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Employers must assess the health risks caused by the coronavirus

14 Apr 2020

The occupational safety and health authority reminds that employers must identify the risks on an employee’s health and safety caused by the work and working conditions. The obligation also applies to the health risk caused by the coronavirus.

Identify risky working conditions

The employer considers occupational risks as they assess the drawbacks and dangers caused by the work, workspace and other working environment and conditions. The employer also assesses whether the employees’ risk of catching the coronavirus is greater in their job compared to the rest of the population.

Identify risky tasks

When making the assessment, the employer must identify tasks and working methods that are related to an increased risk of falling ill with the coronavirus. Particularly in customer service and social and healthcare services, the number and duration of close contacts and the customer’s chance of catching the coronavirus must be considered. The employer must also assess how likely it is that a customer or patient has already been infected with the coronavirus.

According to current knowledge, the coronavirus spreads through droplet and contact infection. When identifying risks, all tasks and phases where an employee can be exposed to an infection must be comprehensively identified. Close attention must be paid to tasks where it is possible to be exposed to aerosols or splashes containing coronavirus. These tasks are particularly prevalent in social and healthcare services.

Identify risk groups

When assessing the risks, it must also be considered whether your employees belong to any risk groups.

According to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), working-age people belong to a risk group if they have a severe heart or lung disease or a disease which weakens the body’s immune system. Morbid obesity and daily smoking can also weaken the functioning of the lungs and, thus, increase the health risk of a coronavirus infection. The doctor treating a person will assess for each person separately whether their pre-existing health problems increase the risk of a serious COVID-19 infection.

Further information on risk groups of a serious coronavirus infection (THL’s website, in Finnish).

Plan and execute measures based on your assessment

If an assessment indicates that employees may be exposed to the coronavirus, the employer must take action to avoid the danger. These actions may include, for example, the use of personal protective equipment or clothing in work where customer or patient contacts cannot be avoided.

However, it is essential to try to prevent employees’ exposure to a coronavirus infection in advance by, for example, reducing close contacts, reorganising work and work schedules and taking good care of hand hygiene.

It must be noted that the employer is responsible for defining the necessary measures for reducing the danger. Use occupational health care or another expert, such as instructions from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health when you are planning and executing your measures.

Instruct and inform

Employers must inform their employees about the risks related to their work and provide instructions for safe working methods to avoid being exposed to the coronavirus. Clear instructions and continuous communication from the employer help avoid the concerns and fears caused by the current situation. Employers and employees should also discuss the risks caused by the coronavirus pandemic openly. The workplace’s occupational safety and health organisation may function as support.

Monitor the safety of working methods and make sure your instructions are being followed

Employers should monitor that the instructions they have provided to avoid coronavirus infections are followed and that the planned and implemented measures are sufficient. The employer must also make sure that the personal protective equipment or clothing is handled safely so that employees do not expose themselves to the coronavirus. In addition, used equipment must be disposed of in a safe manner after it has been used.

Instructions and further information on examining and assessing risks are available from the occupational safety and health authority’s telephone service 0295 016 620 in English from Tuesday to Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 12 noon. Service in Finnish and Swedish is available on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. 

Risk assessment
Identifying and assessing occupational safety and health risks (The Centre for Occupational Safety)
Further information on how to protect employees from biological hazards at work
Preparedness for the novel coronavirus disease - A state of emergency in Finland (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health)
Up-to-date information on the coronavirus (Finnish institute for health and welfare THL)
Guidelines for workplaces to prevent coronavirus infection (Finnish Institute of Occupational Health)