- 4 Sep 2020
We have developed this guidance to provide individuals and employers with an individualised and evidence-based approach to understanding risks of COVID-19 in the workplace.
The occupational risk assessment guidance takes into account the latest prevalence data and public health advice, relevant information for employers on measures that can be in put in place to make the workplace secure, and the latest evidence on known individual vulnerability factors.
The guidance is intended to support managers and staff to have a supportive conversation about how they return to work safely which should be agreed by both parties. This information should help you to make informed choices based on the specific risks.
The guidance was first published on 27 July and there have been numerous iterations since then to reflect the latest clinical evidence. We are aware that copies have been downloaded and adapted by employers. We want to encourage employers to use this tool, but are concerned that downloaded versions may become rapidly out of date as we update information.
We therefore recommend that only the digital tool is used, as this has 'live' data. Employers and staff should regularly refer to this information, as it will be kept automatically updated, without notifications of changes.
Easy Read and translated versions can be made available on request to ensure the latest information available is provided.
Occupational risk assessment guidance
This guidance provides information that will help individuals and employers to understand the specific risks of COVID-19 to individuals in the workplace. The aim of this guidance is based on individual considerations to support a safe return to work, where this is appropriate.
There are three things which need to be considered when assessing an individual’s occupational health risk from COVID-19:
- workplace risks and mitigations that can be put in place to protect staff from COVID-19
- personal characteristics that affect outcome from COVID-19
- local prevalence of COVID-19: the amount of COVID-19 circulating in your local area
The risks to an individual at work are dependent on the nature of their work, and the workplace environment.
Employers have a legal duty to make the workplace a safe working environment for all staff. It is the employer’s responsibility to regularly conduct a workplace risk assessment and put in place measures to make the workplace as safe as is reasonably practicable to try and minimise the risk to staff from contracting COVID-19. Employees also have responsibility to comply with safe working practices.
Employers cannot expect staff members to return to work if it is not as safe as is reasonably practicable. There is a duty on employers, HR, OH professionals, and staff members to work in cooperation to make the workplace as safe as reasonably practicable.
First and foremost, good infection, prevention and control practice is key to minimising the risk of staff contracting COVID-19 in the workplace. This includes symptom vigilance, hand hygiene, increased environmental cleaning and physical distancing, as much as is reasonably practical. Where an employee has symptoms of COVID-19, they are expected to self-isolate, book a test immediately and self-isolate as per national guidance.
Guidance for employers is available from the Coronavirus (COVID-19): working safely. This provides an overview of the steps employers can take to protect people in the workplace including workplaces risk assessment templates and practical tool.
It is important that individuals know what their outcome is likely to be if they contract COVID-19. COVID-Age is a simple to use tool, based on published evidence for the main identified risk factors. It works by translating the risks according to age, ethnicity, gender, BMI, and health conditions into years which are added to an individual’s age. This allows for the calculation of a person’s 'COVID-Age' and which vulnerability risk category they fall into if they catch the virus – low, moderate, high or very high. Prevention remains the best approach. This tool is independent of prevalence.
Very high: COVID-age 85 and over
You’re at very high risk if infection occurs
You should take additional, sensible precautions when leaving your home to minimise your risk of contracting COVID-19 as much as possible.
Ideally you should work from home.
High : COVID-age around 70 to 85
You’re at high risk of serious illness if infection occurs.
Moderate: COVID-age around 50 to 70
You’re much less likely to develop severe illness if infection occurs.
Low: COVID-age below around 50
You’re at very low risk if infection occurs.
For most people in the low, moderate or high COVID-Age categories, you can attend work, if required to do so, provided appropriate controls are in place and unless high viral prevalence indicates otherwise.
We would expect employers to implement infection control measures to keep the risk of contracting the virus as low as you can by maintaining physical distancing, making changes to the type of work that you do, or by wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) etc. Employers should also regularly review the safe working practices to ensure compliance and the continued safety of the work place.
Clinical work, care work and working closely with others may be possible, but you should protect yourself by using screens or wearing PPE. However, for some individuals it may be not be appropriate to attend work. Clinical judgment should be used as the values are estimates and not exact. If you are unsure about attending work, an Occupational Health referral, or discussion with your GP or clinical specialist will be able to provide more advice.
Where employers cannot reduce risks to individuals sufficiently because of the type of work, a slightly higher risk of infection may be accepted for staff in the lower and moderate categories. This is because there is much less likelihood of them becoming very ill if they contract COVID-19 infection.
Pregnancy is not included within the tool. We advise following the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists guidance to try and keep the risk of exposure as low as is practically possible to pregnant women, particularly in the third trimester. The RCOG guidance is reviewed on a weekly basis, taking into account the impact of new evidence. Normal pregnancy risk assessments should also be undertaken.
The evidence for the use of this COVID-Age tool is based on the science and research methods mainly from the OpenSAFELY study whose data comes from over 17 million NHS records and takes into account evidence from other studies. Detailed outline of the methodology.
It is recognised that there will be some limitations, particularly with some significant or less common health conditions that the tool will not address. The evidence currently available gives an overall average estimate of risk, which may need to be individually tailored through clinical judgement of a health professional.
This tool does not replace clinical advice from a GP, Occupational Health services or medical specialist for staff who have a serious or complex medical condition.
The prevalence of COVID-19 in Scotland affects the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 when you leave your home and are out in the community. The higher the prevalence in the community, the higher the chance of you contracting the virus. Therefore, more precautions should be taken to avoid getting COVID-19. You can view local prevalence information.
Keeping up to date with the review stages of the Scottish Government route map for COVID-19 will help to ensure that you know what level the area you live in and the area where you work are at.
This can help support you in terms of the levels of vigilance you should have. If you have health conditions then it is important to always follow the health hygiene advice stringently.
By using all three sections of the guidance, an individualised approach to returning to work can be sought between an individual and their employer that takes into account an individual’s clinical risk to coronavirus, the nature of the work, the local prevalence of the virus, and steps taken to reduce the risk of infection.
For many staff, no change to their current working arrangements will be required as appropriate controls are already in place proportional to the level of risk within the work place. However, for some staff a discussion between managers and staff will be required to agree how a member of staff will return to work and what support measures are available.
If the staff member and their manager are unable to come to an agreement on the working duties, or there is uncertainty about the impact of the staff member’s health condition, then we would advise seeking additional input, to help reach an agreed course of action. Further assistance or advice could be sought from:
- GP or medical specialist
- referral to employer’s Occupational Health (OH) service
- Health and Safety Professionals
- Human Resources
- Trade Union Representative or Professional Organisation
- Health Protection Scotland
- Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)
Decisions about return to work should occur in a non-discriminatory way. Managers should ensure that staff have access to the right information and support to come to an agreed view of the level of risk, and the decision to return to work, if this is what is agreed. Staff members are not required to disclose medical details to their managers.
Managers should have sensitive, supportive conversations with staff that consider their health, safety, physical and psychological wellbeing, as well as personal views/concerns about risks. Wellbeing support services should also be promoted to staff.