Is it safe for me to go in to work?
If you cannot work from home, whether it is safe for you to go into work depends on your individual risk from Covid-19, how your workplace is set up and how you travel to get there.
Kidney Care UK is leading a coalition of over 20 healthcare charities to ask employers to keep their immunocompromised staff safe at work, as there is evidence that the Covid-19 vaccines may not work as well for these individuals. We have published an updated Safe at Work letter, which you can share with your employer to help you discuss your safety at work.
Current government guidance
Work from home guidance has come to an end in England (although people who are immunosuppressed are still advised to work from home if they feel this is right for them).
In Scotland a gradual return to the workplace is encouraged.
If people at higher risk from Covid-19 cannot work from home, employers should do all they can to reduce their risk of Covid-19 within the workplace setting. Government guidance highlights that people at highest risk may be entitled to a Reasonable Adjustment under the Equality Act
Guidance for each UK nation explains what employers should do to reduce the spread of respiratory infections, including Covid-19:
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has information on working safely during the pandemic. Although the requirement to carry out a specific Covid-19 risk assessment has ended, HSE reminds employers that they must, as always, comply with the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 for welfare facilities. There is specific guidance on providing sufficient general ventilation in workplaces.
The UK Kidney Association recommend that all Clinically Extremely Vulnerable kidney patients should continue to be given the opportunity to work from home where possible and where returning to onsite working, they should be offered a work-based assessment to ensure their risk of Covid-19 is minimised.
What else can I do about my safety at work?
Talk to your employer early as they are likely to want to do what they can to support you
Ask to discuss workplace risk management with your employer. Your employer must carry out a risk assessment to identify the steps they need to take to protect their workers from harm, and record the findings if they have five or more employees. You could ask to see this and also if they would consider doing an individual risk assessment, if this has not already been done.
Help your employer understand your risk, and seek advice from your clinician
Your employer may not be aware of how your condition affects your workplace risk from Covid-19, so information you choose to share could help. You may like to show them information from the Covid-19 section of the Kidney Care UK website. You might discuss how to manage your risk at work with your doctor (getting it in writing if possible) and share this with your employer.
Think about what reasonable adjustments could be made that might reduce your risk of Covid-19
The risk assessment process helps your employer consider reasonable adjustments to enable higher risk employees to work safely. Think about what adjustments might reduce your risk of Covid-19. Discuss potential changes with your employer and make a request for adjustments in writing (including any advice you have received from your doctor), asking for a written response in a reasonable timeframe, such as 7-14 days.
The Equality Act 2010 requires an employer to make reasonable adjustments so that an employee with a disability has no obstacles to remain in work, for example their risk from Covid-19. The specific changes will depend on your workplace and the type of work you do. Reasonable adjustments may include:
- Continuing to work from home or work from home for part of the week
- Changing your working hours to avoid peak times on public transport
- Relocating you to a less crowded area of the workplace
- Reducing the number of people you work with, for example using fixed teams or partnering.
You might also like to:
- Consider whether there are any alternatives to public transport (e.g. car-sharing with one other person) or whether you can travel at quieter times
- Ask your employer/HR department to run a session on supporting vulnerable colleagues, so all colleagues are aware of appropriate actions to take
- Use social media/friends/other groups to find out what people in similar situations are doing.
Support for additional costs to enable safer working
The Access to Work scheme can give practical advice and guidance to employers, to help them understand physical and mental ill health and how they can support employees and may help with funding.
Where can I go if I am concerned about my health and safety at work?
Where employers are not keeping their workplace safe, the HSE and local authorities (depending on the body responsible for health and safety for your employer) will take action.
If you have any issues you may wish to speak to your trade union helpline or union health and safety representative if there is one at your workplace.
The Health and Safety Executive have more information online for residents in England, Scotland and Wales and also have a telephone helpline: 0300 790 6787 (Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5pm).
ACAS (The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) has advice for employees and employers about working safely during the Covid-19 outbreak and has advice about dealing with any workplace problems. They have a lot of information on their website, or their helpline is available on 0300 123 1100 (8am – 6pm)
Citizens Advice also has information about your rights at work and how to solve problems in the workplace.
Kidney Care UK offer general guidance on employment rights for kidney patients.
Where can I find further information about risk assessments?
The Welsh Government have produced a workforce risk assessment tool.
The Northern Ireland Health and Safety Executive has produced a workplace risk assessment template.
The University of Glasgow and Society of Occupational Medicine published Covid-19 return to work guidelines, which are intended to support risk assessment decisions. The guide describes the multiple factors to consider including community infection levels, individual vulnerability ('Covid-19 age'), workplace/commute transmission risk, vaccination status and previous Covid-19 infection. It has a matrix which helps estimate workplace risk and a flowchart summarising the risk assessment steps.
As an example, if you have an eGFR between 30-60, high blood pressure and a kidney transplant, this gives you a high 'Covid-19 age' and makes you vulnerable – but if the infection level in your area is low and you work in a small office with very little contact with others, this reduces your risk.
The guide is based on the ALAMA tool which can estimate your ‘Covid-19 age’ to predict your vulnerability to Covid-19. We recommend you read the guidance first, and then follow these steps: