FIOH guidelines for employers to prepare for the coronavirus epidemic
Updated on 14 January 2022 (published 20 April 2020).
Latest update made in chapter Sickness absence and coronavirus tests
The preparedness team co-ordinates the preparations
It is recommended that workplaces have a team that takes responsibility for the preventive measures of coronavirus infections and the management of the changes caused by the epidemic.
The team will co-ordinate preparations and employee communications, keep the contingency plan up-to-date and provide instructions when necessary on topics such as work arrangements, personal protection, cleaning, cases of illness and the effects of the Government's restrictive measures. The team will monitor the national and regional situation, the guidelines issued by the Finnish Government, the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and other ministries as well as those issued by the Regional State Administrative Agency, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. The team will also assess the impact of various scenarios, such as possible quarantines, on operations and supply chains.
As the frequency of infection decreases and the number of vaccinated people in the population increases, a plan for returning to a more normal everyday life at workplaces should be drawn up (so-called exit strategy). The plan should utilize the lessons learned during the pandemic and gradually lift preventive measures.
The regional infection situation by hospital district can be found on the website of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare
The regional situation can be checked out here.
Occupational safety and risk assessment
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the employer must ensure the health and safety of employees at work.
As the conditions at the workplace change, the employer must update the risk assessment and assess the impact of the changes on the health and safety of employees now, especially considering the exposure to COVID-19. The occupational safety and health professionals can support the employer in conducting the risk assessment. Based on the risk assessment, the workplace's instructions and procedures are supplemented and risk management measures are decided upon.
Preventive measures against COVID-19 infections protect employees, clients and partners alike. The preventive measures also aim to protect the vital functions of society.
Coronavirus can be transmitted if a person is near or touches an infected person or the premises are cramped or poorly ventilated. Therefore, reducing close contacts and managing the risks arising from close contacts are important preventive measures. Coronavirus may also be transmitted via touch.
Primary preventive measures at the workplace during the coronavirus pandemic are arranging work in a new way and maintaining safety distances, hygiene and good air-conditioning. It is only after these measures that the use of respirators or face masks should be considered.
If there is a chain of transmissions at the workplace, the factors involved must be carefully analyzed and, based on this analysis, new, more effective measures must be taken to prevent further infections.
Working alone must also be taken into account in risk assessment and employee induction training.
The employer must keep a list of people who have been exposed to the coronavirus at work.
- See press release of AVI (in Finnish) Työnantajan tulee luetteloida koronalle työssä altistuneet työntekijät – Työsuojelu (tyosuojelu.fi)
See The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health have given updated instructions on this. See Press release 29.10.2020 (In Finnish)
Communications and orientation
- Arrange orientation for employees to new tasks and ensure sufficient competence.
- Guide employees and ensure that they act according to the instructions.
- Ensure the physical and mental well-being of employees and make sure that employees have sufficient time to recover (see Guidelines for supporting mental well-being (Finnish Institute of Occupational Health).
- Focus on safety communications at the workplace and ensure the flow of information for all those working in shared workplaces. Inform everyone working on the same premises about safety matters.
- Advise employees to remain at home when ill.
- Recommend that employees take a vaccination against the coronavirus.
Cleanliness and hygiene
- Cleaning guidelines are available on the FIOH website:
Cleaning guidelines for the prevention of COVID-19 infections
- Maintain a high standard of cleanliness and hygiene at the workplace. Unclean surfaces present a risk of infection. Hygiene-related measures also help prevent other infectious diseases, such as seasonal influenza and gastrointestinal diseases. Cleaning guidelines are available on the FIOH website: Cleaning guidelines for the prevention of COVID-19 infections
- Maintain a high standard of hygiene and general cleanliness especially at workplaces where people work in close proximity to others and use shared equipment, tools or instruments.
- Keyboards and other devices should also be cleaned regularly. Request cleaning instructions from equipment manufacturers and suppliers and make sure that the necessary cleaning supplies are easily available.
- Ensure effective ventilation of the premises to reduce contaminants. It is not recommended to use return air in ventilation systems during the pandemic (if return air is used, the filtration should be very effective)
- Provide guidance on regular and effective hand washing (the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare video) and remind people about proper coughing hygiene (the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare video).
- Ensure that everyone who visits the workplace, including partners and subcontractors, have access to hand washing facilities. If hand washing is not possible, keep alcohol-based hand sanitizer available.
- Remember to observe the guidelines yourself – managers and supervisors play an important role in setting the right example.
- Advise to continue avoiding shaking hands.
- Printable materials for the workplace:
- Guidelines regarding hand washing and coughing in the material bank of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare
- Evaluate the need to reduce/add the amount of the remote work at your workplace according to the disease situation in the area. Prepare to combine remote and in-office work in such a way that working conditions and work can be arranged safely.
