This page below contains H&S FAQs for staff. The page will be updated as required

Frequently asked questions

1. I work in an office that serves the public or has contractors/other non-NICS staff in attendance. What are my obligations to them?

Currently, everyone must follow the guidance on social distancing and ensure this is being adhered to in the workplace. These measures should also be afforded to members of the public and contractors/other non-NICS staff who visit the workplace.

Face coverings are not currently required within an office environment but if you wish to provide and use your own face coverings when you are in the office you are free to do so.  It’s important that your face covering stays in your possession at all times and not left on your workstation or elsewhere within the workplace environment.

For guidance on safety in the workplace see the COVID-19 Safety Measures advice for businesses on the Health and Safety Executive NI website.

If you have any concerns you should speak with your line manager, in the first instance.

You can also contact your Departmental Health and Safety Officer for further information. 

2. I have questions about how social distancing is being operated in my workplace. Who can I speak to?

You should speak to your line manager in the first instance with any questions or concerns.

If you require further information, you can also contact your Departmental Health and Safety Officer.

For guidance on safety in the workplace see the COVID-19 Safety Measures advice for businesses on the Health and Safety Executive NI website. 

3. A member of my team has concerns about how social distancing is being operated in the workplace. Where can I find more information?

Currently, everyone must follow the guidance on social distancing and managers must ensure this is being adhered to in the workplace. You should note that in cases where a member of your team lives with a vulnerable person they must be particularly stringent about following the social distancing measures.

Further advice on COVID-19 (coronavirus) is available on the NIDirect website.

For guidance on safety in the workplace see the COVID-19 Safety Measures advice for businesses on the Health and Safety Executive NI website. 

If you have any concerns you should speak with your line manager, in the first instance.

You can also contact your Departmental Health and Safety Officer for further information. 

4. What can I do to protect myself and others against the virus?  

In line with the NICS recovery plan, and with the pausing of the shielding requirements for vulnerable people on 1 August 2020, it may now be possible for all members of staff who cannot work from home to commence an agreed, managed return to the workplace.

It is essential that you adhere to the social distancing measures within the workplace. There are numerous health and safety protocols in place, which you must observe in order to protect yourself and your colleagues within a shared space. 

  • managers should continue to facilitate your working from home where it is feasible
  • no manager should compel you to come to work if it is feasible for you to work from home
  • every manager must take all reasonable steps to safeguard your health, safety and well-being during the pandemic, whether you are working from home or in the workplace
  • every manager must have particular regard to your safety and must put into effect the guidance on social distancing issued by the Department for the Economy
  • every manager has a legal duty to ensure, so far as it is reasonably practicable, your health, safety and welfare at work.

You can also take simple steps to reduce the risk of catching or spreading coronavirus.

  • wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
  • always wash your hands when you get home or into work
  • use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or into the crook of your elbow (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • put used tissues in the bin straight away and wash your hands afterwards
  • try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
  • wear face coverings on public transport (this was made mandatory in Northern Ireland from 10 July 2020. There are some exemptions)
  • the wearing of face coverings became mandatory in Northern Ireland in certain indoor settings, such as shops or shopping centres on 10 August 2020. Again, there are some exemptions.

For more information on face coverings (including exemptions) see the nidirect website.

Staff who have medical conditions that place them in either the vulnerable or extremely vulnerable categories should also refer to the guidance below and to specific FAQs within the Vulnerable People section of this guidance.

In addition, further guidance on safety in the workplace can be found on the HSENI website:

5. Should I wear a face covering when leaving home?

The wearing of face coverings has been mandatory on public transport in Northern Ireland since 10 July 2020. There are some exemptions, these can be found on the nidirect website.

The wearing of face coverings became mandatory in Northern Ireland in certain indoor settings, such as shops or shopping centres on 10 August 2020. There are some exemptions, these can be found on the nidirect website.

Face coverings can help us protect each other and reduce the spread of the disease if you are suffering from coronavirus, but not showing symptoms.

A face covering is not the same as the surgical masks or respirators used as part of personal protective equipment by healthcare and other workers; these should continue to be reserved for those who need them to protect against risks in their workplace such as health and care workers and those in industrial settings like those exposed to dust hazards.

For more information on face coverings (including exemptions) see the nidirect website and the face coverings in the office section below.

6. Will a face covering stop me getting COVID-19?

The evidence suggests that face coverings can help us protect each other and reduce the spread of the disease if you are suffering from coronavirus, but not showing symptoms.

Crucially, do not get a false sense of security about the level of protection provided by wearing a face covering. It is essential that everyone continues to:

  • practice social distancing as much as possible
  • wash their hands thoroughly throughout the day
  • ‘catch it, kill it, bin it’ when they sneeze or cough

For most people any potential infection from coronavirus will not be because of their work.

If you do not normally wear a face mask, or any other PPE for work, then you do not need to because of coronavirus.

Face coverings are not currently required within an office environment but if you wish to provide and use your own face coverings when you are in the office you are free to do so. It’s important that your face covering stays in your possession at all times and not left on your workstation or elsewhere within the workplace environment.

