About the NHS COVID-19 app
The Compliance People Consultant, Mick Baah, looks at the new NHS COVID-19 contact tracing mobile app and what it means for employers.
The importance of contact tracing
Contact tracing is a tried and tested method for controlling the transmission and spread of disease. This process helps build a picture of onward exposure which, until an effective vaccine is available, is crucial in the ongoing fight against Coronavirus.
How does the app work?
A form of low energy Bluetooth is used to identify phones nearby (these are referred to as encounters). The app utilises Bluetooth signal strength between different devices to estimate the distance between people. When someone tests positive for COVID-19 the system can send out alerts to people they have had encounters with. These alerts tell people that they should self-isolate.
- Check if you have symptoms of Coronavirus.
- Directs you to the NHS Test and Trace website to book a test if needed.
- Gives you links to the latest government advice and guidance on Coronavirus.
- Check into places you visit using the QR Code system.
How do you get the app?
The app is designed for smartphone use only and not a laptop, PC or smartwatch and is free to download.
How can employers utilise the NHS COVID-19 app?
During these times, workplaces are required to keep a log of employees, visitors or contractors who visit their premises.
In England, certain venues must display an official NHS QR code poster by law at their entrance, or at the point of service. These venues should also have a customer log where you can record your details if you don’t have the app or don’t want to use the app. Venues that are not required by law to display an NHS QR code poster might still choose to do so as part of the effort to fight Coronavirus. In office–based settings, QR code posters are only likely to be needed where there is a high number of external visitors or where workers cannot easily be identified or notified (for example by email) if there was a potential outbreak linked to the site. Workplace canteens and cafes must have an NHS QR code poster.
In Wales, all businesses and organisations are encouraged to display the official QR code posters. If there is no poster on display, you should still register your contact details with the venue so that they can get in touch with you if they need to.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland, they have their own versions of the app, Protect Scotland and StopCOVID NI respectively. The requirement for businesses based in these locations to display a QR code is not as firm, but the requirement to keep a log of persons who visit the premises remains.
Do my employees need to download the app?
The app is designed to work best on a compatible device that will be with the individual most, if not all, of the time. It is now commonplace for many employees to have a mobile phone provided by their employer; however, if this device is not likely to be with the individual for large periods of the day (i.e. in a locker or left on a desk), the benefit of installing the app will be lost. The counter argument for this is that for those individuals who are likely to be carrying their work phones for large parts of the day (i.e. service engineers, sales employers) allied with potential high-risk encounters, the benefits of downloading the app onto a work issued smartphone are significant.
It must be highlighted that participation with the NHS COVID-19 app is a voluntary requirement only. For an employer to attempt to implement that as an employee requirement through the company’s risk management strategy would bring considerable challenges, for example making sure the app is used by employees and being able to measure its effectiveness. The staple control approach of wash hands, cover face and make space will still have to be implemented as a minimum.
In summary, the current evidence suggests the jury is still out on as whether the app has been successful due to the limited time it has been in place. However, it is actively encouraged for employers to promote the benefits of the app and encourage their workforce to download and utilise the app on their personal mobile devices. This could further strengthen the management of Coronavirus within the workplace and potentially further manage the risk.
If you require any assistance with managing Coronavirus within your workplace, The Compliance People’s consultancy team are here to help. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.