (SMAH) and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare. We also follow the publications of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), COVID-19

World Health Organization (WHO), coronavirus