Section 3: Sector specific advice to prevent virus transmission
An outbreak of COVID-19 in the workforce can have serious health consequences for staff and the wider community, as well as financial and reputational implications for the business. It is therefore critical that employers ensure that there are measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus and that their staff are given appropriate training and support to protect themselves and their colleagues from the risks of infection.
Organisations need to consider mitigations to ensure workplaces are safer and the transmission of the virus is minimised. Scottish Government has been working with stakeholders on the creation of sector specific COVID-19 guidance published on the Scottish Government website. This guidance helps those working in a sector or setting to know what to do should they suspect an outbreak, who they need to contact, and what to do if an outbreak situation is confirmed.
In order to prevent transmission of COVID-19, physical distancing should continue to be practiced along with other good hygiene practices such as regular and thorough hand washing and good respiratory etiquette. This applies equally to employees, customers and all those on business premises.
Employers should also carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment. Employers should consult on health and safety matters with union health and safety representatives where they are appointed. For workplaces without union representation, employees should be consulted. Union health and safety representatives may be available upon request to support the development of workplace risk assessments.
It is important that employers understand that they already have statutory and common law duties towards their employees and other staff, for example, to put in place measures to keep them safer. Guidance on safer working during the pandemic is available on the Scottish Government website.
During the pandemic, guidance for employers includes taking steps to help people work from home where they can do their job in this way, providing handwashing and hygiene measures in line with guidance, and taking steps to maintain the required distance between people on premises. In most cases the required distance is a minimum 2-metre distance between people, but it may be reduced to a minimum 1-metre distance between people in 'reduced distance premises' such as restaurants.
Who does what?
As a general approach, actions which are designed to prevent virus transmission would be undertaken by those responsible for the individual settings (schools, shops, factories, care homes, etc.). This would be through the use of safer working practices and suitable physical distancing measures, with support from the local Environmental Health team and national agencies involved in the regulation and safety of workplaces (e.g., FSS, HSE, Care Inspectorate).
Responsibility for managing incidents and outbreaks, including the identification and assignment of specific roles to members of the IMT, rests with the HPT on behalf of the Director of Public Health.
Owners and managers of workplace settings.
The following information provides key steps to quickly identify and contain any potential COVID-19 outbreak. If you are concerned about other possible health issues then you should contact your HPT. Contact details for the local Health Protection Teams are available.
What you should do in response to a possible outbreak
You may be informed of a possible or confirmed case of COVID-19 by Test and Protect staff, a member of staff or your HPT.
When you are informed of more than one possible or confirmed case with symptoms dating within 14 days of each other, immediately contact your HPT for help and advice. Contact details for the local Health Protection Teams are available.
Early engagement with your HPT is key to minimise any possible wider outbreak in your community. Your HPT may ask you to provide the following information:
- name of company/organisation;
- location (including postcode and Local Authority);
- key contact details: name, phone number, email;
- number of staff;
- contact details of the people affected;
- when the individual(s) became unwell;
- when they were last present in the setting;
- nature of the roles/job undertaken by any staff affected;
- known links between the individual(s) with COVID-19 (in or out of the setting);
- number of people with which the individual(s) had close contact;
- nature of the environment (for example layout and nature of the building);
- details of control measures;
- whether there has been any contact with other agencies? for example Local Authority, Health and Safety Executive (HSE), etc..
Additional information requirements for an IMT are set out in Appendix 3.
Do not worry if you are unable to answer all the questions, your HPT will help guide you through the process.
Your HPT will work with you to assess the risks and advise you of what actions to take. Depending on the outcome, your HPT and Local Authority may establish an Incident Management Team to help support you to manage the situation.
The types of actions you may need to put in place include enhanced hygiene, hand washing and cleaning regimes, and use of personal protective equipment (PPE); enhanced testing and contact tracing; increased staff/visitors' awareness of and adherence to preventative measures; and/or additional measures to limit access or temporary partial closure of the setting or building.
If there is any suspicion that there may be a cluster of cases in a workplace or setting more generally, the most important thing to do is to contact your local NHS Board HPT early. Do not spend time trying to work out what should be done by yourself. The HPT will be happy to advise on what to do. It is very important that the expert HPT be advised as early as possible of a potential issue so they can assess the situation and offer advice.
Sector Advice Cards
We have developed Sector Advice Cards (SACs) which are based on formal sectoral guidance documentation that has been issued by the Scottish Government, Public Health Scotland and other agencies. They are designed to be used by those who have responsibility for an individual setting as a single point of access to the key information on how to minimise the risk of an outbreak, what to do if someone reports symptoms of COVID-19 that may increase the chances of the virus being transmitted to others, and what would be expected of them if the local IMT needs to act in managing a local incident or outbreak.
Sector Advice Cards are intended to be tools for the workplace, for example distributed electronically or attached to a notice board. They do not replace existing guidance, but sign-post to it. SACs are designed to help take action that will help with:
- preventing transmission of the virus by applying existing guidance appropriate to the sector on measures such as physical distancing, compliance with the outcomes of risk assessments to promote safer working;
- knowing how (and when) to communicate concerns to the local Director of Public Health's Health Protection Team (HPT) if there have been sudden increases of symptomatic illness in staff/students/residents or in positive test results from the NHS Scotland Test and Protect process;
- taking immediate actions that will help suppress the spread of the virus when an incident or outbreak is suspected until contacted by the HPT who will help you through the rest of the process; and
- supporting further action as advised by HPTs, including when to stand down any extra actions to manage the outbreak.
Sector Advice Cards can be found on the Scottish Government website.
These will eventually cover a wide range of sectors and settings including: education e.g. colleges; workplaces e.g. in agriculture; consumer outlets e.g. cafes and restaurants; social venues, e.g. cinemas; institutions, e.g. courts; travel and movement, e.g. mass gatherings.
Where more information can be found
Scottish Health Protection Network / Public Health Scotland Management of Public Health Incidents: Guidance on the Roles and Responsibilities of NHS Led Incident Management Teams. Scottish Guidance No 12.1 interim update (2020).
Public Health Scotland COVID-19 guidance pages, which cover a range of topics and settings, both within and outwith healthcare.
Scottish Government COVID-19 guidance pages, including the Scotland's Strategic Framework and associated guidance, information for individuals, businesses, education, and in relation to housing and other settings.
Public Health England COVID-19 guidance pages, provides guidance in relation to England on a range of topics and settings.
Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), who provide scientific advice to UK government, COVID-19 response pages, which includes information on their role, and the minutes and meeting papers of their meetings.
World Health Organisation COVID-19 advice for the public and technical guidance, which includes guides on a various topics relevant to the pandemic from laboratory guidance to risk communication, to workplace guidance.