6 September 2020
If activities of the workplace pose a risk of exposure to COVID-19, the employer must define the likelihood, nature, number and duration of employee exposure. Based on these, the risk posed for employees can be assessed, and measures for reducing risks to employees can be planned and implemented. Generally, the objective of risk assessment measures is to reduce the risks to an acceptable level. In the case of COVID-19, the goal must be to have zero infections. See also Risk assessment and analysis, Työsuojelu.fi (https://www.tyosuojelu.fi/web/en/working-conditions/biological-agents/risk-assessment-and-analysis.)
Assessing the likelihood of infection risk
Please answer the following questions to assess the likelihood of infection at your workplace:
- Are there known infections related to the workplace?
- Is the workplace located in an area where infections have been observed within the last two weeks?
- Is your workplace located in an area that does not have many infections, but there are people at the workplace from areas with many infections?
- Is it impossible to organise (e.g. by space solutions, periodising working time and remote work) conditions at the workplace where safety distances of 12 metres can be maintained during work?
- Do employees meet other people in situations where a safety distance (1–2 m) cannot be maintained and the meeting lasts for over 15 min?
- Can employees come to work with the flu or before the test results of an employee with flu-like symptoms is known?
- May respiratory secretions of another person end up on an employee’s face?
- Does the work include using a loud voice or other activity which enables the spread of droplets further than normal speech?
- Is it impossible to divide the employees into groups so that the groups would remain separate during work and breaks?
- Does the work include employees moving in conditions where the recommendation on the use of face masks by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare applies? This could be, for example, work-related travel using public transportation.
- Do employees have to be at the workplace? In other words, is there is no possibility for remote work?
- Are meetings or breaks conducted in spaces where participants meet each other face to face?
- Is the level of hygiene at the workplace poor?
- Is the air conditioning low-powered?
- Do the employees have to travel abroad?
- Does your workplace not have instructions regarding travel and people who come from abroad?
- Do some of your employees live temporarily outside their own homes in shared apartments or rooms? Do the people who live together change frequently?
- Does the workplace have a practice where people returning from so-called risk countries are not obliged to stay in self-quarantine?
- Does the work include exposure to dust that increases the need to sneeze and cough?
- Are there shared tools used for working which cannot be cleaned between users?
- Have at-risk employees at the workplace not been identified with the support of occupational health services or a physician or has their work not been organised so that they are not exposed to COVID-19 in their work?
The more frequently your answer to the above questions is “yes”, the higher the risk of infection is at your workplace and the more robust the measures you should consider taking. If the likelihood of exposure to COVID-19 at the workplace is not considerable then taking care of hygiene, safety distances and good ventilation is enough combined with directing employees with symptoms to occupational health care. Health care will assess the need for COVID-19 tests and direct people to be tested. These measures will also prevent the spread of other infectious diseases (e.g. influenza) and decrease the number of sickness absences.
Measures for reducing infection risk
- The primary ways for removing perceived dangers is by technical or organizational measures.
- If remote work, organising workspaces and times or other measures do not lead an acceptable risk level, masks or respirators may be used at the workplace. They may be necessary in situations where it is impossible to maintain a safe physical distance, the duration of close contacts is more than 15 minutes and others need to be protected from the mask user’s respiratory secretions.
- When using masks and respirators, please note:
- Using masks may not lead to a decrease in safety distances or level of hygiene.
- The use of masks reduces non-mask wearers’ exposure to droplets. Respirators (FFP2, FFP3) can be used based on the risk assessment when the goal is to protect the person using the protective equipment (especially in high-risk situations.)
- If the employer orders the use of masks or respirators, the order must be supervised, and all employees must be trained in their appropriate use.
- The employees must obey the employer’s order to use face masks and respirators.
- The employer must take into consideration special situations in which an individual employee cannot use protective equipment (e.g. illness.) The expertise of occupational health services can be utilised to help in assessing special situations.
- The employer must ensure that there is a sufficient number of masks or protective equipment available.
- See also the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health’s Checklist for workplace coronavirus risk assessment (link) and guidelines on preventing the coronavirus pandemic.
- By implementing measures described in the instructions you can affect the answers of the checklist (yes => no) and thus decrease the risk of infection.
- You can print the checklist from here (link.)
Print the Checklist for workplace COVID-19 risk assessment for your workplace