- Remote work and the alternation between remote and in-office work can pose challenges to management. Ensure the smooth running and meaningfulness of work as well as the ability of the employees to cope.
- If necessary, remote work is an efficient way of reducing the number of coronavirus infections as well as other respiratory infections.
- Guidelines on remote work (the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health).
Meetings and other events
- See Regional restrictions Frequently asked questions about corona (Regional State Administrative Agency).
- Assess the safety of the events at the workplace and take into account the current guidelines and regulations in that assessment. The employer makes the decisions concerning the events at the workplace on the basis of its own risk assessment.
- Ensure effective ventilation in all buildings and premises. The premises need to be well aired before the next meeting. It is recommended that the air be changed in the premises at least once before the next group of people arrives (property maintenance has information on the technical details of the ventilation system). Quick cross ventilation through windows also usually mixes air effectively, if this is possible from the point of view of the functioning of the ventilation and the activities carried out in the premises.
Other ways of arranging work
- Use flexible working hours, where possible, and divide employees into groups that take turns working remotely, for example.
- Stagger mealtimes, breaks and working hours by employee group.
- Ensure safe distances also during breaks, lunch hours and in dressing rooms. Utilize marks on the floor to mark queuing spots.
- Consider whether face masks should be worn at the workplace in situations where employees encounter each other.
- Consider online training, meetings and conferences.
- Try to arrange workspaces in such a way that it is possible to maintain sufficient distance to others based on the risk assessment.
Personal protective equipment and face masks
- The best protection against the coronavirus is the vaccination of employees as comprehensively as possible. The employer can recommend their employees to take a vaccination. This is particularly important for people over the age of 40 and in the social and health care sector. If it is difficult for an employee to go and take a vaccine during their free time, the Infectious Diseases Act requires the employer to allow the employee to go and take the vaccine during working hours.
- Primary risk management measures during the workplace pandemic are arranging work in a safe way and observing safety distances, hygiene and good air-conditioning.
- Personal protective equipment includes respiratory protective equipment (FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3) and visors. Respiratory protective equipment is used to protect the user’s respiratory tract from airborne pollutants. Valveless FFP respirators protect other people from the user’s respiratory secretions, but they are more difficult to use at work than valved models or surgical masks.
- The employer can also provide employees with surgical masks and make it obligatory to wear them on the basis of a risk assessment. Masks and surgical masks reduce the likelihood of infection, along with other prevention measures. Any mask recommendations issued by the authorities must be taken into account.
Protection during the coronavirus pandemic
- The best way to protect oneself against covid-19 is to take a vaccin. Also employers can recommend their employees to take a vaccination. If it is difficult for the employee to go and take a vaccin during his freetime, according to the law the employer needs to let the employee to go and take the vaccin during working hours.
- Primary risk management measures during the coronavirus pandemic are arranging work in a new way and observing safety distances, hygiene and good air-conditioning.
- Personal protective equipment includes respiratory protective equipment (FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3) and visors. Respiratory protective equipment is used to protect the respiratory tract.
- The employer can also provide employees with face masks and make it obligatory for them to wear masks on the basis of a risk assessment. Masks may be needed in situations where safe distances cannot be observed. Also regional recommendations need to be taken into consideration.
- See the recommendation of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare about the use of face masks for citizens
Face masks and respiratory protective equipment must be used correctly
- Face masks can be disposable or washable cloth masks. Breathing resistance and filtration capacity may be indicated on some of the masks.
- The employer must ensure that it is possible to use a mask or protective equipment correctly in work and that employees know how to use them correctly. High temperature in the working environment as well as age-related physiological changes as well as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases can make it difficult to use face masks and respiratory protective equipment. Occupational health services can conduct a health check-up in order to determine whether an employee can be required to use protective equipment or a face mask. If not, employee safety must be ensured through other arrangements. No compromises are allowed regarding the safety at the workplace. See also Management of adverse effects of work in a hot environment, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (in Finnish)
- A sufficient amount of respiratory protective equipment or face masks must be available for protecting people against coronavirus infection. When the protective equipment must be taken off, it must always be replaced with clean equipment. The protective equipment should be put on with clean hands. Hands should be washed before and after taking the protective equipment off. The outer surface of a used mask must not be touched without washing the hands afterwards. Reusable face masks should be kept in a plastic after use and before washing.
- Reusable face masks should be washed in a machine at a minimum temperature of 60°C or boiled in water with detergent for 5 minutes, after which they should be rinsed and dried in clean conditions.
