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This article gives advice on how companies can manage infection control in the workplace.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health has produced a general infection control template that industries, services and organisations can use to produce their own infection control guideline or industry standard adapted to their activity. In this template, there is detailed advice for work places.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the Norwegian Directorate of Health have also prepared a guide for the use of home office:
- Veileder for bruk av hjemmekontor som virkemiddel for å redusere smitte av covid-19, og råd for tilrettelegging av arbeidsplasser (Helsedirektoratet)
Planning and risk assessment
The company is responsible for ensuring that operations take place in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.
Management is responsible for ensuring that operations take infection control into account, and placing responsibility for various tasks in connection with the infection control advice.
- The risk assessment must consider the vaccination coverage in the population and among employees.
The occupational health service and / or the municipal health service can be contacted if assistance is needed to assess the risk of infection and prepare action plans.
Management must provide the necessary training and information to employees and visitors / users.
See Koronavirus: Tiltak i arbeidslivet (Arbeidstilsynet) for advice on risk assessment.
Information material and posters about COVID-19 can be found on the Norwegian Directorate of Health's website
Workplaces should still be prepared for some absence among employees because of illness or quarantine.
The company can establish regular work teams with employees that cannot interact with each other. Groups can change composition weekly, after a weekend.
In this way, it is possible to avoid that all employees within a function are exposed to infection / quarantined in the event of a positive case of COVID-19.
Workers can be divided into teams that alternate between working from home and physical presence.
- Guidance for Continuity Planning (DSB) – in Norwegian
Company's role in contact tracing
The municipal health service is responsible for follow-up around cases of COVID-19 (contact tracing), and shall notify the company if employees or users / visitors are confirmed to be ill. The municipal health service must decide the necessary measures, such as defining who are close contacts to the patient and therefore must be in quarantine.
The company shall help arrange an overview of close contacts.
The municipal health service and the company's management can collaborate on information for employees and users / visitors.
All those involved will require information, and this need must be balanced against the duty of confidentiality and privacy considerations.
The main infection control measures are:
Sick people should stay at home.
Good hand hygiene and cough etiquette, and thorough cleaning.
Keep the recommended distance to others than close contacts and generally limit contact frequency.
The most important measure is for sick people to stay at home. Cough etiquette and keeping a distance are important to limit droplet transmission, while hand hygiene and thorough cleaning prevent indirect contact transmission. Increased physical distance between people reduces the possibility for transmission, also before symptoms appear.
Sick people should stay at home
It is important that people with even mild respiratory symptoms do not attend physically at work or in other contexts where they meet others. Symptoms of COVID-19 can be mild and difficult to distinguish from other respiratory tract infections:
Employees, users / visitors and others should stay home/ go home if they develop a fever or symptoms of a respiratory tract infection, and follow current testing recommendations.
- People who are in quarantine and isolation must not show up at the workplace.
It is important that the company communicates information about these points to employees, visitors, customers and others.
Cleaning, hand hygiene and cough etiquette
The company’s routines should ensure sufficiently good cleaning.
Good hand hygiene and cough etiquette:
The company should facilitate good hand hygiene for employees and visitors. Both hand washing and alcohol-based hand disinfection are good, effective methods for hand hygiene.
Hand hygiene facilities should be clearly visible and easily accessible at entrances / exits, common areas such as waiting rooms, reception, meeting rooms, etc., canteens / communal kitchen.
- See advice for Hand hygiene, cough etiquette, cleaning and laundry
In situations with increased or high infection burden in society, and where it is difficult to keep your distance, face masks can be recommended as a measure to reduce the risk of transmission. Face masks cannot replace other measures, they are a supplement.
Ventilation and airing
The risk of infection may be increased in rooms with poor ventilation, especially when many people are gathered. Normal use of ventilation and normal maintenance of the ventilation system are recommended. Increasing the degree of ventilation in already well-ventilated rooms can potentially increase the risk of transmission. In crowded rooms without mechanical ventilation, air regularly.
Measures to limit contact
Reduced contact with others is a measure that will reduce the risk of transmission from people who have not yet developed symptoms or are aware that they are contagious. To achieve this, increase the distance between people and reduce the number of people who are gathered.
It should still be possible to maintain a distance of at least one metre for everyone. People who are protected do not need to keep a distance from others at work, but should be considerate of unprotected people in risk groups (similar recommendations to private homes).
