Sweden is currently considered a low risk for coronavirus, but are there measures that employers should be considering or implementing? This article provides guidance.
About the coronavirus (covid-19)
The Public Health Agency of Sweden is continuously monitoring developments and considers the risk of infection spreading in Sweden to be very low. There may be sporadic cases connected to 'imported' cases, before the infection is halted. However employers in Sweden, can take action in certain ways.
To minimise the risk of infection spreading in Sweden, all employers should make a risk assessment according to the provisions issued by the Swedish Work Environment Authority (Swe: Arbetsmiljöverket) relating to systematic work environment management (AFS 2001:1) and infection spreading (AFS 2018:4). The employer should plan how a potential outbreak in the workplace would be handled, identify the particular work tasks that needs to be done continuously and make sure that all the employees that carry out these tasks work under as safe conditions as possible.
The employer is responsible for the organisation being run in such a way that the work environment is well run and no one becomes sick or hurt themselves because of their work. If the employer lacks the necessary knowledge to ensure this, it should reach out to relevant sources, such as the occupational health care authorities. A risk assessment should be made in collaboration with safety representatives.
If an employee has been in an area where the virus is spreading within the past 14 days, the employer should contact the employee before he or she returns to the workplace to check how he or she is feeling. If the employee has developed respiratory symptoms such as a cough, difficulty breathing or fever, he or she should call 1177 (i.e. the general health guide number in Sweden) for health advice as soon as possible and potentially not come back to the workplace in the immediate future.
Employers should take employees' concerns seriously. The coronavirus is classified as a disease that is dangerous to public health and to society. Therefore, it is appropriate for employers to take certain actions. For work environment reasons, the employer can instruct an employee who has visited an area where the virus is spreading within the past 14 days to work from home for ten to 14 days, regardless of whether they have any symptoms or not. There are also rules in certain collective bargaining agreements that clearly state that in these situations, white-collar employees need to avoid the workplace because of the risk of infection spreading. An employee may then have the right to 'infection benefit' from the Swedish Social Insurance Office. An employee may also have the right to sick pay in accordance with the Sick Pay Act or to sickness benefit under the Social Insurance Code.
Moreover, if you are planning to take a business trip to an area where the virus is spreading, please make sure you follow the updated Ministry for Foreign Affairs advice against travel to certain areas. For the moment, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs advice against all non-essential travel to China, and against all travel to the Hubei province.
What can I, as an Employee, do to avoid infection?
According to the Public Health Agency of Sweden, a general preventive measure against respiratory infection is to avoid touching your face and eyes and to avoid close contact with sick people.
Wash hands often with soap and warm water, particularly before eating, before preparing lunch, and after toilet use. Alcohol-based hand rub can be used as an alternative when you are unable to wash your hands.
Cough and sneeze into the bend of your elbow or into a tissue to prevent infection from spreading around you, or from contaminating your hands.
Stay at home when you are sick to avoid infecting people at work or in other areas where you are close to other people.
Does the fact that there has now been a confirmed case in Sweden increase the risk of infection spreading here?
No, it is important to remember that isolated cases do not mean that infection is spreading in Sweden. On the basis of other countries' experiences, the Public Health Agency of Sweden is continuously monitoring developments and considers the current risk to be very low. There may be isolated cases connected to 'imported' cases of coronavirus before the infection is halted. The healthcare services have procedures for dealing with events such as this safely and efficiently.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.