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Working with the Omicron COVID variant in Q1: 2022

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 was only declared a variant of concern by the WHO on 26 November 2021. A lot has happened in a short time, and Commonwealth and state health departments are closely monitoring the spread of this variant.

This is what we know about Omicron as of February 2022.

  • Omicron spreads faster than the original virus and the Delta variant.

  • Omicron can re-infect those who have had previous strains of COVID-19.

  • A booster shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine is expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalisations and death due to infection with the Omicron variant. Booster vaccinations (third dose) are now available throughout Australia.

What you need to do

Update the risk assessment for each working environment considering the highly contagious nature of omicron. Action the reviewed risk controls and share the updates.

Face masks and other PPE:

  • Wearing a face mask when working is required (mandated in some states, highly recommended in others), and the type of mask is dependent on the risk associated with the working location.

  • Consider upgrading to a more stringent mask quality to prevent likelihood of omicron contagion. Options include a 3 layer surface mask of synthetic non-woven materials or a disposable filtering face mask N95 for high risk areas.

  • Consider the need for a face screen additional to a face mask in high risk or high public populated areas.

  • Provide an unlimited supply of disposable hand protections (gloves) and a receptacle for disposal of gloves and masks once utilised.

  • Provide unlimited supply of sanitising hand cleaning products at easy reach of staff and others.

  • If working in a health care environment, also refer to the organisation PPE requirements and consult with state health authorities.

Working environment

  • Establish and maintain close communications with staff, other close stakeholders and building operators to keep informed of omicron infection within the building or location – this may change work schedules to cope with the level of infection risk present.

  • Keep staff informed of the changing omicron face of their workplace.

  • Physically distancing 1.5 metres from others affords an additional level of protection and should continue to be practiced.

  • Avoid poorly ventilated or crowded areas.

  • Sterilise equipment after use and before others use the same equipment.

Cleaning and sanitising the workplace

  • Review cleaning frequencies and focus on touch points such as handrails, door handles/closures, lift buttons, or touch sensors and screens, shared desk, etc.

Worker safety

  • Employers have an obligation to protect their staff so far as is reasonably practicable.

  • Employees have an obligation to protect themselves and others (workers and the public) so far as is reasonably practicable.

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