- Disposable protective equipment should be placed in mixed waste. Link to cleaning instructions
- Information on surgical masks and respirators
COVID-19 mechanism of transmission and the severity of the disease
COVID-19 mechanisms of transmission form the basis for choosing the preventive measures. The mechanisms of transmission and their significance can be checked on the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare website Transmission and incubation period of coronavirus.
The majority of those infected with coronavirus have a mild illness and they recover well. However, some people may experience serious symptoms, and for some people the symptoms can last for a long time. The majority of patients who have experienced serious symptoms have been elderly, and many of them also have underlying illnesses. The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare’s Information page on the novel coronavirus.
Employees in risk groups
- Please see the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health guidelines for the protection of employees in risk groups.
- If an employee belonging to the risk group is concerned about the risk of infection in the workplace, they can be referred to the occupational health services. The occupational health care helps with risk assessment and you can negotiate and agree together on possible changes in work arrangements or work tasks.
If an employee develops COVID-19
- If an employee becomes infected with the coronavirus, they will receive instructions regarding further action from the physician in charge of communicable diseases and from the authority in charge.
- It is recommended that the employee inform their employer of their suspicion of infection with the coronavirus, even though they have no obligation to provide information related to their health status. When notified, the employer can take care of the safety of other employees and fulfil its obligations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
- In cases of suspected infection, the primary measure is to arrange remote work if possible. If it is not possible to arrange remote work, the safety measures must be agreed at the workplace and a surgical mask must be used. The employer can consult the occupational health services about the necessary measures.
- If a work-related infection with coronavirus is suspected, the employee will be referred to the occupational health services to determine whether it is an occupational disease. See FAQ on Koronavilkku.
- Please also see the Data Protection Ombudsman’s Guidelines, which, among other things, deal with the processing of employee health data in the event of illness.
Sickness absence and coronavirus tests
Consider whether appropriate and flexible sick leave practices are in place at the workplace.
- When an employee has symptoms consistent with a coronavirus infection, it is recommended that they have an opportunity to be tested for the coronavirus, if its possible in the area. Those with mild symptoms who have been vaccinated at least twice will no longer be required to be tested. A symptomatic employee is first recommended to carry out a symptom assessment using the Omaolo service and contact the occupational health services, where they will be referred for a test if necessary. Tests are performed both by several private health care providers and by public health centres and hospitals.
See Coronavirus tests (the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare)
- National strategy for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing
- National vaccination strategy, a Government resolution 25.11.2021
- As the epidemics has got worse it is not possible to be tested everywhere. Also it is not possible to get direct advice from health professionals or officials. In this kind of situation please see the THL
COVID-19 tests and avoiding contacts in regions with a testing and tracing backlog
- Please adopt the practice of self-certified sick leave at the workplace. The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health supports the recommendation by the Confederation of Finnish Industries on adopting the practice of self-certified sick leave during epidemics. This would make it possible for employees to stay home to recover by notifying the employer themselves, without a doctor’s certificate, for 3–7 days, for example. Guideline of the Confederation of Finnish Industries
Travel and quarantine
- Prepare a travel policy to prevent employees from unnecessary exposure to infection.
Make sure that the advice for travellers given at the workplace is followed.
- The border traffic situation is reviewed approximately once every two weeks.
Travelling instructions issued by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare
Guidelines for border traffic during the coronavirus pandemic (the Finnish Border Guard)
Travel instructions from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Press release 15 September 2021) (in Finnish)
- A person can only be ordered into quarantine by a physician in charge of communicable diseases (Communicable Diseases Act 1227/2016).
As a rule, a person who has received a full course of vaccination will not be placed in quarantine. Quarantine and Isolation - Infectious Diseases and Vaccinations - the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare
- Remote work arrangements can be agreed on with quarantined employees if necessary.
- Kela can pay a sickness allowance to a citizen of an EU or EEA country or Switzerland on account of an infectious disease when an employee is ordered to stay away from work in order to prevent the spread of a communicable disease such as the novel coronavirus. The sickness allowance is also available to the provider of a child under the age of 16 who is placed in quarantine, making it impossible for the provider to continue working while the quarantine is in effect.
- Kela press release on sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease
- Information on quarantine on the website of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare
All other instructions for prevention of COVID-19 (some in Finnish only)
Coronavirus COVID-19 – Latest Updates (THL)
Cough and sneeze correctly (THL)
Elinkeinoelämän keskusliiton (EK) ohje yrityksille (in Finnish)
Ministry for Foreign Affairs: Travelling to and from Finland
For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Kristiina Kulha, Senior Communications Specialist, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, email@example.com
The guidelines of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH) are drawn up together with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (SMAH) and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare. We also follow the publications of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), COVID-19