15 Feb 2023
The risk of Exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace depends on the likelihood of coming within 1 meter of others, in having frequent physical contact with people who may be infected with COVID-19, and through contact with contaminated surfaces and objects.
Managers with the support of an occupational health and safety advisor should carry out rapid risk assessments to determine the possibility of exposure risk in order to put in place preventive measures. This should be done for each specific work setting and each job.
Low exposure risk
Jobs or work without frequent, close contact with the general public or others. Workers in this group have minimal occupational contact with the public and other co-workers. Examples of such jobs may include remote workers (i.e., working from home), office workers without frequent close contact with others and workers providing teleservices.
Medium exposure risk
Jobs or tasks with close, frequent contact with the general public or others. This risk level may apply to workers who have frequent and close contact with the people in high-population-density work environments (e.g. food markets, bus stations, public transport, and other work activities where physical distancing of at least 1 meter may be difficult to observe), or tasks that require close and frequent contact between Co-workers. This may also include frequent contact with people returning from areas with community transmission. Examples of such jobs may include frontline workers in retail, home deliveries, accommodation, construction, police and security, public transport, and water and sanitation.
High exposure risk
Jobs or tasks with close contact with people who may be more likely to have COVID-19, as well as contact with objects and surfaces possibly contaminated with the virus. Examples include transporting people known or suspected to have COVID-19 without separation between the driver and the passenger, providing domestic services or home care for people with COVID-19, and having contact with the deceased who were known or suspected of having COVID-19 at the time of their death. Jobs that may fall under this category include domestic workers, social care workers, personal transport and home delivery providers and home repair technicians (plumbers, electricians) who have to provide services in the homes of people with COVID-19.
For each risk assessment, consider the environment, the task, the threat, resources available, such as personal protective equipment, and the feasibility of protective measures. The risk assessment should also extend to collective accommodation provided by the employer for workers, such as dormitories. Essential public services, such as security and police, food retail, accommodation, public transport, deliveries, water and sanitation, and other frontline workers may be at an increased risk of exposure to occupational hazards for health and safety. Workers who may be at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 illness because of age or pre-existing medical conditions should be considered in the risk assessment for individuals.
What key measures to protect against COVID-19 should be undertaken in ALL workplaces?
Measures to prevent transmission of COVID-19 that apply to all workplaces and all people at the workplace include frequent hand-washing or disinfection with alcohol based hand sanitizer, respiratory hygiene such as covering coughs, physical distancing of at least 1 meter or more according to the national recommendations, wearing of masks where distancing is not possible, regular environmental cleaning and disinfection, and limiting unnecessary travel. Clear policies and messages, training, and education for staff and managers to increase awareness of COVID-19 are essential. The management of people with COVID-19 or their contacts is also critical e.g. requiring workers who are unwell or who develop symptoms to stay at home, self-isolate and contact a medical professional or the local COVID-19 information line for advice on testing and referral.
How can workplaces plan for the prevention and mitigation of COVID-19?
Workplaces should develop action plans to prevent and mitigate COVID-19 as part of the business continuity plan and according to the results of the risk assessments and the epidemiological situation.
The action plan and preventive measures should be regularly monitored and updated. Workers and their representatives should be consulted and should participate in the development, monitoring and updating of the workplace COVID-19. It is very important to monitor the effectiveness of preventive measures, and the compliance of workers, visitors, customers, clients and sub-contractors with the measures. The plans should be updated when someone with known or suspected COVID-19 is at the workplace.
Does WHO recommend thermal testing of people entering a workplace?
Temperature screening cannot detect all cases of COVID-19, since infected individuals may not have fever early in the course of infection or illness, such as during the incubation period or just before other symptoms begin, even though they may already be infectious. Some people may reduce fever with a fever-reducing medication if they are concerned about the possible consequences of not coming to work. Relying on temperature screening alone will not stop the spread of COVID-19 at work.
Thermal screening at the workplace can be considered part of a package of measures to prevent and control COVID-19 at the workplace. Workers should be encouraged to self-monitor their health, possibly with the use of questionnaires, and take their own temperature regularly at home. Workplaces should adopt “stay at home if unwell” and flexible sick leave policies to discourage workers with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 from coming to the workplaces.
Wearing masks depends on the risk assessment. For jobs and tasks that carry a medium or high risk, for people aged 60 and older, and for those with underlying health conditions, a medical mask and other personal protective equipment should be provided. Fabric masks or face coverings are currently recommended for younger people and those with no symptoms where physical distancing is not achievable. This prevents the spread of virus from the wearer (who could have COVID-19 but no symptoms) to others. The policy on wearing a mask or face covering in low risk workplaces should be in line with national or local guidelines. Masks may carry some risks if not used properly.