- 30 Jul 2020
Digital connectivity has never been more vital than it has proven to be during the last few months, whether supporting our health and emergency services or in enabling people to work or study from home and stay connected to friends and family.
The telecoms sector is also critical in supporting the development and growth of Scotland’s economy, especially in more remote areas and in support of a resilient and green recovery from the impacts of COVID-19.
This is an update to the 9 April Coronavirus (COVID-19): statement to telecommunications operators which confirmed the role of telecoms as part of our critical national infrastructure (CNI) and confirmed the key worker status of telecoms staff who have been undertaking critical maintenance and repairs throughout this challenging period.
This update does not constitute legal advice.
Ramping-up activity: Phase 2 of Scotland’s Route Map
Since then, feedback from operators and the Communications Workers’ Union on both the Decision Framework and Scotland’s Route Map has helped to inform our view that in line with construction and road works, telecoms activity is well placed to be at the forefront of the transition towards a full restart, using experience gained throughout the last months as the bedrock for a safe return to work.
This is reinforced by the updated Route Map which states that the construction sector can implement the remaining phases of the sectoral plan and by updated construction sector guidance which states that non-essential road works can now resume.
Building our digital infrastructure
Expanding our digital infrastructure, whether fixed broadband or mobile, involves a complex set of activities. Central to deploying the fibre which will ensure every premises in Scotland can access superfast speeds and which also supports the expansion of our 4G and 5G networks, is the partnership working between operators and local authorities.
Most of the roll-out takes place through civils works on our road and footpath networks and so working closely with the Scottish Road Works Commissioner (SRWC) is key to ensuring the safety of engineers and others engaged in such activity.
In this regard the Commissioner issued a statement which signposts to supporting Health & Safety Executive advice and also highlights that the appropriate standard is the Safety at Street Works and Road Works, A Code of Practice 2013. The Commissioner states that it is the responsibility of each organisation working in or on the road network to undertake a site specific risk assessment before works are carried out. The code requires that this risk assessment be dynamic, and updated to reflect changing circumstances during operations.
The UK Government has also published guidance and whilst the content on ‘streetworks’ does not apply in Scotland, the rest of the guidance makes clear that landowners and occupiers of land who have entered into agreements with providers of telecommunications networks should continue to meet their obligations under those agreements.
Of course, there are elements of our mobile network expansion which is more closely aligned with traditional construction. Mobile UK is co-ordinating our engagement with the sector, as they consider the Scottish Government’s construction guidance and also Construction Scotland’s restart plan and standard operating procedures. We are also facilitating operator input to the development of guidance for both contact centres and for retail, from BT’s 999 call handling centres to considerations as we move towards the safe reopening of mobile phone shops.
The final consideration is where operators are required to carry out works in-home or in business premises. Guidance on business and physical distancing now supports work in peoples’ homes continuing. This should be read as allowing both telecoms repairs and new installations, given how important broadband is in supporting the ongoing need for some people to work and study from home.
Read more: Business and physical distancing guidance
All employers are by law required to carry out risk assessments and must engage employees in that process, through trades union or workforce representatives. Given the current risk to public health from Covid-19, self-employed persons should also carry out a risk assessment. The information on how to carry out a risk assessment is on the Healthy Working Lives website and includes sample assessments for different types of situations including working in other people’s homes.
Read more: Healthy Working Lives
Further advice on preventing transmission of COVID-19 along with other good hygiene practice amongst employees, customers and all those on business premises is available from Health Protection Scotland. If an employee becomes ill at work with Covid symptoms you should follow the Test and Protect guidance.
If workers think their working conditions are unsafe, they have rights under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act (1996). For workers who are members of a trades union, they may wish to speak to their trades union representative.
Expanding our digital infrastructure: Scottish Government programmes
The Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband Programme (DSSB) has already met its target to extend fibre broadband access to 95% of premises across Scotland on time and on budget. It has since gone on to exceed that target with over 950,000 premises now capable of accessing fibre broadband thanks to DSSB. Due to better than expected take-up of services, further funding was released allowing build plans to be extended. Despite the current circumstances, the two contracts have continued with a scaled back programme of activity as per guidance; the Highlands & Islands contract will continue to deploy into November/December of this year and the Rest of Scotland contract completed deployment in July.
The Reaching 100% (R100) programme will build on DSSB’s success, ensuring every premises in Scotland has access to minimum speeds of 30mbps and will be delivered through a combination of the R100 contracts (worth £600 million), our nationwide superfast voucher scheme and through commercial coverage. Split into three lots, the North lot legal challenge is ongoing but work on the South and Central contracts, signed in December 2019, is currently underway. Our nationwide superfast voucher scheme, due to launch later this summer, will ensure everyone can access superfast broadband by the end of 2021.