You can find out more information on the wearing and making of face coverings on the nidirect website.

The wearing of face coverings has been mandatory on public transport in Northern Ireland since 10 July 2020. There are some exemptions, see the nidirect website.

The wearing of face coverings became mandatory in Northern Ireland in certain indoor settings, such as shops or shopping centres on 10 August 2020. Again, there are some exemptions, see the nidirect website.

The PHA continues to advise that the above bullet points are still the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

7. My member of staff thinks they have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID–19 (coronavirus) but has no symptoms of the virus. What should they do?

A contact tracer will call those who have been identified as having been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 (coronavirus). 

If it is determined that your member of staff is at risk of infection, they will be instructed to self-isolate. However, this will apply to the staff member only, not their whole household.

If your staff member works from home and is fit to continue, then they should do so. If it is not possible for your staff member to work from home while they self-isolate, you should commence a period of self-isolation on HRConnect under paid special leave COVID-19 Self-isolation.

You should advise your member of staff to provide a self-isolation note by contacting NHS 111 Online. For further information please refer to section on COVID-19 Symptoms.

If your member of staff is not required to self-isolate they will be able to attend the workplace if they need to do so, and continue to follow the guidance on social distancing and personal hygiene. You could reassure staff by consulting the PHA website

If a member of staff tests positive then co-workers will not automatically be informed to self-isolate. More detail on contact tracing can be found on the PHA website

8. I have a member of staff who is self isolating or absent with COVID-19 (coronavirus) symptoms. Should I tell their colleagues about this? 

If your staff member is absent or self-isolating with symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus), you should ensure they know of the availability of testing and assist them to arrange a test if they need help with this. For further details please see coronavirus national testing programme.  Please note, testing is currently prioritised for staff in government departments who are self-isolating because they are symptomatic.

No additional special measures need to be taken by anyone in the workplace: all employees should already be following the guidance on social distancing and advice about good hygiene practices, especially frequent thorough hand washing, and avoiding touching their face.

You should talk to your member of staff who is unwell and ask them how much information about them they would be happy for you to disclose to others. Many employees will not mind their colleagues knowing the reason they are absent. If the unwell member of staff does not want their work colleagues to know, as a manager you must be aware of data protection requirements and not release any more information than is necessary.  You do however have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of all your staff and it is therefore important that you keep them informed of the number of COVID-19 cases within in your Business Area / location.

9. I am travelling to work and am concerned about the availability and use of public transport. What should I do?

If you are using public transport, please remember to continue to practice social distancing measures and if possible vary your travel to avoid peak times. You should also be aware that the wearing of face coverings on most buses, trains and ferries has been mandatory in Northern Ireland since 10 July 2020.

If you experience difficulties due to travel disruption you could consider working from an office location closer to home (if possible).

See section below for more information on wearing face coverings in the office.

If you have any further concerns regarding the safety and reliability of public transport, please discuss this with your line manager.

10. Should desk fans be used in the workplace?

Employers must, by law, ensure an adequate supply of fresh air in the workplace.

Good ventilation can help reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus. This is best achieved through fresh air or mechanical systems. For example by opening windows and doors.

Improved circulation of outside air can reduce pockets of stagnant air in occupied spaces. The improved circulation can be by the use of ceiling or desk fans, provided good ventilation is maintained.

The risk of transmission through the use of ceiling and desk fans is extremely low providing there is good ventilation in the area it is being used, preferably provided by fresh air.

Face coverings in the office

1. Do I have to wear a face covering in the office?

No. Face coverings are not currently required within the office environment.

2. Do the new regulations require us to wear face covering in the office?

No. The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 does not list office buildings as a “Relevant Place” where face coverings should be worn.

3. Why are face coverings not required in the office?

The best thing we can do to prevent the transmission of Covid-19 is to wash our hands regularly and continue to ensure that we maintain social distancing.  The NICS’s current guidance recommends that 2m social distancing be maintained in the office environment.  By doing so the risk of transmission of the virus is lowered.

4. Can I wear a face covering in the office if I want to?

Yes.  While face coverings are not mandatory should you wish to provide and use your own face coverings in the office you are free to do so.  At no time should you leave your face covering on your workstation or anywhere else. 

Crucially, it is essential that everyone continues to:

  • practise social distancing as much as possible
  • wash their hands thoroughly throughout the day
  • ‘catch it, kill it, bin it’ when they sneeze or cough

If your role normally requires you to use clinical PPE then that PPE will be provided for and should be worn in line with the appropriate protocol or procedure.

5. Can my member of staff wear a face covering in the office?

Yes, if your member of staff wishes to provide and use their own face coverings in the office environment they can do so at their own discretion.   It’s important that you remind your staff who choose to  wear a  face covering that they should never leave their face covering on their workstation or anywhere else. 

Where clinical PPE is required as part of the staff member’s role that PPE should be provided for and worn in line with the appropriate protocol and procedure. 

 

Related articles

Back to top