Occupational Health Coronavirus Updates and Advice

Last updated: 25 August 2021


Please Note: Updates to this page

Occupational Health's services and advice are regularly reviewed to reflect the changing national and local advice, guidance surrounding COVID-19, and feedback from our service users.

We will update this page with additional information as it becomes relevant; please check back regularly for updates.

 

On 19th July 2021 the remaining COVID restrictions in England were lifted. Scotland and Wales have their own arrangements.

As restrictions are removed and organisations move towards further reopening and returning to the physical workplace, we will all need to remain mindful of advice that continues to emerge. Occupational Health Services (OHS) will assist HR and managers with planning and implementing any return to the workplace in a way that cares for people and safeguards their health and wellbeing.

The legal obligation for home working ended for most people in England on 19th July 2021. The government has recommended a gradual return to the workplace for those that choose to implement a return. The government advice emphasises that because new COVID-19 variants are spreading in some parts of England there may be additional regional advice. The University will consider the risk within specific workplaces and decide which mitigations are needed. 

The government's Working Safely guidance provides precautions that employers can take to manage risk and support their staff and customers. It is quite clear that the Unviersity have a legal and moral duty to manage risks to those affected by their business. This includes the importance of carrying out health and safety risk assessments for premises and departments, plus conducting individual health risk assessments for those that may be considered to be more vulnerable to adverse effects if they were to acquire COVID infection.

The University has published guidance on a number of areas relating to its response to COVID-19 including specifics on University arrangements for returning to onsite working and the use of face coverings:

University guidance on the Return to On-site Working (RTOSW)

University guidance on the use of face coverings

University guidance on health measures

The following topics are areas where Occupational Health Services may provide assistance or signpost you to further guidance (please note this not an exhaustive list):

 

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The self-assessment process that was previously in place was relevant at a time when the majority of the UK was in lockdown and at risk individuals were advised to shield. It was always designed to be used in conjunction with, and not as an alternative to, comprehensive clinical assessment. However, in the current changing circumstances, it has been decided to discontinue its use for self-assessment purposes as it may be misleading. Individuals may be referred for an Occupational Health clinical assessment where there are concerns.

Please note that in these changing times it is envisaged that the majority of individuals that may warrant further assessment would be those with pre-existing medical conditions who might have been previously advised to shield. There will also be those who may have been diagnosed with significant medical conditions during the pandemic and would benefit from a conversation with someone with a clinical understanding of their issues.

We would recommend full discussion with managers and/or HR prior to any referrals being made to ensure clarity and engender optimum communication. Individuals may self-refer for general advice only if they are concerned but please bear in mind that a self-referral is not likely to generate any formal advice to managers or HR. For more information on the referral services we provide, please use the link below.

Occupational Health Referral Service

Some people who contract COVID-19 continue to experience adverse effects for an extended period.

The National Institute for Clinical Evidence (NICE) has published guidance which sets out the following definitions:

  • Acute COVID-19 - signs and symptoms of COVID-19 for up to 4 weeks
  • Ongoing symptomatic COVID-19 - signs and symptoms of COVID-19 from 4-12 weeks
  • Post-COVID-19 syndrome - signs and symptoms that develop during or after an infection consistent with COVID-19 that continue for more than 12 weeks and are not explained by an alternative diagnosis

In addition to these clinical definitions, the term Long COVID has become commonly used to describe various symptoms that continue and/or develop after acute COVID-19. This is a rapidly evolving situation without precedent and can significantly impact an individual's capacity and functional abilities.

The national clinical guidance also sets out the support patients should receive from NHS doctors, therapists and staff, including an online rehab service called Your COVID Recovery. Staff experiencing ongoing issues, including long COVID will be primarily supported in their recovery by their GP and other NHS medical professionals.

The University's Occupational Health Service can advise on workplace issues including advice for individuals who may continue to be at higher risk, advice to managers in facilitating a return to work for individuals who may have issues e.g. return to work strategies, and other related issues.

Individuals who might benefit from assessment with a clincial team member may be referred for an Occupational Health clinical assessment. We recommend discussion with managers and/or HR prior to any referral being made to ensure clarity and engender optimum communication. Individuals may self-refer for general advice only if they are concerned but please bear in mind that a self-referral is not likely to generate any formal advice to managers or HR.

Occupational Health Referral Service

The risks to people's health from the pandemic are psychological as well as physical. This is likely to include anxiety about the ongoing health crisis and fear of infection, as well as social isolation due to the lockdown. Many people will have experienced challenging domestic situations, such as juggling childcare or caring for a vulnerbale relative, or financial worries if their family has had a reduction in income. Some will have experienced illness or bereavement. Some members of staff may have concerns about travelling and using public transport. Some may be struggling with the significant change that society has seen and that familiar workplace routines could feel very different.

Such anxieties are understandable and there may not be easy solutions, however, individual support can be accessed using our Employee Counselling Service.

Other long term vocationally based support services are available via Remploy.

Advice for staff with disabilities can be accessed on the Equality and Diversity Unit website.

Please note that a guide such as this cannot possibly cover every situation and eventuality but it should help people to think about the sort of issues needed to be considered and where to find support. Specific enquiries can be sent to the Occupational Health Enquiries Mailbox and we will deal with them or signpost to the most appropriate person for input.

Other useful resources include:

Bereavement and grief during COVID-19

Grieving the loss of a loved one can be especially challenging at the moment. If you are affected, or are supporting someone who is, the HR Support website lists a number of sources of support.

 

The University's in-house COVID-19 testing service is now open to all staff and students of the University and colleges, providing rapid access to free testing if they think they have coronavirus symptoms.

Alongside this service, the University offers regular symptom-free testing for staff and students who are using or providing college or University services on site, and for students resident at their term-time address. 

Find out more and book a test

HR have provided guidance on supporting staff with concerns about on-site working. This guidance sets out a process for a conversation, between the returning individual and an appropriate person, to understand any vulnerability or other factors that require consideration before agreeing an approach to achieve, as safe as possible, a return to work. It applies in instances where the department has decided that it needs a member of staff to return to on-site working for some or all of their contracted working hours.

Some staff may be comfortable returning to work and feel that a conversation in advance is not necessary. In such cases no conversation is required, however, every member of staff should be offered the opportunity to have a conversation to discuss any concerns they may have.

HR guidance on supporting staff with concerns about on-site working

 

Many University staff remain working from home during this difficult period and their desk setup may not be the same as their normal working environment.

To help support staff and managers, a homeworking self-assessment tool has been created. The assessment tool will help identify any adjustments that may be required and/or any additional equipment that may be needed and how these can be purchased.

Please explore the links below to access the self-assessment tool and guidance for managers:

For staff who are spending most of their time at a computer, we have outlined some simple stretching exercises as well as some suggestions to help you stay active during the day.