Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on individual occupational risk assessment

Published: 4 Sep 2020
Last updated: 30 Jul 2021 - see all updates

Risk assessment guidance and tool for staff across all industries which should be used by employers to support staff and line managers to understand and carry out effective risk assessments.

Published:
4 Sep 2020
Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on individual occupational risk assessment

Introduction

We have developed this guidance to provide individuals and employers with an individualised and evidence-based approach to understanding how COVID-19 affects certain groups in the population, and what employers can do to make the workplace as safe as possible.  

The guidance is intended to support managers and staff to have a greater understanding of an individual’s risk from COVID-19 and to facilitate a conversation about what can be done by the employer to enable them to work safely.  This information should help to have a constructive conversation which should be agreed by both parties based on the specific workplace and individual risks.  

This guidance is applicable to all individuals but is especially relevant to those who are at a higher or highest risk from COVID-19. Those who are pregnant should follow the UK government advice: Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for pregnant employees which is applicable in Scotland.

Since there are regular updates to this tool, please always use the online version for individual risk assessments, not downloaded copies.

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:

Whilst we are still understanding the effectiveness of the vaccine, we are not advising any modifications to the current risk assessment. 

Workplace risks and control measures

The COVID-19 related workplace risks are dependent on the nature of the 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 including contracting COVID-19. 

Employers are required by law to conduct a COVID-19 Risk Assessment which will help them to identity measures which can be implemented to reduce the risk of transmission in the workplace. Information on safer working during the Coronavirus pandemic is available.

Understand individual risks

It is important that individuals know what their outcome is likely to be if they contract COVID-19 to help facilitate a conversation between the individual and their employer about what controls can be put in place to reduce risk of transmission in the workplace.  

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 . 

The evidence for the 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. More detailed outline of the methodology is available.

Your COVID-Age is not currently impacted by your vaccination status.  We know the vaccine offers significant protection to a population, but we do not yet have evidence of exactly how effective it is for an individual and in particular people with some underlying health conditions.  

Whilst we are still understanding the effectiveness of the vaccine, we are not advising any modifications to current COVID-Age assessments.

We will keep this under review as new evidence emerges.

Once an individual has used the calculator above to find out their “COVID-Age”, this will then provide information about which vulnerability risk category they fall into if they catch the virus – low, moderate, high or very high. 

The score from the COVID-19 calculator should not be modified. We do not recommend the use of the risk management matrix available on the ALAMA website, as we continue to evaluate the effects of vaccine and immunity to COVID. 

It is recognised that there will be some limitations, particularly with some serious, complex, or less common health conditions that the calculator 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, occupational health service or medical specialist. 

The table below highlights information about what risks are depending on the COVID-AGE score. Knowing which risk category an individual falls into will help them to better understand their risk should they contract COVID-19, and inform a conversation with their employer about what control measures are in place to reduce transmission in the workplace. The key approach is through the workplace risk assessments and control measures to prevent you being infected in the workplace.

In no circumstances should a person’s COVID-Age or risk category be used to make employment decisions e.g. those to furlough/make redundant. 

 

Your COVID-Age

Your risk

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 they can for all staff by conducting a COVID-19 workplace risk assessment. Employers should also regularly review the safe working practices to ensure compliance and the continued safety of the workplace. 

Clinical work in healthcare settings, care work and working closely with others may be possible, but you should protect yourself by complying with safe working practices relevant to your working environment.

However, for some individuals it may be not be appropriate to return to previous working duties and/or the workplace. If you are unsure about attending work, an occupational health referral, or discussion with your clinician will be able to provide more advice.

Those people at highest clinical risk from COVID-19, receive additional advice and information about whether they should go into the workplace where it is not possible to work from home through letters from the Chief Medical Officer. 

Find out more information about the ALAMA COVID-Age tool.

Prevalence

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.

To minimise the risk of spreading the virus, you should follow national public health advice and restrictions that should be followed in Scotland.

People at highest clinical risk from COVID-19 are currently advised to follow the general population advice. This includes encouragement to everyone to continue working from home where possible to reduce the transmission of the virus. However, the Chief Medical Officer has also advised that it is currently safe for everyone, including those at highest clinical risk from COVID-19, to go into work if they cannot work from home.

What to do next

By using all three sections of the guidance, an individualised approach to considering how to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 at work can be sought between an individual and their employer that takes into account general workplace risk assessments and measures for all staff, 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 proportionate to the level of risk within the workplace. 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:

  • 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)
  • clinician or medical specialist

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.

Easy read and translated versions can be made available on request to ensure the latest information available is provided.

First published: 4 Sep 2020 Last updated: 30 Jul 2021 -