Commenting on the threat that the new Omicron Covid-19 variant poses to the workplace and how employers can best manage the risks particularly in the run up to Christmas, Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of British Safety Council, said:

“Most employers have taken sensible precautions during the pandemic to help protect their staff against catching or passing on Covid-19. The swift way they responded to new Government guidance ensured that the workplace did not become the source of transmission that people feared it might. It is vital that we all maintain our efforts, and don’t let down our guard, especially when we are waiting to find out exactly what risks Omicron may pose to our health and the way Covid-19 could spread further.

“None of us wants to go backwards and see our NHS, schools and other vital services threatened through disruption or overwhelmed. The impact of this on people’s mental health and wellbeing has also been significant. Omicron has the potential to replace Delta as the dominant variant, and that would mean many more people likely becoming infected, which is why we support the Government’s call for people to take up the chance of a booster vaccine when offered.

“Our view at British Safety Council is that employers will know their organisation best and be able to judge what they can and should do. We would advise them to review and where possible avoid any non-essential face-to-face contact. This may mean some or all staff working remotely, holding meetings online where it is feasible to do so and, yes, looking at postponing Christmas parties until we are clearer on the risks, especially if they are bringing large numbers together and where non-essential travel is involved.

“I know it’s a tough call to ask people to hold off from celebrating physically together in the run up to Christmas, especially when staff have worked so hard this year. There are other ways of people coming together using online technology and I’d urge employers to look at alternatives, at least until the picture is clearer on Omicron and the risks that it poses.”

British Safety Council has taken its own precautionary action in light of the new Omicron variant. All the following actions are temporary and will be reviewed as more information comes to light:

Cancelling or postponing any planned overseas business travel from the UK
Delivering any UK face-to-face training or auditing remotely
Suspending any staff or client face-to-face meetings in the UK until further notice
Working remotely and temporarily closing our UK office to all but essential activities
Regretfully, we also decided to cancel a planned staff Christmas party.

The British Safety Council has worked with employers since the start of the pandemic to understand and evaluate risks to put appropriate controls in place to safeguard their people and businesses. Crucially, we have worked with them to review and measure the effectiveness of their control measures and take necessary steps to deal with a changing situation, which can be increasing controls as well as relaxing them.