With cases of COVID-19 continuing to increase across the UK, many employers are struggling to determine whether or not any positive cases within their workforce are reportable under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR). It is important to note that reporting requirements under RIDDOR relating to cases or deaths from COVID-19 apply only to occupational exposure (as a result of a person’s work).
Many questions have been raised as to how responsible persons (usually employers) should interpret the legal requirements within RIDDOR in the event of one of their employees contracting COVID-19, given that certain health-related matters require reporting to the HSE. In light of the ongoing pandemic, the HSE has identified three COVID-19-specific circumstances in which a responsible person should make a report:
- An accident or incident at work has, or could have, led to the release or escape of COVID-19. This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence
- A worker has been diagnosed with COVID-19 as a result of occupational exposure. This must be reported as a case of disease due to exposure to a biological agent
- A worker dies of COVID-19 as a result of occupational exposure. This must be reported as a work-related death due to exposure to a biological agent.
Dangerous occurrences are classified as unintended, specified events which have the potential to cause significant harm. The need to report a dangerous occurrence is restricted to those organisations working directly with the virus – for example, if they are handling it within a laboratory setting or physically dealing with COVID-19 test samples from patients. A prime example of a reportable incident includes a smashed vial containing a COVID-19 test sample leading to exposure, while a non-reportable incident would be a worker providing treatment/care to an individual of unknown COVID-19 status.
As RIDDOR typically requires diagnosis by a medical practitioner, the HSE is taking a pragmatic approach during these unprecedented circumstances, as COVID-19 diagnoses are determined via laboratory testing. Responsible persons are therefore required to treat an official confirmation of infection as the equivalent diagnosis to that of a registered medical practitioner.
Case of disease – exposure to a biological agent
In order to determine whether a report to the HSE is required, the responsible person must make a judgement based on the evidence provided as to whether or not a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the workplace is likely to have been caused by occupational exposure (rather than exposure in general society). Within the report itself, it should be specified that the virus has been contracted within the workplace due to exposure to a biological agent, making sure to use the case of disease report form.
When identifying whether a case of COVID-19 has occurred as a result of occupational exposure, employers must ask the following questions:
- Did the work increase the employee’s level of exposure to COVID-19?
- Did a specific incident increase the employee’s level of exposure to COVID-19?
- Did the work in question bring the employee directly into contact with a known COVID-19 hazard without effective control measures in place? (e.g PPE, social distancing)
- Has a medical professional highlighted the significance of work-related factors when diagnosing a patient with COVID-19?
Work-related deaths – exposure to a biological agent
As with reporting a case of COVID-19 caused by occupational exposure, there must be reasonable evidence that a work-related exposure to the virus caused the employee’s death before a report can be filed. If this is the case, the responsible person must notify the enforcing authority immediately by the most efficient and practicable means, ensuring that a report has been issued to the HSE within 10 days. Under this report, it must be specified that the death in the workplace was due to exposure to a biological agent, using the case of disease report form.
Are any additional actions required when reporting a case of COVID-19 under RIDDOR?
The HSE openly states that the decision as to whether an employee has contracted the virus due to occupational exposure can be reached based on available information. However, it warns against precautionary reports where there is no evidence that the work they have carried out is the likely source of exposure. Employers will need to consider each positive report and reach decisions based on the circumstances, which will vary from workplace to workplace. Where there are multiple cases in a workplace, it is important to determine whether they are related and whether the COVID-19 risk assessment and resulting control measures need to be revisited in response.
Any incident classed as reportable under RIDDOR may be an indication to employers that they should review their COVID-19 risk assessments to check if the measures that they have in place are still effective. They should also consider any compliance-related issues that may have contributed to the incident.
How can SOCOTEC help?
SOCOTEC’s Health & Safety Consultancy will ensure your organisation remains fully compliant with RIDDOR throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. In addition, our Business Ready programme is readily available to help guide your business through the latest set of local and national restrictions.
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