WHAT'S NEW - COVID-19 and Production FAQs


How dangerous is COVID-19?

Over 5.4m cases of COVID-19 have now been confirmed worldwide and there have been nearly 350,000 deaths.  The UK has had over 260,000 cases and nearly 37,000 deaths (CSSE).

Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing hospital treatment.  About 1 in 5 people who get COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing (WHO).

A recent study from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimates that outside hospitals and care homes  about 1 in 400 people have been infected, although many more people have probably had the disease and not been counted. 

The death rate for COVID-19 across the whole population (not just those with the disease) is 55.3 per 100,000 or 0.06%.  This represents an increase of 65% above the normal average death rate from all causes.

But the COVID-19 death rates are heavily skewed towards the elderly, with the risk from COVID-19 adding only 1% to the normal risk of death for children, 29% for those under 44 but 73% for those over 75 (ONS). 

The risk is further decreased for the average person because the disease also disproportionately affects those with underlying health conditions.

The risk of getting the virus and then dying from it is roughly double for men than for women of the same age.  And the risk of getting the disease and dying from it is also disproportionately high for BAME people.  (But see below). 

For more on this we recommend this blog by Prof David Spiegelhalter 

What’s the science behind ‘social distancing’ and hand washing advice?

The WHO says, ‘The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads primarily from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, which are expelled when a person with COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, or speaks. These droplets are relatively heavy, do not travel far and quickly sink to the ground.  People can catch COVID-19 if they breathe in these droplets from a person infected with the virus. This is why it is important to stay at least 1 meter away from others. These droplets can land on objects and surfaces around the person such as tables, doorknobs and handrails. People can become infected by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. This is why it is important to wash your hands regularly with soap and water or clean with alcohol-based hand rub.’

In the UK and the US the Government advise 2m separation and in other countries it is different.  In Germany for instance it’s 1.5m

It’s also important to note that while the majority of droplets fall to the ground within 2m, smaller aerosol droplets can travel further, particularly from a cough or sneeze, and remain in the air for longer and build up in enclosed spaces.  In fact in infected person will release a small amount of virus simply by breathing which can accumulate in still air.

That’s why, in our view, it’s very important to try and ensure all enclosed spaces are well ventilated if people are going to be in them for prolonged periods – regardless of whether they are social distancing or not.  See this article by Erin Bromage for more information.

What happens if we can’t keep 2m apart?

The Government advice says, ‘Where it’s not possible for people to be 2m apart, you should do everything practical to manage the transmission risk by:

  • considering whether an activity needs to continue for the business to operate

  • keeping the activity time involved as short as possible

  • using screens or barriers to separate people from each other

  •  using back-to-back or side-to-side working whenever possible

  • staggering arrival and departure times

  • reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’

We advise that the phrase ‘you should do everything practical to manage the transmission risk’ means it’s not sufficient to do nothing.  For instance, if on-screen action required cast to be within 2m or each other for prolonged periods, you currently need to be able to show through a regime of testing and/or isolation or other means, that you have lowered the infection risk to a low level.

How long do we have to leave equipment before we can touch it?

The WHO says, ‘The most important thing to know about coronavirus on surfaces is that they can easily be cleaned with common household disinfectants that will kill the virus. Studies have shown that the COVID-19 virus can survive for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, less than 4 hours on copper and less than 24 hours on cardboard.’

There is no Government guidance to say you need to leave equipment for 72 hours before it can be used.  Our advice is that if equipment is thoroughly wiped down with cleaning products or antiviral wipes on arrival and then regularly during use, the risk of infection is low.

However in regard to the disposal of potentially contaminated waste (tissues, discarded paper cups and eating utensils, or used face coverings or PPE etc.) the Government guidance says it should be bagged, stored for 72 hours then disposed of. 

Are masks and other PPE effective and when should we wear them?

The Government guidance says, ‘…additional PPE beyond what you usually wear is not beneficial. This is because COVID-19 is a different type of risk to the risks you normally face in a workplace, and needs to be managed through social distancing, hygiene and fixed teams or partnering, not through the use of PPE.’