The Scottish 4G Infill (S4GI) programme is investing up to £25 million in the deployment of 4G mobile infrastructure and services to up to 40 selected mobile ‘notspots’ in rural Scotland. The first mast in the programme to go live was in New Luce in Galloway in February 2020. Due to the national Covid-19 situation, all programme build was suspended in March 2020. Now, in accordance with Scotland’s Route Map, we have been working with the supplier – WHP Telecoms Ltd – to safely resume build from June 2020.
Organisations should suspect an outbreak if there is either:
- Two or more linked cases (confirmed or suspected) of COVID-19 in a setting within 14 days - where cross transmission has been identified; or
- An increase in staff absence rates, in a setting, due to suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.
If an organisation suspects a COVID-19 outbreak, they should immediately inform their local NHS board Health Protection Team (HPT). The organisation may be then contacted by them, as they may get information from NHS Test & Protect or other sources.
In the event of an outbreak:
- Continue to follow 'General Guidelines' to reduce risk, as detailed above.
- The local Health Protection Team will undertake a risk assessment and conduct a rapid investigation. They will advise on the most appropriate action to take.
- Staff who have had close contact with case(s) will be asked to self-isolate at home. In some cases, a larger number of other staff may be asked to self-isolate at home as a precautionary measure. Where settings are observing guidance on infection prevention and control, which will reduce risk of transmission, the local health protection team will take this into account in determining whether closure of the whole setting will be necessary.
- Depending on the risk assessment outcome, the Health Protection Team may establish an Incident Management Team (IMT) to help manage the situation.
- The Incident Management Team will lead the Public Health response and investigations, and work with the organisation to put appropriate interventions in place.
To control an outbreak the Health Protection Team and Incident Management Team will work with the organisation to put appropriate interventions in place. These will generally include ensuring that the preventive measures described in 'General guidelines to prevent spread of COVID-19' (detailed above) are fully implemented. Other measures may include:
- Cleaning in the setting: for cleaning and waste management, refer to guidance on cleaning in non-healthcare settings https://www.hps.scot.nhs.uk/web-resources-container/covid-19-guidance-for-non-healthcare-settings/ for maintaining hygiene.
- Consider wider testing of affected population and staff:
- Information: ensure that staff (and other relevant people) are aware of what has happened and the actions being taken.
- Closure: may be done following advice from the Health Protection Team and Incident Management Team or the business may make their own decision on closure ahead of this advice as a precaution or for business continuity reasons
The Health Protection Team or Incident Management Team will declare when the outbreak is over.
Test and Protect
Test and Protect: workers who need to self-isolate
Test and Protect, Scotland’s approach to implementing the 'test, trace, isolate, support' strategy is a public health measure designed to break chains of transmission of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the community.
The NHS will test people who have symptoms, trace people who may have become infected by spending time in close contact with someone who tests positive, and then support those close contacts to self-isolate. That means if they have the virus they are less likely to pass it on to others. Organisations will play a vital role in ensuring that their workers are aware of and able to follow the public health advice.
Organisations should follow public health guidance if a worker becomes unwell with coronavirus symptoms at work, see further information below. The person should leave work to self‑isolate straight away and, if possible, wear a face covering on route and avoid public transport.
Organisations should direct workers to NHS Inform or, if they can’t get online, call 0800 028 2816, to arrange to get tested.
Until they have been tested and told if it is safe to leave home, organisations should make sure that staff do not have to, or feel that they have to, come in to work. Workers can request an isolation note through NHS Inform.
People who have tested positive for the virus will need to self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days. NHS contact tracers will interview them and get in touch with people they have been in close contact with, and tell them they must self-isolate for 14 days. If organisations are informed by a contact tracer that they should isolate, organisations should help them to do so straight away. They may feel well, as the virus could still be incubating when they are asked to isolate. Some people who are asked to isolate may not become unwell, but they must stay at home and self-isolate for the full 14 days. Organisations can ask them to work from home if they are able to and they are not unwell. Organisations should not ask someone isolating to come into work before their period of isolation is complete, in any circumstances.
Where Infection Prevention Control measures have been utilised such as protective screen or use of PPE the contact tracer will conduct a risk assessment to identify contacts at risk. The priority is to public health in order to break the chain of transmission of COVID-19.
See Scottish Test and Protect website and NHS Inform for further health advice and information including on duration of self-isolation.
Following the move to Phase 3 this guidance remains up to date for the telecoms sector.