Plan B – Implications for Employers

The Prime Minister has announced that England will move to ‘Plan B’ in response to the rapid rise of cases of the Omicron variant.

Do office workers now need to work from home?

Anyone who can work from home is being advised to do so from Monday 13 December. The Cabinet Office guidance says that anyone who cannot work from home should continue to go into work .  This is guidance rather than law so nobody will be committing an offence by continuing to work from the office if they could have worked from home.

Note that the new guidance applies to England only – the position is different in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. In Wales, for example, working from home is already encouraged.

Does this mean the office Christmas party must be cancelled?

In answer to a question at the press conference, the Prime Minister said that Christmas parties can go ahead. This is legally correct – there are no restrictions on social events.

Ireland recently brought in restrictions in a similar way – with working from home being introduced without restrictions on social events (although social events in Ireland are now also restricted).

Are there new rules for offices if they stay open?

The Working Safely guidance on how employers can reduce the risks in their workplace has not yet been updated and there is currently no new guidance from the Health and Safety Executive.

Which settings must use NHS Covid passes?

From Wednesday 15 December, subject to parliamentary approval, the NHS App will become mandatory for entry into nightclubs and large venues – including unseated indoor events with 500 or more attendees, unseated outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees and any event with 10,000 or more attendees. In a concession to the affected industries, alternative proof (such as an email or text) of a negative lateral flow test will also be accepted. The requirements are likely to be apply only to customers, rather than staff.

What are the planned new self-isolation requirements?

Under the current law, a close contact of someone with a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant is required to self-isolate regardless of vaccination status.

On the Line

The injury rate in the food and drink manufacturing sector is double the manufacturing sector average and the HSE estimate that 25% of these injuries are musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). However, despite these figures, HSE’s enforcement relating to MSDs remains low.

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Tough Sentencing of H&S Crime

In November 2014, proposed sentencing guidelines were published that will assist sentencers dealing with corporate manslaughter, health and safety, food safety and hygiene offences.

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Safe Digging Is Not Enough

It has been declared in front of around 125 construction leaders by Terry Morgan, Crossrail’s chairman; Paul Sheffield, Kier’s former chief executive; and Dennis Curran, Barhale’s executive chairman, that the amount of injury and damage occurring from working around underground services is unacceptable, unnecessary and cannot go on. They have launched a free-to-download “safe digging is not enough” toolkit to demonstrate their commitment to raising safety standards.

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Health & Safety Law Poster

The HSE updated the Health & Safety Law Poster in 2009, but gave employers five years to replace the old ones – you have until 5 April 2014 to replace 1999 posters with the 2009 one, or issue the relevant leaflet to employees.

Further information can be found here http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/lawposter.htm