Safety at work – Support for workplaces from occupational health care services
The coronavirus epidemic has vastly changed our society, working life and everyone's daily life. Companies and employers have had many new things to consider while ensuring the safety of working and accessing their services. Several issues do not have any ready-made solutions, which makes it even more important to conduct cooperation across businesses and industries. The expert role of occupational health care services in the risk assessment, protection, safety of work and breaking chains of infections at workplaces is also highlighted.
Mehiläinen Working Life Services wants to do its part to help workplaces establish safe operating methods and practices to ensure the maximum safety of working. For this purpose, we have created a concise information package about returning to work for our corporate customers and collected information and links about current issues in working life and the safety of working. More information about these matters, and support and help in planning the safety of your workplace, is available from your occupational health team.
Plan for safety at work
Employers must look after occupational safety in these exceptional circumstances too. The risk assessment reports of workplaces must be updated to include any matters related to the current coronavirus epidemic. Representative(s) of the employees and the occupational health physician or another member of the occupational health team should participate in the risk assessment.
It is important to include a clear plan that allows for a gradual return to normal work with an emphasis on occupational safety in the epidemic control measures of workplaces. The plan should include workplace-specific guidelines and measures that reduce the risk of infection at the workplace. Primary measures include avoiding unnecessary personal contacts and minimising the risk of infection in the work environment. This is not always possible, however. In these situations, work arrangements that minimise the risks must be made.
Unnecessary physical contacts between employees can be reduced by avoiding shaking hands and other unnecessary types of personal contacts, arranging remote work and work shifts so that the number of employees present at the workplace is kept at a minimum, maintaining safe distances while working, providing instructions on how to use staff rooms, break rooms and other shared areas and by planning various structural solutions that prevent airborne spread of the virus. The risk of infection can also be reduced by providing hygiene and cleaning guidelines and instructions on how to use shared equipment, cleaning more frequently and effectively and wearing personal protective equipment while working close to another person, if necessary.
Concrete help in risk assessment, planning the safety of work and establishing related guidelines is available from your occupational health team who are familiar with the conditions of the workplace and the special features of the industry.
One way of minimising the risk of infections is to continue working remotely, at least to a certain extent, if it possible. Remote work does nevertheless include new challenges related to ergonomics, which may increase the prevalence of symptoms of the musculoskeletal system. Occupational physiotherapists can often help in these challenges by providing small but efficient methods related to ergonomics and taking breaks. If necessary, the occupational physiotherapist or occupational health nurse of your team can help in arranging ergonomics counselling. The counselling services can also be delivered to home environments through a video stream. Checklist for companies below:
Usefull links (in Finnish)
- Työterveyslaitoksen ohjeita työpaikoille koronavirusepidemian ehkäisyyn
- Tietoa yrityksen sisäiseen viestintään (THL aineistopankki)
- Keskuskauppakamarin ohjeet yrityksille ja organisaatioille koronavirustilanteen aiheuttamiin poikkeusoloihin
- EK:n Exit-työryhmän loppuraportti 29.4.2020: Suunnitelma Suomen nostamiseksi COVID-19–kriisistä
- Hetemäen Exit- ja jälleenrakennustyöryhmän 1. vaiheen raportti 3.5.2020: Koronakriisin vaikutukset ja suunnitelma epidemian hallinnan hybridistrategiaksi
- EK: Turvallinen työ, asiointi ja liikkuminen mahdollistavat talouden avaamisen
Coronavirus testing and breaking chains of infections at workplaces
The severity and scale of the epidemic can be controlled effectively on the levels of society and workplaces with the “Test, track, isolate and treat” strategy. According to the strategy, everyone who is suspected of having contracted a coronavirus infection are to be tested as quickly as possible in order to determine who has been infected. Chains of infections are broken by placing everyone who has been infected in quarantine until they have recovered and by tracing everyone exposed to the infected and placing them in quarantine. This is an effective mode of preventing the virus from spreading.
Mehiläinen’s PCR test package includes a contact tracing questionnaire for people with positive test results and a preliminary survey for the exposed. The results of this survey are delivered to the communicable disease unit of the municipality in which the infected person resides. In addition, employers can request the help of their occupational health physicians or nurses in breaking the chains of infections at the workplace before resorting to the official measures. This should be done while waiting for the test results or when an infection is diagnosed at the latest.
Coronavirus tests at Mehiläinen
Mehiläinen performs PCR tests that are used to diagnose a coronavirus infection and antibody tests for people who have recovered from their symptoms. The need for the test and the criteria for issuing a referral are always assessed in Digital Clinic, at a remote appointment with an occupational health physician or nurses at Mehiläinen’s respiratory tract infection clinics.
A positive PCR test result indicates the presence of an infection and helps in breaking chains of infections. It is the only test that can currently be used to make a COVID-19 diagnosis, which makes it the primary test for patients with symptoms. However, a negative PCR test result is not enough to rule out the possibility of an infection/the infectiousness of the virus as the secretion of the virus varies between stages of the disease and it does not begin immediately after contracting an infection.
A coronavirus infection may also be asymptomatic. Consequently, performing targeted PCR tests on people without symptoms is possible if there is reason to believe that infections may have occurred at a workplace or while travelling for work or if another reason makes the test indicated. A negative test result does not mean that a quarantine issued for an exposed person or a person returning from travel can be ended prematurely. Agree upon the practices of testing asymptomatic people separately with your occupational health team. Untargeted tests for asymptomatic people are not performed.
An antibody test provides information about a disease that has subsided, but, according to current knowledge, it does not provide information about immunity or the duration of the immunity. The test result indicates whether a disease that has subsided was COVID-19 or another disease, but it is not applicable in diagnosing infections and it does not help in breaking chains of infections. Untargeted antibody screening tests are not yet recommended.
From 1 April 2020 onwards, coronavirus tests are covered by Kela’s occupational health care reimbursement plan under reimbursement category II, provided that the occupational health care agreement includes medical care services and the employer and the service provider have agreed upon performing coronavirus tests. Tests for asymptomatic persons are not covered by Kela.
Consult your occupational health physician for more information about coronavirus tests, their appropriate indications, how to interpret their results and the differences between different types of tests.
Operating model for coronavirus infections at workplaces
Workplaces should prepare operating models to be followed in the case of a positive test result. The model should include clear instructions for supervisors, responsibilities related to tracing chains of exposure at the workplace, reporting guidelines for supervisors and the exposed that take data protection into account as well as guidelines on providing the exposed with instructions to stay home until the test results and results of the official tracing process are available.Mehiläinen can provide ready-made material that can be easily customised with your occupational health team and used as a model that fits the needs of your company. Occupational health teams can also help employers in the tracing process.
Annika Jalli, Medical Doctor, Occupational Health