COVID-19 Guidance for Food Business Operators and Their Employees

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As part of Scotland’s on-going response to COVID-19, all businesses continue to have a duty to manage workplace risks under existing health and safety legislation, in addition to the specific requirements set out in the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Requirements) (Scotland) Regulations 2021.

In order to comply with current protection measures, food businesses should refer to the Scottish Government’s general safer workplaces guidance. This guidance is intended for all businesses and outlines both the mandatory legal requirements that are in place to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace and the advisory measures which staff, customers and visitors are expected to follow in order to ensure a safe environment for all. The guidance also provides additional detail on sector specific measures, including those which apply to hospitality, retail and workplace canteens. Additional advice on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in workplace environments has also been published by Public Health Scotland (PHS).

The risk profile of COVID-19 has changed following the success of the vaccination programme, and all businesses are expected to take this into account when considering how the current guidance from SG and PHS needs to be applied across their workplace.

Food Business Operators (FBOs) are advised to use the Scottish Government guidance to develop a workplace risk assessment which is tailored to their own circumstances. This should take account of the impact of workforce vaccination, whilst ensuring the key protection measures (including requirements relating to the wearing of face coverings, the implementation of physical distancing, and the need to self-isolate) are applied appropriately and effectively across all areas of the business. It is important for FBOs to continue to engage with their employees to ensure the maintenance of company policy on measures to be implemented based on mandatory requirements and the outcome of their risk assessment (which in some settings may require more stringent application of COVID-19 controls).

FSS has removed its guidance on the investigation of COVID-19 outbreaks in food businesses to reflect the current status of the pandemic and ensure there is a consistent approach to the management of transmission risks in the workplace.

The steps that need to be taken by businesses to manage the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks are detailed in the Scottish Government’s general safer workplaces guidance.

FBOs will be aware that Scottish Government has updated its Strategic Framework to reflect the current status of the pandemic and set out Scotland’s approach to managing COVID-19 and its associated harms effectively for the long term as we prepare for a calmer phase of the pandemic. This includes plans to convert mandatory requirements for applying certain controls (including the wearing of face coverings) to guidance on appropriate voluntary measures. The expected changes are likely to take effect from 21 March, and from this date FBOs will be directed to Scottish Government for all future advice.

Update on reporting of outbreaks

Businesses should note that the guidance for outbreak reporting has changed to reflect the current risk profile of COVID-19.  Advice from Public Health Scotland is that an outbreak should be suspected if you are notified of two or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in your setting within 14 days, particularly if there is evidence that there may be a link between the cases which suggests that the virus could have been spread in the workplace. In such cases, employers are advised to notify their local Health Protection Team (HPT) by email. However in most cases, HPTs will retain the information provided for surveillance, awareness and risk assessment purposes. It is important to note that this will not necessarily trigger an official Incident Management Team (IMT) investigation, but will enable the HPT to identify any potential risks and provide appropriate support to businesses when required. Following the identification of a suspected outbreak, employers are encouraged to undertake a review of their internal risk assessment to identify any improvements that need to be made to prevent further spread of the virus.

For further information on current requirements, please refer to Scottish Government’s general safer workplaces guidance. FSS has also produced a risk assessment tool to assist with the implementation and maintenance of mitigation measures in food business settings, and support FBOs in reviewing their COVID-19 risk assessments, whilst maintaining an effective Food Safety Management System (FSMS).

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