Ebola And The Workplace

EBOLA AND THE WORKPLACE

The outbreak of Ebola mainly throughout West Africa has caused concern across the globe. Ebola is very infectious and attempts to control the spreading have only been partially successful. Ebola is passed through direct contact with body fluids. Symptoms include high fever, central nervous damage and bleeding but it may be 21 days before a person realises they have the virus. Over 4,000 people have died as the mortality rate is over 50%. The worrying factor is that there is no known cure for Ebola. What can the workplace do to prepare for a potential Ebola outbreak?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 ensures that an employer has a duty, as far as reasonably practical, for the health, safety and welfare of employees. This extends further than traditional health and safety for the employer to take steps to warn, and protect employees from outbreaks of contagious viruses. However, it could be seen as discriminatory if employers screened or tested certain workers from certain countries.

There hasn’t been any specific advice relating to Ebola in the UK and no guidance has been given to employers as to how to respond to the threat. The highly contagious nature of Ebola makes it difficult to know what employers can actually do to prevent the spread of the virus. That means that the risk of a claim for lack of enforcement is low. Compares to catching a legionnaires disease at work, action relating to catching an infectious disease is difficult to prove.

Some employers may still feel they ought to do something in light of the concern. High standards of cleanliness and infection control should already be in place but the simplest way of preparing is to ensure that employees are aware of the symptoms and spread of Ebola. Employers should inform employees what they should do if an employee suspects they may have Ebola and how they can seek medical help.

Ebola still remains a potential rather than actual threat but steps to educate employees is a useful first stage in the prevention of the spread of the virus.