And, that …’Workplaces should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against COVID-19 outside clinical settings‘

It continues… ‘Unless you are in a situation where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is very high, your risk assessment should reflect the fact that the role of PPE in providing additional protection is extremely limited. However, if your risk assessment does show that PPE is required, then you must provide this PPE free of charge to workers who need it. Any PPE provided must fit properly.’

Our view is that there are likely to be some activities on productions where a risk assessment would indicate that, after exhausting other measures in the hierarchy of control, PPE would be a necessary precaution.  Specific advice should be sought on the type, use and proper disposal of any PPE. 

What about face coverings?

The Government says, ‘’There are some circumstances when wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure. The evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you, but it may protect others if you are infected but have not developed symptoms.

It is important to know that the evidence of the benefit of using a face covering to protect others is weak and the effect is likely to be small, therefore face coverings are not a replacement for the other ways of managing risk, including minimising time spent in contact, using fixed teams and partnering for close-up work, and increasing hand and surface washing. …[we] would…not expect to see employers relying on face coverings as risk management for the purpose of their health and safety assessments.

Wearing a face covering is optional and is not required by law, including in the workplace. If you choose to wear one, it is important to use face coverings properly and wash your hands before putting them on and taking them off. You should be prepared to remove your face covering if asked to do so by police officers and staff for the purposes of identification.

Employers should support their workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one.

What about the virus entering through the eyes?

Infection can occur through the eyes but this is mainly through the person rubbing or touching their eye with infected hands.  Eye protection is worn routinely in high risk situations such as healthcare and provides another level of protection which could be considered for close proximity working in productions if recommended by a risk assessment. 

What about gloves?

Gloves do not provide protection from the virus per se, but may be useful if hand washing or sanitizing is not immediately available provided they are discarded in a safe and hygienic manner as soon as they are used the wearer is careful not to touch their face while wearing the gloves.

What is the value of health screening?

Health screening in respect of COVID-19 is not specifically required by Government guidance.  Individuals are required to follow the self-isolation rules which includes not going to work if they or someone they live with has symptoms of COVID-19. 

However, our view is that a robust risk management system for any workplace should include a formal process whereby employees are reminded and acknowledge the self-isolation rules and undertake to not come to work if they or people they live with have symptoms and to report any onset of symptoms to their employer. 

This basic level of screening may be accompanied by regular active symptom, including temperature checking or by virus/antibody testing if required by a risk assessment. 

We think this is in line with H&S law.  COVID-19 is a biological hazard which is covered under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations.  They say (Reg 11) that health surveillance may be required if there is a risk of employees being exposed to biological agents.  And the more general Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations say (Reg 6)  that employers shall ensure that his employees are provided with such health surveillance as is appropriate having regard to the risks to their health and safety which are identified by the assessment.

Employers should have in place a plan to react to a member of staff experiencing symptoms at work or at home or testing positive for COVID-19 including a risk assessment approach to the possible isolation of other who have been in prolonged close contact with the infected person. 

If someone develops symptoms at work what should happen with them and all the people they have been in contact with?

The current government guidance is that anyone who has symptoms should self isolate for 7 days so they should be sent home.  If they have been in close contact with others in the workplace, then a risk assessment should be conducted to decide whether those people need to self-isolate too. 

Currently there is no government definition of 'close contact' , but we advise that a guide can be taken from the EUCDC rules which include: face to face contact less than 2m for more than 15 mins, physical contact or being coughed or sneezed on.  See the EUCDC site for more details.   

Should we take special precautions for BAME colleagues? 

It was recently reported in the press that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups were twice as likely to die from COVID-19.  But this clearly referred to the population fatality rate — in other words BAME groups had a higher risk of both getting the disease and then dying from it, and an unknown part of this excess risk could come from an increased risk of catching the virus, perhaps through coming in contact with more people in their daily lives.  

In a recent study of patients who were hospitalized, ethnicity was not found to be an important risk factor.  There does not therefore appear to be any strong evidence to exclude or take special precautions for BAME people in the workplace.

If you have a question about COVID-19 in production submit it here and we’ll do our best to answer it.