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Tue, 26 January 2021

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British Safety Council calls for Government health campaign urging employers to improve workplace controls to help combat new COVID variant

British Safety Council

3 min read Partner content

The necessity for suitably robust COVID-19 workplace management arrangements has intensified since the highly transmissible new variant was identified last month.

While making a workplace COVID secure as far as is reasonably practicable is the legal responsibility of employers, some have struggled to implement appropriate measures to restrict the potential for occupational exposure to the virus.  The evidence that workplaces are a major venue within which people have the potential to mix, and so increase the potential to catch and transmit the virus, has become ever more prominent in the mitigation process against the effects of the pandemic. However, whilst many organisations have embraced this increased responsibility, others have struggled with the changing nature of the situation, together with the government guidelines, and the added expectations this brings.

The COVID pandemic health crisis is also a workplace health crisis and it requires decisive, consistent and well-communicated action from all parties. Therefore, the British Safety Council is calling for a coherent Government health campaign that urges employers to improve workplace protection and engage their workers more effectively to achieve better control in limiting the spread of the virus. For example, there is a significant vulnerability within buildings, as the virus can be passed between people breathing out asymptomatically and others breathing in the aerosol.

The Home Secretary yesterday urged people to ‘play your part’ and follow COVID rules to help reduce transmission of the COVID virus. However, the Government appears to be focusing primarily on enforcing the lockdown rules in general outdoor spaces like parks and is not doing enough around workplaces and the second variant. A greater focus on having well prepared and effectively implemented COVID-19 management protocols within the workplace, which is about making work environments as safe as possible for people, is far more likely to reduce the spread of infection than concentrating on individuals who break lockdown rules.

Effective consultation with staff, good wellbeing and mental health support mechanisms, remote working wherever possible together with premises controls such as one-way movement flow around the building, wearing of face-masks in common areas, suitably positioned desks, protective screens, good information and warning signage, staggered operating hours are all considerations for business within any sector which can make a significant impact on reducing the likelihood of exposure to the risk of virus transmission.

Lawrence Waterman, Chairman of the British Safety Council, commented,

"We are being told by experts that we are in the eye of the storm, and workplaces seem to be at the centre of that eye.  We should be discussing this much more openly rather than taking our lead from the Government’s short termism, and then taking more and better action.  It requires more public health messaging to restrict work to where it is really required, so that more people can remain in relative isolation, and better funding to help employers and employees to do this.

It may also mean that collectively we should consider much wider shift working, even half day, morning and afternoon, and improving community protection in every workplace, such as requiring the wearing of face masks in indoor workplaces.”

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