The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued updated guidance for employers as to the RIDDOR reporting requirements where an employee contracts COVID-19.
The guidance confirms RIDDOR reports should only be submitted where:
a. an unintended incident at work has led to someone’s possible, or actual, exposure to coronavirus, this must be reported as a dangerous occurrence. The example given by the HSE is a lab worker accidentally breaking a glass vial containing the virus; or
b. a worker has been diagnosed as having COVID-19 and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure to the virus whilst at work, this must be reported as a ‘disease’. The HSE gives the example of a healthcare professional who is diagnosed with COVID-19 after treating patients with the virus.
Like all government agencies, the HSE is doing its best to keep pace with the pandemic. However, it seems this latest guidance poses more questions than it answers. For example, the vast majority of people, even those with symptoms, are not yet being tested. In the absence of a definitive test it is impossible to state with any certainty whether an individual actually has COVID-19, or is simply presenting with similar symptoms as a result of another infection.
Equally, given the assumed incubation period of the virus it is difficult to know what amounts to “reasonable evidence,” that an individual contracted the disease whilst at work, given the day to day potential for other routes of transmission. This is a particular challenge for businesses away from the frontline. For example, how will a supermarket know if its employee contracted the virus at work, on their commute or at home?
The examples provided by the HSE are simplistic and helpful for those on the frontline. However, the guidance undeniably creates huge scope for interpretation and it is hoped that further clarification will be forthcoming.
Businesses should continue to report other incidents and dangerous occurrences under RIDDOR as required, but need not report suspected cases of COVID-19 unless they are satisfied that one of the above two requirements are met. If you require any support in interpreting the new guidance, please contact us.