Detailed guide: NHS Test and Trace in the workplace

NHS Test and Trace:

  • provides testing for anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus to find out if they have the virus
  • gets in touch with anyone who has had a positive test result to help them share information about any close recent contacts they have had
  • alerts those contacts, where necessary, and notifies them they need to self-isolate to help stop the spread of the virus

By following instructions to self-isolate, people who have had close recent contact with someone with coronavirus will be protecting their family, friends, colleagues and other people around them, and will play a direct role in stopping the spread of the virus.

See further information on how NHS Test and Trace works.

This guidance explains how employers and businesses can support NHS Test and Trace and play their part to slow the spread of the virus, protect the health and care system and save lives.

The NHS COVID-19 app is an important part of NHS Test and Trace and enhances the contact tracing process by enabling users with a compatible smartphone to check symptoms, order tests and receive results and advice. The app will also provide alerts to self-isolate if a user has been in close contact of a confirmed case. This will help to break chains of transmission, keep people safe, and avoid the need for further societal and economic restrictions.

Guidance for employers

It is critical that employers take steps to keep workers and visitors safe. By following the 5 steps for working safely, along with sector-specific guidance, employers can reduce the risk of co-workers having to self-isolate if a member of staff tests positive for COVID-19.

NHS Test and Trace does not change existing guidance that employees should work from home wherever possible.

It is vital that employers play their part by:

  • making their workplaces as safe as possible (where working from home is not possible)
  • supporting their workers when in isolation

It is a legal requirement for employers to not knowingly allow an employee who has been told to self-isolate to come into work or work anywhere other than their own home for the duration of their self-isolation period. Failure to do so could result in a fine starting from 1,000.

Employers in local COVID alert areas will need to adhere to further requirements.

NHS Test and Trace will support businesses and economic recovery by:

  • providing free testing for anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus
  • asking those that test positive and their close contacts to self-isolate to stop the spread of the virus in the workplace
  • enabling the government to safely lift lockdown measures

Employers (and the self-employed) must continue to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees. They also have similar obligations in respect of other people, for example agency workers, contractors, volunteers, customers, suppliers and other visitors.

Workplace risk

Employers must review risk assessments to ensure they remain suitable and sufficient. Where COVID-19 is a risk in the workplace, it must form part of the risk assessment.

The Health and Safety Executive has published guidance to help you conduct a risk assessment.

Employers have a duty to consult their workers, and unions where applicable, as part of their risk assessment. Involving workers in this will help build trust and confidence that all reasonably practicable steps are being taken to reduce risks of COVID-19, so that people can return to work safely. Employers should share the risk assessment with workers and consider publishing the risk assessment on their website.

If a worker develops symptoms and orders a test

If a worker develops symptoms, they should request a free test as soon as their symptoms start.

Once they have ordered the test, theyll be asked by NHS Test and Trace to provide details of anyone who they have been in close recent contact with. This will not automatically be all their co-workers, but anyone who meets the definition of a close contact.

A close contact is a person who has been close to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 anytime from 2 days before the person was symptomatic up to 10 days from onset of symptoms (this is when theyre infectious to others). This could be a person who:

  • spends significant time in the same household
  • is a sexual partner
  • has had face-to-face contact (within one metre), including:
    • being coughed on
    • having skin-to-skin physical contact, or
    • contact within one metre for one minute
  • has been within 2 metres of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes
  • has travelled in a small vehicle, or in a large vehicle or plane

Where an interaction between 2 people has taken place through a Perspex (or equivalent) screen, this would not be considered sufficient contact, provided that there has been no other contact such as any of those indicated above.

The contact tracers will not consider the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) as a mitigation when assessing whether a recent contact is likely to have risked transmitting the virus. Only full medical-grade PPE worn in health and care settings will be considered.

Medical-grade PPE should not be purchased to circumvent self-isolation, as this risks disrupting critical supplies needed by the NHS and social care sector.

Alerting close contacts

When someone first develops symptoms and orders a test, they will be encouraged to alert the people that they have had close contact with in the 48 hours before symptom onset. If any of those close contacts are co-workers, the person who has developed symptoms should consider asking their employer to alert those co-workers.

Close contacts at this stage do not need to self-isolate unless requested to do so by NHS Test and Trace or a public health professional, but they should:

  • avoid contact with people at high increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus, such as people with pre-existing medical conditions
  • take extra care in practising social distancing and good hygiene
  • watch out for symptoms and self-isolate if they also show signs of coronavirus

Employers may need to keep staff informed about COVID-19 cases among their colleagues. However, employers should not name the individual. If a co-worker is at risk because of close contact with the positive case, then they will be notified to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace. Employers should make sure their workplaces are safe by regular cleaning and by encouraging good hygiene practice.

If the test is positive

If the person with symptoms tests positive for COVID-19, NHS Test and Trace will notify their close contacts and instruct them to self-isolate.

This will occur by either a phone call, text message, email or letter. The period of self-isolation will be for up to 14 days, from the point of most recent contact with the person who has tested positive for coronavirus. When NHS Test and Trace advises contacts to self-isolate, it does not tell them the identity of the person who has tested positive.

When a case would be escalated to local public health experts

Contact tracing will be taken over by local public health experts where the person who has a positive test result works in or has recently visited:

  • a health or care setting, for example a hospital, GP surgery or care home
  • a prison or other secure establishment
  • a school for children with special needs
  • any setting where theres a risk of a local outbreak

Make sure your workers self-isolate

You should help your employees self-isolate if they have coronavirus symptoms and are waiting for a test result, or if they are a member of the same household as someone who has symptoms or has tested positive for COVID-19.



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