Minister Pekonen: Employers must use all available means to curb spread of COVID-19
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers are required to ensure healthy and safe workplaces. The COVID-19 epidemic has posed challenges for many workplaces. Recently, cases of COVID-19 reported at construction sites and shipyards have attracted particular attention.
Minister of Social Affairs and Health Aino-Kaisa Pekonen is concerned about the situation.
“Jobs in which remote work is not possible play a critical role in the spread of the epidemic, and it is clear that not all employers have taken their occupational safety and health obligations seriously enough. This week I have been in touch with unions representing the construction and technology industries to discuss ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at workplaces. Employers must now use all available means to prevent COVID-19 effectively.
Act obliges employers to prevent risk factors caused by working conditions
The most important part of ensuring health and safety is to assess the risks at work, including biological agents. Biological agents refer, among other things, to bacteria and viruses causing infectious diseases.
“Employers must keep their risk assessments and related analyses up-to-date, and they must be revised especially if there are such changes in the conditions that may cause employees to be exposed to COVID-19. Employers are required to minimise risks at work by all available means, and this duty also applies to the prevention of COVID-19,” says Minister Pekonen.
The factors that must be taken into account in the risk assessment include the nature of the work, the regional epidemiological situation, the number and duration of close contacts and the possibility of employees to wear personal protective equipment. When updating the assessment, employers must consult occupational healthcare services as necessary.
“It is only by taking occupational safety and health seriously that employers can contribute towards the development of a strong safety culture where employees observe the regulations issued on safe working methods and the use of necessary personal protective equipment, such as face masks,” Minister Pekonen says.
Occupational safety and health authorities may prohibit continuation of work at workplaces
If the life or health of employees is at risk, occupational safety and health authorities may prohibit the continuation of work at the workplace until the situation is rectified or the risk is removed completely.
According to Minister Pekonen, full use should be made of the possibilities provided by law unless the employer takes sufficient measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the workplace.
Close cooperation between public authorities
The occupational safety and health authorities work closely with the regional infectious disease authorities in the fight against COVID-19.
“In the current epidemiological situation, it is important that we also use all means permitted by the Communicable Diseases Act to curb the spread of COVID-19. The regional infectious disease authorities can place those infected in quarantine, which is an effective way to limit the number of infections. If and when cases of COVID-19 are reported at workplaces, all employees at the workplace should be obligated to get tested,” says Minister Pekonen.
Saila Ruuth, State Secretary, [email protected], tel. +358 295 163 391