Five things you need to know about Coronavirus

Myths around the risks of coronavirus in the UK are doing the rounds. We put the facts straight.

Face masks aren’t that useful.

You might be starting to see people wearing them in the UK, but there is limited evidence that they work. That’s because they are generally too loose, don’t cover the eyes and can’t be worn for long periods. Face masks need to be changed frequently (because they get sweaty), if they are to offer any real protection. To protect yourself, the World Health Organization (WHO) says it’s more important to:

cover your mouth and nose while sneezing, with a tissue or your elbow
put the tissue straight into a closed bin
wash your hands afterwards, and then frequently, with soap or sanitiser
keep your distance from people who are coughing and sneezing (at least one metre)

Don’t bother:

  • eating garlic
  • gargling mouthwash
  • rinsing your nose with saline
  • using sesame oil under the nose
You can’t catch the virus from animals

There is no evidence that your pet dog or cat can be infected with the new coronavirus, according to the WHO. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t regularly wash your hands with soap and water after touching them. Even cuddly pets can carry bacteria such as E.coli and salmonella – and these are bugs that can pass between pets and humans.

The new (and as yet unnamed) coronavirus is thought to have originated in a live animal market in Wuhan, China – with the source likely to be wildlife. The virus could have gone unnoticed in animals before jumping to humans, which is how many viruses start. eg. avian flu, Ebola, Sars. But that doesn’t mean animals in general are dangerous or spreaders.

Coronavirus: How worried should we be?

The new virus is part of the coronavirus family, which includes the common cold, Sars and Mers. It is seldom a ‘killer’. Most people will have mild symptoms (cough, high temperature) and will recover, the UK’s top doctor says.

However, the virus is making some people seriously ill (pneumonia, breathing problems) and killing a small number (severe lung issues) in China.

Remember that flu, which circulates every winter, kills people too – an average of 600 people die from complications of flu in the UK every year. Scientists still don’t know exactly how the new virus is spread. Tiny droplets from coughs and breathing are most likely. Getting a flu vaccine at the moment is still advised by UK health officials.

But there is no cure

There are no specific medicines or vaccines for the new virus, and antibiotics don’t work either (they fight off bacteria). Treatment options do exist but most people get better on their own. Scientists are working hard to develop a vaccine, but this will have to be tested in trials first, so it could be some time before it’s ready. Older people and those with other health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease, cancer and diabetes, are most vulnerable to the new virus. Although anyone of any age can get it, only a small proportion of people are dying from it.

Contact 111 or your local GP if you have concerns.


What are the current health concerns regarding Wuhan novel coronavirus for the UK?

Wuhan novel coronavirus and avian flu is a new strain of coronavirus first classified in Wuhan City, China. The pneumonia outbreak was initially reported in Wuhan City, central China’s Hubei Province, in December 2019 and experts have attributed the outbreak to a novel coronavirus that has since spread across China and abroad. The source of the outbreak has yet to be determined.

Public Health England (PHE) is currently using the name Wuhan novel coronavirus (WN-CoV), in the absence of internationally accepted names for the virus and the disease/syndrome it causes. Other sources may use alternative temporary names for the virus, such as 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). PHE will keep the terms used under review until such time as an internationally accepted term has been adopted.

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus was first identified back in the mid 1960’s and previously called novel coronavirus.

The UK government is constantly monitoring the situation and collaborating closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the wider international community.

History of Wuhan novel coronavirus
On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) was informed of a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China.

On 12 January 2020 it was announced that a novel coronavirus had been identified in samples obtained from these cases and that initial analysis of virus genetic sequences have suggested this to be the cause of the outbreak.

What is a coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a type of virus and as a group, common worldwide. Some typical symptoms of coronavirus include fever and a cough that may progress to a severe pneumonia culminating in severe shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Generally, coronavirus can cause more extreme symptoms in individuals with weakened immune systems, older people, and those with long-term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease, such as Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

How is it spread?
As WN-CoV has only been recently identified, there is limited information about the precise routes of transmission.

Therefore, current PHE guidance is based on knowledge gained from previous experience in responding to coronaviruses with significant epidemic potential such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV).

It is known that both SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV can transmit via person to person and whilst yet confirmed for WN-CoV, it is a fair assumption that human-to-human transmission is possible.

Other coronaviruses have been found to be transmitted by large respiratory droplets and direct or indirect contact with infected secretions, blood, faeces and urine. Under certain circumstances, airborne transmission of other coronaviruses is also understood to have occurred via unprotected exposure to aerosols of respiratory secretions and sometimes faecal material.

Outbreaks of novel virus infections are always of public health concern. Risk from such outbreaks is reliant on the characteristics of the virus and includes how rapidly it spreads between people, the severity of subsequent illness and treatment or other measures which are available to control the impact of the virus, i.e. vaccination or medical treatment/medication options.

