AS the number of people returning to the workplace increases, Public Health England (PHE) in the West Midlands is urging employers and their workers to do all they can to break the chain of COVID-19 transmission between homes and workplaces.
PHE’s regional Health Protection Team and local authority public health partners are witnessing a cycle of COVID-19 transmission, where infection in the home is introduced to colleagues at work, and infection in the workplace is brought back to families and housemates; with shared travel to work also a key risk factor.
Kate James, workplace lead at Public Health England (PHE) in the West Midlands said:
“While England is still in lockdown, the advice is to work from home where possible. Although the numbers of COVID-19 cases in the West Midlands are reducing, we continue to see outbreaks at work, notably manufacturing and office environments, and in households. There are things we can all do to break this chain and keep our families, colleagues and, if you are a business, your employees safe.
“Firstly, regular testing is vital; I urge all employers in the West Midlands to hurry and sign up for free coronavirus Lateral Flow Tests under the Government’s workplace testing scheme, before the registration deadline of 31 March. Test kits, support, training and standard operating procedures will be provided by NHS Test and Trace. Businesses of any size can sign up at www.gov.uk/get-workplace-coronavirus-tests. The advantage is that individuals receive their results within an hour, and if anyone does test positive, they can self-isolate immediately and protect their colleagues, their household and reduce the risk of an outbreak in the workplace.”
Local authorities across the region are supporting businesses rolling out testing. When businesses do register, it is helpful if they also register with their local public health departments, once they have received confirmation of their acceptance onto the testing programme.
Kate James said:
“For employees in the workplace, if your business does not have workplace testing it is important that you get tested regularly, twice a week is advised. You may not have symptoms and be oblivious to having COVID-19, but you could still spread the virus to others. Local authorities across the West Midlands have set up testing facilities, and you will be able to find the one nearest to you on your council website.
“Hands, Face, Space is key to protecting against the virus in all areas of life, whether at home or at work. Most businesses have excellent procedures in place with clear demarcation for social distancing and clear advice to the workforce, plus increased access to handwashing and sanitising stations.”
PHE West Midlands Health Protection Team impresses upon employers how important it is to use PPE in the workplace, especially when employees are moving away from their personal workstation or around the building, and to divide workforces into smaller teams, with physical barriers if necessary.
Kate James added:
“Establishing work bubbles is an important measure to limit transmission and workers going into isolation, if there is a positive case. Where it is difficult for employees to socially distance, the use of plastic dividers between workers is a helpful infection control measure. When people leave their workstation for a break, lunch or to visit smoking areas, they need to remember to stick to the Hands, Face, Space guidance. Once you leave work, you must continue to take care; we have seen examples of people catching COVID-19 from colleagues by stopping to chat on the way to the work carpark.
“The safest way to get to work is walking or personal transport, if this is possible. If you must use public transport, you must wear a face covering unless medically exempt, and sanitise hands soon after leaving the bus or train. For people who find it necessary to car-share, the advice is to maximise the distance between people in the vehicle, open windows for ventilation, wear a facemask, and clean the car between journeys – focusing on door handles and other touch points. Also keep to the same ‘travel bubble’, preferably with people from your household (if appropriate) or people from your work bubble.
“Finally, do take up the offer of the vaccine. The vaccine, together with regular testing and Hands, Face, Space is our ticket out of restrictions.”