Explained: How Suffolk would tackle a coronavirus outbreak at work
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/EAST SUFFOLK COUNCIL/CHRIS BISHOP
All eyes have been on the Banham Poultry factory near the Norfolk/Suffolk border in the last few days as 80 workers tested positive for coronavirus.
But how would Suffolk tackle a similar outbreak, and is the county prepared for such a large-scale operation?
Over the past few months, environmental health bosses have identified a number of high-risk workplaces that could be more susceptible to a virus outbreak.
With bigger workforces, complicated environments and conditions; meat and poultry processing plants, food manufacturers and agricultural firms are all now considered high-risk by Suffolk teams.
Since June, hundreds of letters have been sent to firms in these sectors, updating them with Covid-secure advice and test-and-trace arrangements, with spot checks happening if doubts are raised about compliance.
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So what would happen if an outbreak occurred in a workplace?
Behind-the-scenes planning and practice runs have meant Suffolk is “ready to hit the ground running” if an outbreak occurs, said Phil Gore, environmental health boss at East Suffolk Council.
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“We don’t want to just sit back and wait for a potential outbreak and test the plans in a real situation,” he said.
Appointed to lead the ‘workplaces’ team in Suffolk’s fight against coronavirus in June, Mr Gore said a recent large-scale exercise with a major local leisure firm allowed teams to test its entire workforce.
All workers tested negative, but the exercise allowed them to set up a mobile testing centre on-site, replicating what would happen if a real outbreak occurred.
He said in a real situation, the following steps would be taken:
• Testing of all workers would begin, with help from company’s HR and management
• An incident management team, involving public and environmental health experts, the local council, and the business itself, would be established
• Letters would be sent to the entire workforce, translatable into various different languages. Templates and support packs are ready to go
• Decisions would be taken over part or full closures of the business, depending on the scale of the outbreak
• Subsequent tests for those who were positive would be rolled out, with contacts and families kept informed, ensuring people are self-isolating
• Deep cleans of all affected areas would take place
News of an outbreak would be communicated as quickly as possible by Suffolk County Council teams, a spokeswoman said.
Council leaders and members of the public health team would meet immediately to put the action plan in place, SCC leader Matthew Hicks added.
Factories may be higher risk but outbreaks are not restricted to these businesses, Mr Gore said.
His team is continuing to support firms across the retail and hospitality sectors, offering advice, and helping them to take action when positive cases are identified.
Next week, Suffolk hopes to secure a deal with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which, through a £7million fund, would allow thousands of businesses to be spot-checked.
This will see officers investigating firms principally in the hospitality (pubs, restaurants), warehouse and distribution, and close-service (hairdressers, beauty salons) sectors to check they are Covid-secure.