The requirement to report COVID-19 cases to the HSE has created some confusion for employers. This is understandable given that the reporting criteria are not easy to apply in the unusual circumstances presented by the pandemic.
Dependant on the context, COVID-19 cases could possibly be reported as either a dangerous occurrence, or as a case of disease or as a death due to the disease, so let’s have a look at each of these in turn. But before we do let’s consider this pragmatically. Compare the COVID-19 reporting requirements to the other infectious diseases that already fall under the scope of the RIDDOR regulations. Just because someone contracts an infectious disease, it doesn’t have to be reported via RIDDOR unless there is a direct link to the way you are working. The infected person may well have contracted it from the general community environment, and it is not work-related at all. Ask yourself, was this transmission a direct result of the work?
A dangerous occurrence would be defined as a work-related incident which results (or could have resulted) in the release or escape of the virus. So, this is largely applicable to the medical and scientific community. A work-related incident could perhaps be a broken test vial in a laboratory or handling leaking or spilt biological samples. Therefore, dangerous occurrences are unlikely to apply in industrial sectors. It would not include transmission during the care of persons. Neither does it include possible environmental contamination from infected persons while going about your everyday business.
For a case of disease or a death attributed to COVID-19 to be reported, a balanced decision should be made. The decision does not require complex analysis, just a reasonable judgement as to whether the circumstances gave rise to a real risk of infection. For an occupational exposure to be reported as a disease, the person’s work should be judged to be the source of exposure rather than a general community exposure, and this is very difficult to determine when it is already prevalent in the general population. There must be reasonable evidence linking the nature of the person’s work with an increased risk of becoming exposed to coronavirus. If there is seemingly an outbreak occurring at your workplace, this would indicate workplace control failures and therefore should be reported. In this circumstance you will firstly need to contact your local Health Protection Team anyway, and they will be able to advise on a case by case basis.
In conclusion, the RIDDOR reporting requirements relating to cases of, or deaths from, COVID-19 apply only to occupational exposure, i.e. because of a person’s work. Work with the general public is not considered sufficient evidence to indicate reportable disease and there is no requirement under RIDDOR to report incidents of disease or deaths of members of the public, (and for the Health and Social Care sector, of patients, residents or service users). Remember, you do not have to conduct extensive enquiries to make your judgement and you do not have to submit a report purely on a precautionary basis.