Arrangements must still be made to keep a distance between everyone present, in all situations. For most workplaces, this means that not all employees can be present at the same time, so there is still a need for some use of home office and/or flexible working hours.
In general, digital meetings are recommended as an alternative to physical meetings.
For seminars, conferences, courses and other gatherings, guidelines and recommendations for events apply.
Working from home and flexible working hours
Working from home is an important measure to reduce contact between people, both in the workplace and on public transport.
In the re-opening phase, the goal is to gradually return to normal operation of working life with more people present.
The employer can assess whether a home office is necessary in addition to other infection prevention measures in the workplace. With regards to infection control, it will not entail a significant risk that the protected people come to work or that they take public transport to work, but it can lead to congestion that makes it difficult for those who are unprotected to keep their distance between them.
This can be a challenge to only allow those who are protected to come to work, while the others must work from home. Vaccination status is personal health information. The Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority has assessed that the collection of information about the employees' vaccination status must be objectively justified in the company's needs and the collection must be proportionate and assessed against the employee's need to safeguard personal integrity.
Even when home office is recommended as a general rule, it should only be used for as long as is practically possible, and only where the company can maintain a good quality service using digital solutions. For some services, including mental health, vulnerable users, immigrants, children and adolescents, building relations and providing reassurance are important and often cannot be replaced by digital services. It is important to consider whether the service quality is equitable when digital solutions are used, and is perceived to be good and available for everyone.
For some, working from home is difficult due to psychosocial / social conditions, domestic situation, etc. The employer should make it possible for people with a need to be fully or partially present at work to do so.
Working from home is still appropriate as an infection control measure if transmission in the local community or the workplace is high and/or there is a need for contact-limiting measures in public transport. This will be assessed by local or national health authorities.
The employer should assess the necessity of a home office based on assessments from local or national health authorities. The use of a home office is relevant as an infection prevention measure if transmission nationally, in the local community or in the workplace is high, and / or there is a need for contact-reducing measures in public transport.
Other factors of importance for use of home office:
- Recommended distance between people in the workplace cannot be maintained.
- Other infection control measures make it necessary (for example when using home school).
- It is necessary to ensure continuity for the business in a situation with a risk of high absenteeism.
People in risk groups are mainly vaccinated and largely protected, so that they can live like others and follow the general infection control advice.
Home office or other facilitation of work can still be appropriate for unvaccinated people with an increased risk of a severe course of COVID-19. Such an assessment should be made individually. A medical certificate may be needed.
For up-to-date information on people who may be at higher risk for COVID-19: Risk groups and their relatives.
Work travel and transport
Transport to and from the workplace
If it is difficult to keep the recommended distance on public transport to work, the company should consider other measures to prevent employees from travelling by public transport.
The infection control advice for travel is being updated continuously and can change quickly. Companies and employees should familiarise themselves with the advice that applies to travel in Norway and abroad, and which quarantine rules apply after travel abroad. An uipdated overview of current guidelines and more information can be found here:
- Infection control advice for travel during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Entry quarantine upon arrival in Norway
- Information about travel and coronavirus (Government)
Exemption from quarantine duty for employees in functions critical to society
The COVID-19 regulations stipulate a quarantine duty for close contacts and after travel abroad. The regulations allow for certain exemptions from quarantine duty. Business management must familiarise themselves with current regulations and carefully assess the need for such an exemption. The employer should strive for alternative solutions, such as the possibility of reallocating personnel from other parts of the business or the possibility of downgrading activity.
If an exemption is granted, testing and other infection control measures must be followed up carefully. More information can be found here:
- COVID-19 Regulations (Lovdata)
- Quarantine and isolation
- Follow-up of close contacts, quarantine and home isolation
- Other exemptions from quarantine duty
- Testing, isolation, contact tracing and quarantine (Norwegian Directorate of Health)
Employees who are in entry quarantine must stay in quarantine hotels. Employers or clients must submit confirmation of a suitable place of residence if workers are to be exempt from quarantine hotels.
Advice to sectors where employees live on site - construction companies, shipyards, ships, etc.
Workplaces where employees live for periods in barracks or similar accommodation in close proximity to each other will be particularly vulnerable to transmission. Therefore, it is especially important to intensify hygiene measures and limit contact between employees in these workplaces.