Salon staff health procedures during outbreaks of contagious diseases – Q&A


Hair and beauty salon staff are a working group that is at a higher risk of being exposed to numerous contagious diseases. There is no way around it – if you work in the service industry and therefore come into close contact with dozens of people every day, sooner or later you are going to be affected by an emerging outbreak of flu or another contagious disease – one way or another. We have already established that by introducing the right policy, you can minimise the risk of sick clients coming to your salon. Today, let’s have a talk on your rights and responsibilities regarding the safety of your employees – what procedures should you follow in your salon? Should you enforce self-isolation if you suspect one of your staff members is infected? Can you ask an employee who has been in a high-risk area to self-quarantine? What pay are they entitled to? Let’s answer all these frequently asked questions.

Since we are currently experiencing an outbreak of a newly discovered coronavirus that can cause the contagious disease named COVID-19, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the topic of procedures you should follow. As the situation may change rapidly, make sure to follow the updates on NHS.UK, that is the most relevant source of information.

Q: Should I and my employees wear face masks?

A: No – unless they are exhibiting symptoms like coughing and sneezing.

When a flu season reaches its peak, you can see numerous people wearing masks, mainly in public transportation or places of massive gatherings, like shopping centres. Some medical clinics even encourage visitors to do so. However, it’s very important to understand that masks are meant to be worn by people who are exhibiting symptoms. They help to minimise the spread of biological hazards, which is particularly important in areas visited or inhabited by people with weaker immune systems, like hospitals or health centres.

Moreover, poorly-handled face masks can actually do more harm than good – wearing them, we become more carefree, believing that the mask “has us covered” (quite literally). However, it isn’t the case – firstly, masks are not capable of fully filtering every disease. Surgical face masks cannot block airborne viruses from entering your body and aren’t designed to protect the wearers themselves from germs, but the open wounds of patients on operating tables. They also do not fit our faces perfectly. Secondly, they should be changed very frequently, as they quickly become potentially contaminated. Thirdly, they should be removed and binned very carefully.

This is why regardless if you are concerned about the common flu or COVID-19, you should wear the mask only if:

  • You are taking care of a person with a suspected contagious disease.
  • You are experiencing symptoms of the sickness (coughing, sneezing, even just the fever) and have to be around other people – then you are doing everyone a favour by minimising the spread.

Q: As an employer, what protection measures should I provide?

A: Spread awareness, establish clear procedures and deliver appropriate hygiene products.

Spread awareness

Your employees should be aware of the risk, understand why and how it occurs and know the possible ways of reducing it. When the flu season approaches, it’s a good idea to arrange a short team meeting and talk about the issue. Remind your employees of:

  • The symptoms of the flu and ways in which it spreads.
  • The importance of respiratory etiquette (covering the face when coughing and sneezing, proper ways of binning the waste) and hand hygiene.
  • The necessity of cleaning and sanitising of tools and working areas.

You can also encourage them to:

  • Take care of their immune systems.
  • Consider taking a flu shot.

If the situation is more dire – such as the current outbreak of COVID-19 – gathering a meeting will be even more important, as there is a lot of misinformation surrounding the topic. Make sure to get the relevant and confirmed information from reliable sources – NHS and GOV.UK will be your best friends here. It’s a good idea to also display posters promoting respiratory hygiene and proper ways of washing hands – ask your local authority for these or look for them on the WHO website.

Establish clear procedures

Your employees have to be sure what to do in different case scenarios. It’s best to prepare a clear procedure your employees can follow if they suspect they might be infected. In the hair and beauty industry, a sudden absence of any of your employees is connected with the necessity to rearrange a whole schedule – this is why employees taking sick leave is a tough subject.

However, you have to understand that consequences of forcing an employee to work when they are ill can be terrifying. Such employees may not only infect other staff members, disarranging your schedule for good, but also spread the sickness onto clients – and this is something you most definitely don’t want to experience.

Tip: Remember that having a solid set of procedures is a necessity when it comes to all day-to-day activities in your salon. Get yourself a handy checklist that will help you to establish your own!

