Omicron pushes absence rates to near 5%, LARAC finds

Absence rates among local authority waste crews and drivers due to the coronavirus pandemic soared to nearly 5% at the beginning of January, according to LARAC.

Omicron Waste
The Omicron variant of Covid-19 is seen as the key reason for a rise in absences among waste and recycling workforces (picture: Shutterstock)

Consequently, a number of recycling and food and garden waste services are starting to be suspended or delayed.

In a survey of member councils, the local authority recycling officers organisation reported today (13 January) a “never before seen average of near 4.87%” of confirmed or suspected Covid cases among the local authorities reporting in the survey.

This was well above the number seen overall since the survey started in September 2021, and is seen as primarily due to the the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

The monthly survey was prompted originally by the shortage of HGV drivers. LARAC said that the survey of more than 300 members had found that different aspects of services had suffered disruption at different rates.

Covid-19 absence levels rose significantly at the start of January (source: LARAC)

In a statement LARAC noted: “With the national media publishing stories and pictures of black bin bags piled in the streets, our January survey was a chance to test out whether this was a nationwide problem or if councils across the land were managing the numerous challenges they face at this time of year.”

Clear impact

Following analysis of its latest survey returns, LARAC says that the impact of Omicron on frontline waste and recycling services and supporting treatment and disposal infrastructure, is clear.

And, the local government organisation has also observed that while frontline collections have been improving, recycling and mixed food/garden waste are starting to show “deterioration” again.

One bright spot, which is being in other parts of the waste and recycling sector too, is that the situation with HGV drivers is improving, with less vacancies. A reduction in the number of general vacancies is also being reported by LARAC.

The government also today announced that the isolation period will be cut to a minimum of five days.

LARAC has also been surveying driver vacancy levels

Commenting on the survey results, interim LARAC chief executive, John Coates, said: “The information provided by our member councils provides the clearest picture of how frontline waste and recycling services are being affected by Covid and other pressures such as driver shortages and increased tonnages over the festive period.

John Coates, interim LARAC chief executive has praised the work of the organisation’s member authorities

“This mirrors reports in the national media and the experience of residents in our communities. Christmas is always a challenging time for councils with increased sickness due to the annual flu bug and increased tonnages of waste and recycling to collect. Add in the Omicron variant and this year has been extremely challenging but local council staff and their contractors continue to do their best against all the odds to maintain collections and keep treatment infrastructure operating.”


Mr Coates praised the work of local authorities in delivering service against the background of the Omicron variant and the pandemic. He said: “LARAC applauds the efforts of colleagues in our member councils across the UK and will work tirelessly to support them with good data and information sharing to help them with the daily challenges they face.”



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