Omicron and Reopening of Schools and Colleges in January 2022
As a result of the surge in cases of the coronavirus linked to the new Omicron variant, school and college employers are required to take steps to demonstrate that they have in place appropriate measures to safeguard the health and safety of staff and pupils.
All school and college employers have been reminded of the need to update risk assessments in consultation with staff and trade unions. Employers must take all reasonably practicable steps to demonstrate that they have in place appropriate measures to safeguard the health and safety of staff and pupils.
The NASUWT maintains that it is a matter of priority to ensure that members can continue to work safely. The national Union is continuing to make strong representations to governments and employers for further measures to be implemented to protect the safety of staff when schools reopen in the new year.
Ready for the start of the spring term, all school and college employers should be able to confirm to staff:
the preventative measures in place to limit the transmission of the new Omicron variant;
that revised and updated risk assessments are in place and that these have been the subject of consultation with staff and the NASUWT. (NB. Risk assessments prepared for use during the autumn term are not sufficient for the purpose of meeting the employer’s statutory duties and legal obligations in regard to health and safety at work.);
that updated individual risk assessments will be provided for staff/pupils with vulnerable clinical conditions;
that staff who can work from home will be able to do so. Where any aspect of a teacher’s work can be undertaken off-site, e.g. attendance at meetings, there should be no expectation for teachers to remain on-site;
the additional measures in place to encourage the effective use of lateral flow device (LFD) tests on reopening;
the arrangements for the effective implementation of mass on-site testing of pupils, where applicable;
that all measures are in place to ensure full compliance with the relevant Government guidance, including full compliance with rules on self-isolation.
Advice to members
Protect yourself and others
Members should continue to follow the NASUWT advice available on the Coronavirus Hub.
The public are strongly advised to continue to take a rapid LFD test at least twice a week and especially if they will be in a higher risk situation such as a crowded and enclosed space.
You should record and report the result of your rapid LFD test every time you take a test and irrespective of the test result. Information on how to report a Covid-19 rapid lateral flow test result can be found on the UK Government website.
In the event that an individual has symptoms of Covid-19, has tested positive for coronavirus, they must self-isolate immediately and follow Government advice. Anyone identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 must also follow the relevant Government advice.
The public are also strongly urged to receive the coronavirus vaccine (first and second doses) and booster vaccine if they are eligible to do so.
If you have concerns about your health and safety at work
Members may be concerned about how to act if there is a risk to their health or safety as a result of a failure by their employer to adequately control the risk of Covid-19 in light of the surge in transmission linked to the Omicron variant.
The following actions should be taken by members where they have concerns:
Seek confirmation from the school/college about the nature of Covid-19 mitigations and control measures that have been put into place in their workplace (see above).
Where members return to work and the employer is unable to demonstrate that it has taken action to put in place appropriate measures, including those listed above, they are strongly advised to contact the Union immediately for further advice.
Members should advise their line manager immediately if they believe their safety may be at serious and imminent risk. In these circumstances, members may consider withdrawing to a place of safety within the school/college. Urgent clarification should be sought from the school/college to confirm that appropriate safety measures are in place.
Where members have safety concerns, they should inform their employer as to the nature of these concerns and what steps they intend to take as a result. Your employer should be given the opportunity to rectify the situation.
Non-attendance in the workplace
An employee is protected against detriment when, ‘in circumstances of danger which [they] reasonably believed to be serious and imminent’, they left, proposed to leave, or refused to return to their workplace. An employee is also protected when, in the same circumstances, they take appropriate steps to protect themselves or other persons from the danger.
If a member reasonably believes they are at risk of serious and imminent danger by reason of their employer’s failure to implement appropriate risk prevention and mitigation measures, they should follow the steps set out above.
It is extremely important that members ask their line manager/employer to set out the arrangements in place to ensure their health and safety at work. See the model letter on the right/below.
Where an employer has put in place appropriate mitigation measures, the employer may reasonably direct an employee to attend work.
Failure to comply with a reasonable management instruction could constitute a breach of contract by an employee and could result in an employer taking disciplinary action against the member of staff, including a deduction of pay or dismissal from employment.