Advice: Omicron and your safety



The new Omicron Covid variant is of significant concern due to the speed and level of transmission.

It is essential to take steps now and be aware of your rights when it comes to your health and safety.

The new variant brings with it uncertainty around how it will interact with various measures in place such as the effectiveness of the vaccinations we have been so reliant upon.

Two vaccinations are unlikely to provide adequate protection, especially when the vaccination in question in Astra Zeneca.

HCSA recommends all members take up a booster vaccine to give additional protection. But reliance on vaccination alone is insufficient to safeguard you, your patients and your colleagues.

Social distancing, cleaning regimes, ventilation and PPE are all key factors to mitigate against Omicron:

  • Distancing and cleaning measures should be in place
  • Ventilation should be maintained and monitored in all work areas
  • The appropriate level of PPE should be available to all

Contact HCSA as early as you can if you need support - don't wait for a crisis to act.

In this guide:

  1. What should I do if I am in close contact with a Covid-positive individual?
  2. What steps should I take to safeguard my workplace environment?
  3. What steps should I take to safeguard my personal safety?
  4. What are my rights on use of PPE?
  5. What should I do if I am still concerned?
  6. How do I raise a concern?

 

1. What should I do if I am in close contact with a Covid-positive individual (in an environment without other mitigation e.g. PPE and infection control measures)?

The current guidance is no longer to self-isolate when coming in close contact with a Covid-positive contact, such as a household member.

Instead you are expected to take a lateral flow test before attending work, and to self-isolate and seek a PCR test if the result is positive.

If your result is negative you are expected to attend work.

If you are unable to secure a lateral flow test before your shift is due to start e.g. shortages, then you should not attend work nor be expected to.

If you have any concerns or face pressure to attend work despite being unable to test yourself, you should contact HCSA for advice.

2. What steps should I take to safeguard my workplace environment?

It is essential that all pre-existing workplace risk assessments in your department are reviewed in light of the new variant, which presents a change to risk in hospital environments.

It is important to be proactive and satisfy yourself that the area in which you work has had an adequate review of risk, with staff consultation, and that all control measures needed are present:

  • Type and quantity of PPE
  • Level of ventilation and monitoring to ensure adjustments such as reducing the number of people in an area to improve airflow are made and complied with
  • Cleaning schedules
  • Clear signage to facilitate measures e.g. correct distancing

Risk assessments and safe systems of work should ALWAYS be reviewed when there is a change in risk.

Each work area should have sight of these relevant Health and Safety documents so that everyone is aware how to work safely, and also to give you confidence that adequate protective measures are in place.

The current infection control guidance applies in your hospital. It is available on the government website.

If reviews and measures are not in place, report this through line management and HCSA channels BEFORE it becomes a problem not after it has caused harm.

3. What steps should I take to safeguard my personal safety?

If you have specific concerns you have a right to request an individual risk assessment - and the official guidance requires employers to ensure that it is carried out “for health and care staff who may be at high risk from complications from … severe illness from Covid-19 (for example pregnant and Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff).

This should consider your circumstances and could result in mitigation such as higher-level PPE, working from home or redeployment.

4. What are my rights on use of PPE?

The infection control guidelines state that all staff must be fit tested for PPE. Adequate supply of PPE must be made available.

HCSA is arguing for a change in infection control guidance to ensure all staff who wish to use FFP3 can have access to it.

Current IPC guidance dictates that it should usually only be worn where the method of transmission is wholly airborne or where a recognised Aerosol-Generating Procedure is being undertaken on a patient with suspected or confirmed Covid-19.

It does allow for FFP3 or respirators to be used in other circumstances where “an unacceptable risk of transmission remains” following the application of core infection controls and a risk assessment. The decision on whether higher level PPE should be used would take into account ventilation, operational capacity, and the level of community infection.

Chief Nursing Officer Ruth May recently confirmed (December 20th 2021) that local risk assessments should be taking place and "where an unacceptable risk of transmission remains following this risk assessment, it may be necessary to consider the use of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) in clinical areas where suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients are being managed."

If you are concerned about the risk level in an environment and your employer is refusing to allow the use of higher-level PPE, then you are advised to contact HCSA.

5. What should I do if I am still concerned?

If you believe your employer is failing to comply with published safety guidelines, you should not work unsafely. It is important, however, to takes steps to assist in protecting you and your colleagues from subsequent action. If in doubt, contact HCSA immediately.

If you are forced to make a rapid decision, you may have to perform a dynamic risk assessment – it is important to note your rationale for any decision.

It may be reasonable for you to refuse to undertake the particular task required.

However, whether a refusal is “reasonable” would depend on an assessment of all of the relevant facts, including:

  • Your individual circumstances
  • The risk of infection
  • The risk to the patient of not acting
  • Protection in addition to your own PPE (for instance, whether patients are wearing masks or some alteration to the standard system for treatment). Remember, a safe system of working is broader than just PPE.

6. How do I raise a concern?

  1. Do not wait for crisis situations to arise. Assess the requirements of your role and the PPE that would be necessary in each situation as soon as possible. If there is a risk that there may be insufficient PPE to safely perform your duties, then raise your concerns immediately with line management and your health and safety lead.
  2. Where practicable, request an urgent risk assessment. This should take account of your personal circumstances (e.g. if you have a medical condition).
  3. Always make a written note of the circumstances and any reasoning behind your decisions.

Contact HCSA at the earliest opportunity for further advice and support.