How to assess the risk of COVID-19 infections at the workplace? See the FIOH's new instructions

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the employer must ensure the health and safety of employees at work.  If the workplace poses a risk of exposure to COVID-19, the employer must define the likelihood, nature, number and duration of employee exposure and decide on preventative measures. The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health has a checklist and instructions to support employers in assessing the risk of COVID-19 infections.

The checklist and instructions include a list of yes or no questions. The questions concern the work environment comprehensively. The level of risk is affected by things such as the regional infection situation, nature of work, opportunities for remote work, amount and duration of close contact, need to travel and the level of hygiene.

The more affirmative answers, the higher the risk of infection is at the workplace and the more robust the measures that are possibly required. The risks posed to employees and clients can be minimised by corrective measures.

The primary ways of preventing COVID-19 infections are good hygiene, safety distances and organizational and technical measures

In addition to hygiene and safety distances, the primary preventative measures include organising working time, dividing employees into groups, remote work, space solutions and ensuring sufficient air conditioning. The use of face masks or respirators is considered only after all of these are in place.

Protective equipment and face masks 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 respiratory secretions of the mask user.

If the likelihood of exposure to the coronavirus at the workplace is not considerable then taking care of hygiene, safety distances and good ventilation is sufficient together with directing employees with symptoms to occupational health care.

Face masks and respirators are rarely needed

Face masks and respirators are only rarely needed to prevent COVID-19 infections. For example, in office work, face masks are usually not required, but service workers whose work includes close contact, such as cosmetologists and massage therapists can benefit from wearing a mask in order to protect their clients. Similarly, a client wearing a mask can help in protecting the employee. Masks or protective equipment may also be needed in maintenance work that involve several employers’ employees.

There are separate instructions regarding precautions and protection for health care professionals at the FIOH website.…

Because all workplaces and work tasks are different, no detailed and consistent guidelines on the use of face masks or respirators can be issued. Every workplace must assess its own risks and consider what measures are necessary. Professionals of occupational safety and health will, of course, help in assessing the risks.

The employer pays for protective equipment and masks required for work

Following a risk assessment, if the employer deems respirators and face masks necessary, the employer is obligated to supply protective masks and oversee their use. Employees, in turn, have the obligation to use the protective equipment provided by the employer.

The employer should also consider paying for masks used for commuting although they are not obliged to do so. Using masks when commuting decreases the risk of infections also at the workplace and could decrease sickness absences.

According to the Finnish Tax Authority’s policy, an employer may give their employee face masks exempt from taxes. Regarding the tax exemption it does not matter whether the employee uses the mask at work or when commuting. Employees can also deduct the costs of masks in their taxation.

Further information
Director Tommi Alanko, tel.  +358 (0)40 719 2521, The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, tommi.alanko[at]


Checklist for workplace COVID-19 risk assessment (pdf) 

Instructions for workplaces for assessing the risk of COVID-19 infections…

The COVID-19 and work page has all of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health’s COVID-19 guidelines

Instructions and posters for workplaces (print and put up, only in Finnish so far)

Recommendation on the use of face masks by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare…


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