“We see that it is workplaces, alongside the home, that are now the driving factor behind the spread of infection,” said Labour Markets Minister Eva Nordmark at a government press conference on Monday.
She reiterated that all employers have the responsibility not only to ensure that their staff work from home if it is possible, but also to make the workplace safe for any employees who cannot work from home, such as essential workers in health and elderly care, transport workers and hospitality workers.
This includes by carrying out regular risk assessments and taking actions to reduce risk of infection such as by ensuring distance between staff, ventilating work areas, or staggering working hours and lunch breaks.
Earlier in March, the Public Health Agency announced changes to its contact tracing guidelines, meaning people who have had close contact with a colleague who tests positive for the coronavirus should be tested even if they themselves do not have symptoms.
While “many hundreds of thousands” of people had switched to remote working, Nordmark said: “We have received signals that there are employers who have not done so even though it is possible to carry out the work at home.”
The current recommendation from the Public Health Agency is that everyone who can work from home should do so until at least May 31st.
According to Britta Björkholm from the Swedish Public Health Agency, the difference in the rate of Covid-19 cases among people who work from home and those who don’t had reduced over the course of the pandemic. She said this suggests that measures taken at workplaces had had a positive effect.
But since the start of 2021, almost 10,000 Covid-related incidents have been reported to the Work Environment Authority, where staff have been exposed to the virus at work, including more than 1,000 in the first week of March alone. In particular, there was a “dramatic rise” in reported incidents among women, above all in the healthcare and service sectors which employ many women, Nordmark said.
The minister also cited large outbreaks that have been linked to major workplaces as “worrying”, such as the Skellefteå outbreak at a battery manufacturer, and said there were still ways workplaces could improve at reducing the infection risk.
As a result, the minister said talks would take place between unions, employers’ organisations and the Work Environment Authority to discuss potential future measures.
And over spring, the Work Environment Authority will carry out 2,000 workplace inspections, including at schools and construction sites.
“Everyone who has to be at their workplace should be able to feel safe and secure,” said Nordmark.