Do schools have to report a COVID-19 infection under RIDDOR?
The short answer is “probably not” except for a special set of circumstances.
The actual guidance specifies that under RIDDOR the Local Authority is required to report specified cases of COVID-19, these include when worker has been diagnosed as having COVID-19 and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work. Here are the exceptions:
- an accident or incident at work has, or could have, led to the release or escape of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence
- a person at work (a worker) has been diagnosed as having COVID-19 attributed to an occupational exposure to coronavirus. This must be reported as a case of disease
- a worker dies as a result of occupational exposure to coronavirus. This must be reported as a work-related death due to exposure to a biological agent
So what would fall under these criteria? The core requirement is for a COVID case to be reportable under RIDDOR is that there needs to be reasonable evidence of occupational exposure ie: reasonable evidence linking the nature of the person’s work with an increased risk of becoming exposed to coronavirus.
For occupational exposure to be judged as the likely cause of the disease, it should be more likely than not that the person’s work was the source of exposure to coronavirus as opposed to general societal exposure. Although such cases may not be easy to identify when COVID-19 is prevalent in the general population, work with the general public, as opposed to work with persons known to be infected, is not considered sufficient evidence to indicate that a COVID-19 diagnosis is likely to be attributable to occupational exposure. Such cases do not require a report and the person reporting does not need to conduct extensive enquiries in seeking to determine whether a COVID-19 infection is work-related. The judgement should be made on the basis of the information available. There is no requirement for RIDDOR reports to be submitted on a precautionary basis, where there is no evidence to suggest that occupational exposure was the likely cause of an infection.
As regards the release or escape of a biological agent likely to cause severe human infection or illness including coronavirus. Examples would be
- a laboratory worker accidentally smashes a vial containing coronavirus on the floor (i.e. outside of a microbiological safety cabinet), leading to people being exposed
- a sample from a COVID-19 patient breaks in transit leading to spillage
an example that isn’t reportable is :
- a health or social care worker is providing treatment or care to a patient or service user who is not known to be COVID-19 positive, but the patient or service user subsequently tests positive.
So on balance it would be unlikely that schools would need to go down the RIDDOR route for a COVID-19 infection, however there’s obviously a defined reporting procedure in place for schools with pupils or staff testing COVID-19 positive requiring schools to liaise with their local Public Health team or, more recently, accessing the newly launched DfE dedicated school helpline.