Overall, it’s best to develop a procedure that covers:

  • When an employee should take a day off due to a sickness.
  • What to do if the sickness develops further.
  • How to report the absence, including who to contact and when.
  • When to return to work.
  • How and when to keep in touch.
  • How can the employer keep track of the absence.

If the situation is more severe – such as the current outbreak of COVID-19 – it’s best to follow the guidelines for employers and businesses provided by the GOV.UK.

Deliver appropriate hygiene products

Make sure to provide your employees with a solid supply of:

  • Soap (preferably antibacterial).
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
  • Antibacterial tissues.
  • Cleaning supplies (for the surfaces).
  • Paper towels.
  • Face masks (for the special cases only – see the first point).

Moreover, make sure all staff members have access to places where they can wash their hands with soap and water – if not, ensure that they have sanitizers that do not require the usage of water.

Q: What to do if one of my employees becomes unwell at work?

A: This depends on the circumstances

The common cold and flu begin with similar symptoms, although the flu usually develops quicker and can become much more severe (though you have to remember that different organisms go through sicknesses caused by the same germs differently – your mild cold may be super dangerous for someone with a weak immune system). If your employee develops a runny nose but feels good enough to go about their day, instruct them to wear a face mask, be very cautious about their hygiene and observe how the symptoms develop further. However, fever, chills and fatigue are usually the telltales that the person should go to bed and sip chicken soup as soon as possible.

In more specific circumstances, such as the current outbreak of COVID-19, you have to be more cautious. If someone becomes unwell in the workplace and has a history of travelling to the countries and/or areas with implications for returning travellers (stay updated with this list!), the person:

  • should be moved to an area which is at least two metres away from other people – if possible, it should be a room behind closed doors where a window can be opened to provide ventilation,
  • should call NHS111 from their mobile (or 999 if they are seriously ill or their life is at risk) and explain the symptoms as well as which country they returned from and how much time has passed since then,
  • should wait in isolation until further notice from NHS111 or the arrival of an ambulance, avoid touching people, surfaces and objects and follow the rules of respiratory etiquette.

Q: During the outbreak of COVID-19, can I tell an employee who is returning from abroad not to come to work?

A: Yes, you can – but you have certain responsibilities.

When it comes to the current outbreak of COVID-19, the situation is very dynamic. For the time being, the Department of Health and Social Care provides specific advice for travellers returning to the UK from seventeen countries or areas and it’s best to keep up to date with their guidance. The advice includes staying indoors and avoiding contact with other people for fourteen days – hence employees returning from these countries will be asked to remain at home, regardless of your decision. If they self-isolate because they are given written notice, either from their GP or by 111, they should be regarded as sick and will be entitled to statutory or contractual sick pay for that time off.

If you decide to send an employee home or refuse to allow them to attend work, they will be entitled to be paid for that time off.

Q: What should I do if one of my employees is suspected or confirmed to be infected with COVID-19?

A: There are procedures to follow – but a full business closure won’t be necessary.

Suspected cases

For suspected cases awaiting the test results, no restrictions or control measures in the workplace are necessary. While the person in question remains in the hospital or in self-isolation, your business can function as usual – you don’t have to send other staff members home or close the salon. Keep in mind that at this point, most possible cases turn out to be negative.

Confirmed cases

If the case becomes confirmed, you or another member of the management team will be contacted by the PHE Local Health Protection Team to discuss the case, identify people who have been in contact with the employee in question and give you all needed advice. Then the Health Protection team will undertake a risk assessment and provide you with further instructions. In most cases, closure of the workplace will not be recommended. Once again – remember to get familiar with the guidance for employers and business provided by GOV.UK.

Your responsibility as an employer is to ensure the safety of your staff members. You should be doing so by introducing procedures that do not only apply to the daily performance of your salon, but also cover situations in which your employees are at risk of being infected by contagious diseases. Remember to always prioritise the health of your staff members and your clients above all other measures.

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