COVID-19 presents a unique challenge for Tasmanian Business from multiple perspectives. So far, Tasmania has “dodged a bullet”, unlike NSW and Victoria, but faces the prospect of community transmission should a significant quarantine breach occur, particularly in the period until vaccination targets are achieved.
Community transmission, particularly the Delta strain, has the potential to adversely limit business operations, impact consumer/customer access to business premises and poses risks to employees themselves from the disease should exposure to infected co-workers or customers occur. The improving availability of COVID-19 vaccines presents an opportunity to mitigate risks, while presenting logistical and industrial relations challenges in relation to mandated vaccination. Managing COVID risk is more than just “Check-in” requirements and a requirement to use hand sanitiser on entry.
Employers have important obligations under Workplace Health & Safety (WHS) legislation to protect workers from risk of disease, in addition to their obligations to follow directives and advice issued by relevant Health Authorities. COVID-19 can be a serious disease. There is emerging evidence about long-term health effects of infection, known as long-COVID. Following Public Health orders applicable to your workplace is only one aspect of keeping your workforce safe.
Proportionate and effective COVID-19 response by business to local community transmission requires an understanding of:
- Infectious disease, modes of transmission and immunisation principles;
- The application of WHS prevention principles in a variety of work environments, particularly an understanding of workplace transmission risk;
- The development of policies regarding screening of workers and customers, vaccination policies and fitness for work assessment;
- The management of workers at increased risk of COVID-19 from underlying health conditions; and
- The management of COVID-19 affected employees, including return to work and workers compensation issues.
WorkSafe Tasmania (WST) has developed a COVID-19 Safe Workplaces Framework which includes industry specific COVID-19 Safe Workplace Guidelines with links to various information resources, both locally in Tasmania and nationally (SafeWork Australia).While Public Health within the Tasmanian Department of Health has the prime responsibility for COVID-19 response at a community level, they might not have the resources to respond to industry-specific issues, particularly if widespread community transmission occurs.
In addition to following Public Health advice and Industry-specific advice provided by WST, an employer can adopt a risk management approach to suit their specific circumstances that encompasses the following principles:
- Making the workplace safe by considering transmission risk and adopting appropriate controls, including:
- Assessing potential transmission routes and ventilation adequacy
- Appropriate physical distancing measures, disinfection & other measures to reduce transmission in the workplace;
- Organisational changes e.g. separated work groups i.e. “bubbles”, safe transport arrangements, work from home policies etc;
- Adoption of suitable PPE for potentially exposed workers;
- Education and training for workers in risk controls
- Strategies to improve uptake of vaccination by employees
- Screening of potentially infected workers and customers, identification and management of workers at higher risk of disease
- Outbreak management
Hobart Occupational Medicine’s doctors can provide evidence-based advice to employers about the risks posed in the workplace by COVID-19 and relevant risk management strategies taking into account physical disease risk, workplace factors and associated psychological factors. We will prioritise provision of advice to employers on relevant risk management strategies.
13 October 2021