Infection control
As there are currently no effective drugs or a vaccine, control of this disease relies on the rapid identification, risk assessment, isolation of potential and actual cases, effective management and the investigation and follow up of close contacts to minimise potential onward transmission.

Effective infection prevention and control measures, including transmission-based precautions (airborne, droplet and contact precautions) with the recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) essential to minimise these risks but cannot eliminate it.

PHE state that coronaviruses have what is known as a ‘lipid envelope’ which means the outer envelope layer consisting of lipids, so a wide range of disinfectants are effective. Appropriate cleaning and decontamination of the environment is key in preventing the spread of this virus

PHE has classified WN-CoV infection as an airborne high consequence infectious disease (HCID) in the UK.

British scientists believe around 1,000,000 people worldwide are likely to become infected.

Symptoms of Wuhan novel coronavirus
Although most cases have been characterised by severe illness, there have been reports of a milder illness being detected. Based on current evidence, WN-CoV presents with flu-like symptoms including a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing.

NHS UK states symptoms usually include:

feeling tired
difficulty breathing
a high temperature
a cough
Those who have died in Wuhan appear to have had pre-existing health conditions.

Main principles
identify potential cases as soon as possible
prevent potential transmission of infection to other patients and staff
avoid direct physical contact, including physical examination, and exposures to respiratory secretions
isolate the patient, obtain specialist advice and determine if the patient is at risk of WN-CoV infection, and inform the local Health Protection Team (HPT)
Actions to take at practice level
The Health Secretary has ordered a ‘belt and braces’ approach under recent plans to control spread of the virus in the UK. All 1500 people who have returned from Wuhan since mid-January have been asked to remain in isolation for at least two weeks after their return. If unable to do this, facilities will be set up to ensure safe quarantine. This is an added precaution as the WHO are unclear if the coronavirus is contagious during the incubation period.

If, despite this advice, an unwell patient presents at the surgery with a relevant travel history, this should be identified when they book in at reception and immediately placed in a room away from other patients and staff. The patient should remain in the room with the door closed and personal effects and any waste should also stay in the room. The patient should not be allowed to use communal toilet facilities.

Summary of action to date
PHE have now introduced advanced monitoring at airports with direct flights from China. A team of public health experts has been established at Heathrow airport to support and screen anyone travelling back from China who feels unwell.

Such hubs will comprise of rotational teams of 7 clinicians, working in shifts. This will be in addition to medical staff who are permanently in place at all UK airports and the advice issued to all UK airports for people travelling to and from China. The UK government has issued clinical guidance for the detection and diagnosis of Wuhan novel coronavirus, and infection prevention and control.

An alert from the Chief Medical Officer, Medical Director at PHE and Medical Director at NHSE have issued advice via a Central Alerting System (CAS) to alert to frontline staff and to increase awareness of the ongoing situation and any recommended actions.

Due to the incubation period, most individuals will develop symptoms after leaving the airport, therefore it is essential that UK residents and travellers are also kept abreast with the latest information to ensure they are aware of what to do if they experience symptoms.

NHS and PHE have established a plan of how to respond to someone who becomes unwell.

China has also introduced port-of-exit screening, so anyone found to be exhibiting symptoms will not be allowed to leave the country.

If and when a first case in the UK is confirmed, it will be announced as soon as possible by the Chief Medical Officer of the affected country. This will be followed by a statement by England’s Chief Medical Officer.

The main resources on the helpline are:

The FCO for travel advice:

NHS Choices

WHO World Health Organisation

Contact us if you require further information.

Advice for welding inspections in early 2020

In the months leading up to March 2020, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is carrying out proactive inspections in businesses where welding takes place to check that risks are being appropriately managed, and has offered some advice on interim arrangements for businesses.

Eight hundred proactive HSE inspections are planned on metal fabrication businesses during the months leading up to March 2020.

Half of those inspections will take place in February 2020 and the HSE has estimated that the initiative will hit 1 in 15 fabrication premises.

Welding fume is one of the HSE’s priority health targets as are metal working fluid mists.

The HSE is emphasising that all welding fume can cause lung cancer, and potentially kidney cancer, so employers must put controls in place.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regime provides the legal basis to help ensure exposure to any welding fume released is adequately controlled.

The HSE has published revised COSHH guidance, along with updated web pages on how to manage exposure to welding fume.

The HSE advises employers to carry out a full risk assessment before anyone starts welding work and notes that the Breathe Freely in Manufacturing Welding Fume Control Selector Tool can help identify the required controls.

