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OHS for Essential Workers

2020-03-28

COVID-19 and the impacts on Workplace Health and Safety for workers in essential services.

 

Article written by Mick Sayers, Principle Lawyer at Slater & Gordon (31/03/2020)

 

In this article we will explore:

  • What you should be doing as employee working in the healthcare industry to protect your health and safety;
  • What your employer should be doing to protect the health and safety of employees;
  • What HSRs can do to ensure health and safety control measures are met by employers;
  • What you should do if you experience physical violence and aggression whilst performing your role; and
  • What to do if you contract COVID-19 in the course of your employment.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this document is provided for your assistance and should not be relied on as legal or medical advice or as a substitute for legal or medical advice.

Since COVID-19 (coronavirus) landed on our shores in January 2020, there have been many resources published on what to do to prevent the virus from spreading.

For most healthcare workers and other essential services, working from home is not likely to be an option. We are in uncertain times, and the threat that the COVID-19 outbreak poses means that government directions are rapidly evolving.

At a time when healthcare workers are on the frontline in terms of potential exposure to COVID-19, employers, in accordance with their obligations under the “ Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (“the OHS Act”), are required to have appropriate plans and actions in place to ensure employees are able to remain at work and stay healthy.  All healthcare workers are playing a vital role in ensuring our healthcare system remains operational and deserve the best protections available.

Apart from the obligations imposed on employers, the OHS Act also requires employees to take reasonable steps to ensure that their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their acts or omission at a workplace.  It is imperative that both employers and employees work in a cooperative manner, especially during this current critical time.  

 

I’m an employee – what should I be doing?

In relation to COVID-19, you should already be adhering to strict health and safety measures including:

  • Limiting physical contact to the fullest extent practicable;
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water, and carrying hand sanitiser for use when needed;
  • Wearing appropriate protective equipment;
  • Coughing or sneezing into the crook of your elbow or into a tissue, which should be disposed of immediately;
  • Not attending work if you become unwell and seeking health care immediately.

 

What your employer needs to do for you as an employee

Your employer is responsible for minimising risk, providing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and ensuring access to all necessary resources in the workplace.

You can keep informed of the current and evolving guidelines via sources such as: www.dhhs.vic.gov.au or www.2.health.vic.gov.au )

 

I am a HSR.

 

What should I ensure my employer is doing?

HSRs will continue to have authorisation to take action on behalf of their designated work group during this crisis. Now, more than ever, your roles are critical to the safety of healthcare workers.  Your colleagues can assist you in performing your role. It is important to use all resources at your disposal to ensure that employers are doing the following things:

  • Providing clear information that is readily available and in appropriate languages;
  • Providing access to the necessary resources to ensure that good hygiene measures are being observed including; access to soap and water, hand sanitiser, tissues and bins for disposal of used tissues, disinfectant for hard surfaces etc;
  • Communicating clear and concise plans for what happens in the event of a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case in the workplace; and
  • Ensuring employees are provided access to the flu vaccine when it becomes available in April 2020.

 

What should I do if my employer is not doing the things listed above?

Under the OHS Act, HSRs have the right to seek further information from employers. This  might include requesting a review of control measures.  HSRs should consider contacting HACSU or WorkSafe if they believe their employer is not providing a safe and healthy workplace.  HSRs should also consider issuing a Provisional Improvement Notice (“PIN”) if an employer has failed to consult or put appropriate measures in place. 

 

What if I experience physical violence or aggression during the course of performing my role?

This is not okay.  Even in a crisis. It is never okay. The physical and psychological impacts can be devasting to workers and can have lasting consequences for workers and their loved ones. 

If you witness or experience any inappropriate behaviour report it to your employer and/or to the police immediately.

An employer has an obligation to investigate reported incidents and implement new control measures to ensure that such incidents are eliminated or, at least, minimised.  Always know that it is okay to speak up and report these types of incidents – if ever you’re in doubt, contact your HSR, Union Delegate, or Union Organiser for further assistance. 

 

What happens if I contract COVID-19 during the course of my employment?

If the circumstances suggest that your workplace was the likely source of infection, you are entitled to lodge a Workers’ Compensation claim. You should obtain a WorkCover Certificate of Capacity from your doctor and complete and lodge a Claim Form as soon as possible.

If any troubles arise with your employer during these uncertain times or you need further information about your right, we recommend that you contact your Organiser or HACSU Assist via 1300 651 931 or assist@hacsu.asn.au . HACSU may be able to assist directly or provide you with a priority referral to Slater and Gordon for further action. 

 

About the Author:  Mick Sayers is a Principal Lawyer of our Industrial and Employment Law team.  Mick’s day to day practice involves assisting individuals with employment law related matters, as well as advising and acting on behalf of unions in industrial  disputes.  Mick has been a member of the Slater and Gordon team for over 23 years. 

 

How can Slater and Gordon Lawyers help me? 

Slater and Gordon has proudly served HACSU and its members for many years, and as a HACSU member, we provide discounted legal services and benefits in the following areas:

  • Workers Compensation
  • Motor Vehicle Accident Claims
  • Asbestos Claims
  • Superannuation and Disability Claims
  • Medical Law
  • Public and Product Liability
  • Estate Litigation
  • Industrial and employment law

Slater and Gordon has expert workers’ compensation lawyers located in each of our 17 offices across Victoria.  We can help you at any stage of your workers’ compensation claim. 

We also offer exclusive services to HACSU member in the following areas:

  • Wills and Estate Planning
  • Family Law
  • Criminal Law 

To access these discounted services*, contact HACSU Assist today on 1300 651 931 who will arrange a priority referral to Slater and Gordon to ensure your access to special benefits and discounts. 

*Conditions apply. See www.slatergordon.com.au for details.

 

Sources:

Department of Health and Human Services

WorkSafe Victoria