But is it safe?

Article written by Therapy Meets Numbers published on May 28th 2020 

From our recent survey it’s become clear that we are now more favourably disposed to working online or by phone than we were at the start of the pandemic. Most of us who were working face to face, however, seem desperate to return to business as usual. But is it safe? If not now, then when?

Whether we work as sole practitioners from our homes or elsewhere, or are employed in service settings, we each need to adopt a rigorous approach to assessing the risks of resuming face to face work.

What are the specific risk factors connected to my occupation?

The short answer is it depends. Our work involves being in close proximity to clients in a relatively enclosed space for close to an hour per client. As we’ve seen already that level of exposure to someone who is infected (whether or not we or they know it) seems to carry a significant risk of infection.

 

What of our clients?

A good proportion of my clients are referred by EAP’s. Thinking about the profile of these and other clients by occupational group, I can see that they include police officers, social workers, healthcare staff, social care and retail staff whose work may involve potentially high levels of exposure to disease, close proximity to other people, as well as contacts of a significant length.

I feel instinctively that working with a high proportion of clients whose work may place them at relatively higher risk of infection places me at relatively higher risk of infection too, but I confess that I really have no idea of how to weight this risk. The only thing I can do is to mitigate against the risk or eliminate it by not seeing clients face to face. This isn’t a comfortable choice.

 

What risk do I represent to my clients?

If I haven’t contracted the virus, I represent no risk to my clients. Should I be unfortunate enough to do so, then I represent a considerable risk to anyone with whom I come into close contact. At present, for the purposes of the new contact tracing system, close contact means a distance of two metres or less, for a period of 15 minutes or more. That’s going to include any client I have seen face to face since I became infected.

The problem is I may not yet know that I’ve been infected. I may already have been infected – I was quite ill for three to four weeks over the Xmas period. Without an antibody test I will never know. Either way, infected but asymptomatic I will represent a risk to clients and others with whom I come into close contact. I may, in effect, become a ‘super spreader’.

 

So, under what circumstances should I resume seeing face to face clients?

Like all the most difficult decisions, this is a decision that only you can make. It’s a choice that you should freely make, free of pressure from anyone else, including clients, practice partners or your employer. You can only work effectively when you can work free from compulsion.

If pressure is coming from your employer, you need to be clear that it is your employer’s duty to provide a safe working environment for you. Seek support if you need it from either your union or your professional body in the first instance.

Given the nature of this virus and the way it can be spread without symptoms being apparent, we can never fully eliminate the risks involved in working face to face. We can be scrupulous about hygiene and cleaning. We and our clients can wear masks. We can ensure that we maintain appropriate distance. We can contract with our clients about the circumstances under which we will meet, and those we won’t. We can manage as many of the risks as we can reasonably foresee.

We can never eliminate the risk, however, that we may be infected by an asymptomatic client and that we in turn, may infect other clients.

Whatever decision you come to dear colleagues, may you and your clients stay safe and well.

 

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