Exposure to welding fume can be harmful so HSE inspectors will expect businesses to be able to demonstrate that they are properly protecting workers’ health.

However, the HSE says it recognises the changes might mean businesses need to plan for buying and implementing equipment if they don’t already have it in place.

The HSE recently said, “If you have already ordered new local exhaust ventilation (LEV) equipment but are waiting for it to be installed, then make sure you have an interim plan in place to minimise exposure, such as the provision of suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE)”.

Contact us if you require guidance.

Why do we have risk assessments?

The short answer is “because it’s every employer’s duty”. Being an employer is about much more than just obeying the letter of the law. You also want to make your workforce is as productive as possible and you need to attract talented people by being a good place to work.

The bottom line is that employers have a legal obligation to manage health and safety in the workplace. That means controlling risk. Risks can only be controlled once they have been identified and quantified.

That’s why it’s the responsibility of every employer to conduct a health and safety risk assessment. Defining the hazards present in the workplace so that action can be taken to manage them.

Does the risk assessment need to be in writing?

The law is crystal clear on this point. Businesses with five or more employees must not only conduct a risk assessment, but also record the findings in a written report. This information must be shared with employees carrying out the tasks that have been assessed, including those that may work in the same area.

Organisations with fewer than five employees are still required to assess the risks in the workplace. There’s no obligation to write the results down, but there’s a strong case for doing it anyway. Creating a written report clarifies matters, focuses minds and makes it much easier to update the assessment when things change, for example, if there is a new process or new equipment is introduced.

Self-assess or call in the experts?

If you are confident you understand the risks in your workplace, you can conduct your own workplace risk assessment, however if you’re in any doubt about any aspect of the assessment or the level of risk, it’s wise to call in the experts. Conducting expert risk assessments is a key aspect of the service available from Walker Health and Safety Services Limited.

Before deciding whether you need expert advice, consider the worst-case scenario. Imagine finding yourself in court because of a Health and Safety incident in your workplace. That’s when an inaccurate or incomplete risk assessment can cost you a big fine, and perhaps even close the business down.

If you need to conduct a risk assessment or are not sure the one you have in place is fit for purpose, don’t hesitate to contact Walker Health and Safety Services Limited for advice.

Contact us.

Electricity at Work Regulations – General Legislative Requirements

The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 require employers to assess the work activities which use electricity, or which may be affected by it, and to put in place safe systems of work.  There are also requirements in relation to the safe maintenance of electrical equipment and installations. Under the regulations, employers should ensure the following in relation to electrical equipment.

  1. No electrical equipment is used in a manner that will exceed its strength and capability.
  2. Where electrical equipment is likely to be used in hazardous or adverse conditions, it is constructed or protected to prevent danger in such conditions.
  3. There is a means of protecting systems from excess current.
  4. There is a means of cutting off the supply and isolating the current.
  5. Suitable precautions are taken to work on live systems.
  6. Anyone carrying out a work activity involving or near to electrical systems must be competent so as to prevent danger.

Portable electrical equipment

Portable electrical equipment can be described as equipment that is not part of a fixed installation but is intended to be connected to a fixed installation, or a generator, by means of a flexible cable and either a plug and socket, or a spur box, or similar means.

When using portable electrical equipment, employers should ensure the following.

  • Employees are trained in how to use the electrical equipment safely.
  • Employees are capable of checking for signs of hazards and danger and can stop work if necessary.
  • Enough sockets are available and are not overloaded.
  • The use of extension leads is reduced to the minimum.
  • There are no trailing cables that can cause people to trip or fall.
  • Appliances are switched off and unplugged before cleaning or adjustment.
  • Any electrical equipment brought to work by employees, or hired or borrowed, is suitable for use and remains suitable by being maintained as necessary.
  • A residual current device (RCD) has been considered for use between the supply and the equipment, particularly when working outdoors, or in wet or confined conditions.

Employees using the equipment (including extension leads) should be encouraged to look at it critically and check for signs that it may not be in sound condition.

Fixed electrical installations

Fixed electrical systems in new buildings have to comply with relevant building standards and controls and many now have integral safety features, such as residual circuit breakers. BS 7671 (IET Wiring Regulations, 18th Edition) sets the standards for electrical installation in the UK.

It is a legal requirement that all electrical work should be carried out by competent persons. A successfully completed electrical apprenticeship, with some post-apprenticeship experience, is one way of demonstrating technical competence for general electrical work.

Inspection and Testing

Fixed installations and portable electrical equipment should be subject to a maintenance regime. This information should be kept by a H&S Representative.

Formal visual inspections should be undertaken by a suitably trained person. Periodic combined inspection and testing is the only reliable way of detecting certain faults, and should be carried out to back up the checks and inspection regime.

Contact us should you have any questions.