Ventilation need remains as Covid rules eased

With the ending of several Covid-19 pandemic restrictions in England, the Health and Safety Executive has reminded the industry that in three areas of the workplace, controls remain unchanged: adequate ventilation; sufficient cleaning; and good hand hygiene.

The Omicron variant (pictured) prompted more restrictions which are now being eased in England (image: Shutterstock)

Also emphasising the importance of adequate ventilation for waste crews, the chair of the WISH Forum, Chris Jones, said there was a number of practices which had seen improvement during the pandemic which needed to be maintained.

And, further comment on the ending of some restrictions today (27 January) came from the Environmental Services Association (ESA), which said that the private waste sector felt a “sense of relief”.

Local authority recycling officers’ organisation LARAC also reflected on the current position, highlighting how sharing information and experiences had been been important during the pandemic and would be in the future.

Sector practices

‘Need to preserve our learning’: Chris Jones, chair of WISH Forum

On health and safety, Mr Jones said: “The presence of a pandemic has shone a light on some practices and standards in the sector that were capable of improvement. Hygiene practices and hand hygiene in particular have improved significantly. We need to make sure that we retain those gains as the memory of the COVID pandemic fades.”

The WISH – the Waste Industry Safety and Health Forum – has run a working group on its Information 13 document (INFO13), which covers working practices during the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr Jones said the group had discussed the current situation and a number of points had emerged.

Lessons

Firstly, there were lessons to be learnt in that more ‘normal’ health and safety incidents arose during the start of the pandemic when the focus was on dealing with the impact of Covid-19. These incidents may have been overlooked, Mr Jones said.

Secondly, he said there was a need “to ensure that we preserve our learning about how to deal with transmissible harmful viruses in pandemic situations”.

He explained: “It is highly likely that those lessons and outcomes will be needed again in future for Sars-COV-XX or whatever new challenge the microbiological world can throw at us. In INFO13 we have tried to do that by leaving sections in the guidance that deal with what was put in place, and why, even after those requirements have been lifted. We have noted that they are no longer needed or no longer need to be applied. However, in the event in X years’ time there is a need to do something similar, we should be able to pick up the final version of INFO13 – probably v12 – that we are creating, and that has everything we have learned in it, and use that as a starting point.”

Sense of relief

Jacob Hayler, executive director of ESA

For the waste management sector, Jacob Hayler, executive director of the ESA, said there is a “sense of relief” as the country moves out of some of the restrictions.

“The sector has done incredibly well to continue the bulk of its operations throughout the pandemic – but of course there have been significant challenges, most recently relating to the previously rising absence rates associated with omicron variant. So, it is no surprise that falling infection rates and the impending removal of the majority of covid restrictions have been met with a sense of relief by the sector,” said Mr Hayler.

He added: “The expected removal of self-isolation requirements in March will be another big step towards returning to normality, but in the meantime our members are of course continuing to ensure that the correct Covid protocols are in place.”

Communication

John Coates, interim chief executive of LARAC, spoke of the importance of communication

Giving a local authority perspective, John Coates, interim chief executive of LARAC, said that going forward he hoped the focus would be on communication and support.

“We would advise our members to keep talking with each other and continue networking and using our discussion forum to get answers to any issues they are facing or best practice they are seeking,” said Mr Coates.

He continued: “During the pandemic, access to information and help was a key benefit to councils facing challenges on a daily basis. By sharing knowledge and experiences and being open to providing mutual support, membership networks like LARAC provided reassurance and a helpline for our members. That support is still there as we move towards recovery and return to normality.”


Guidance

The latest GOV.UK guidance has information on coronavirus and also on measures that remain.

There is separate advice for Scotland and Wales.

HSE says that its latest advice on keeping workplaces safe will help with safe working during the pandemic.

The WISH Forum published its most recent guidance INFO13 in August 2021

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