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Health & Safety: New Variant of COVID-19

New Variant of COVID-19 | Health and Safety

This article aims to give you an update on the pandemic, symptoms, what to do and a refresher on workplace guidelines in relation to COVID-19.

A new strain of COVID-19 is spreading rapidly across the United Kingdom. The new variant is believed to be more transmissible, contagious and has different symptoms particularly among children, but does not cause any increased severe illness.

What are the symptoms of the new strain to look out for?

Consistent with research findings, it is possible hiccups are a symbol.  Unlike the primary strain, the new virus has shown increased infectiousness across all age groups.

Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said symptoms of the new strain are not any different to the strain already circulating. The NHS lists the three main coronavirus symptoms as:

  • High temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
  • New, persistent, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
  • Loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you have noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal

Multiple case studies have suggested persistent hiccups could also be a potentially rare manifestation of COVID-19. There are variety of cases where persistent hiccups has been the sole symptom so, it would be worth listening if you or someone close to you has persistent hiccups.

UK government advice still stands that if you experience the three main symptoms of COVID-19, which are a high temperature, persistent cough, and a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste, then it is important to get tested.

Workplace safety rules must catch up

It is time to update your workplace COVID-19 risk Assessment that would have been completed at the end of the first lockdown.

TUC general-secretary, Frances O’Grady said: “With new strains of coronavirus spreading like wildfire, workplace safety rules must catch up. We have a much better understanding of how people catch COVID-19 now than when the rules were written. Airborne transmission is the biggest danger. But little has been done to update safety rules in response. Too many workers are still in indoor spaces without adequate ventilation, or proper social distancing from other staff or customers. Employers must redo their risk assessments now, and make sure all workers and customers are following the rules to keep everyone safe. And ministers should take a stronger lead on ensuring employers do the right thing to protect workers and control the virus.”

Transmission of COVID-19 is now understood to be mainly through infectious aerosols suspended in the air, rather than contact. This means current protective measures recommended for many, particularly public-facing workers, are inadequate. And new strains of the virus emerging from England and South Africa are significantly more transmissible than the initial strain of COVID-19.

Workplace guidance

  • Reduce the number of people permitted in a space at any one time, to aid ventilation and social distancing
  • Require the wearing of face coverings in all indoor workplaces, except for those workers who are exempt
  • Return to the ‘gold standard’ of 2m social distancing wherever possible, removing the confusion about 1.5m social distancing
  • Require any work activity that can be completed safely outside to be conducted outside
  • Set a safety threshold for ventilation of indoor workplaces with outside air – recommended at least 10 litres of outside air in offices per second per person
  • Update guidance on workplace face coverings to the WHO standard of three protective layers
  • Expand the number of jobs where workers should use FFP3 face masks, removing 99 per cent of particles, and ensure enough are available.

Ventilation guidance

  • Understand your ventilation system
  • Understand where you may have poorly ventilated spaces or areas
  • Increase the ventilation rate as much as reasonably possible; this may require changes to CO2 set points (for both mechanical ventilation and automated windows)
  • Avoid recirculation/transfer of air from one room to another unless this is the only way of providing a sufficient rate to all occupied rooms
  • Recirculation of air within a single room where this is complemented by an outside air supply is acceptable as this helps to provide more outside air to occupants and can help to maintain thermal comfort.
  • Where thermal (or enthalpy) wheels are installed to recover heat, then a competent engineer/technician should check that the configuration and operating conditions are such that any leakage across the device is from the supply side to the extract side, to minimise the risk of transferring contaminated air into the supply.

Health and safety advice

Here is a summary of  health and safety guidance to implement within your workplace:

  • Review your Covid-19 Risk Assessment and update for the new variant and create a list of actions to complete so that the workplace is still COVID-19 secure
  • Look at the workplace and reduce the number of people in offices or at workstations close together
  • Re-introduce the 2m safe working distance
  • Make all staff and visitors wear masks inside at all times, and keep your Visitor Declaration Form up to date
  • Refresher training for staff on wearing gloves, masks and using hand sanitiser
  • Talk to your staff and discuss any worries or concerns they may have. Ask them how they are feeling, are they coping working at home- and home-schooling children? Do they need additional support or signposting to Mental health support
  • Look at your ventilation system and increase the natural air flow if possible, open windows to increase ventilation.
Training and de-risking your working environment

HR Solutions’ Health, Safety and Environment division, called HSE Solutions, provides you with access to a Competent Person to help de-risk your working environment from accidents. To find out more about how our HSE Solutions service can help your business, visit www.hrsolutions-uk.com/health-and-safety or call us on 0844 324 5840.

Our upcoming training courses will help support your business in dealing with workplace concerns and keeping up to date with best practice. They also help ensure that your business demonstrates compliance with employment law and health and safety regulations by training staff and managers.

 

 

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