Opinion: Business as usual with Covid-19

By: Denise Zumpe


Getting operations back underway needs detailed preparation

Opinion: Business as usual with Covid-19
Denise Zumpe

 

As we now emerge from pandemic lockdown, the ongoing risks of virus transmission must be addressed and managed.

For businesses that are re-opening and those that worked through, Covid-19 must be recognised as a workplace health and safety (WH&S) issue and managed in accordance with WH&S legislation, just like any other workplace hazard.

This is now ‘safety 101’. Just as we look at a forklift and know it has the potential to seriously injure or kill, so does this hazard we can’t see – Covid-19.

And the challenge in significant.

Take manual container unpacks – two people in a restrictive space for two hours. It’s very hard to social distance and a big impact on productivity to do it any other than the standard way it’s been done for years.

To date, the emphasis on minimising the risk of transmission has centred on working from home and individual behaviour change to maintain physical distance, handwashing and hygiene and signage.

These are all at the lower end of effectiveness for risk-control measures.

Working from home isn’t an option for frontline transport and logistics workers, so what should businesses be doing to manage this workplace risk?

THE IMMEDIATE IMPACT

Let’s consider the implications of a worker contracting the virus and being at work. The Department of Health must be notified and all staff must be advised.

Using a risk matrix ‘likelihood’ scale, the risk of other staff being exposed, if not infected, would be highly likely, if not almost certain. We know there is a broad spectrum of consequence if contracted by a high-risk individual and this could already be occurring.

The area of the workplace where the infected person/ persons have been needs to be defined and affected people notified, the area needs to be isolated and an environmental clean done, as per government guidelines.

Staff need to go into quarantine.

The financial and psychological impact of coronavirus transmission could be enormous, including complete shut-down of the business until the environmental clean has been completed and how do operations continue with your staff in 14-day quarantine?

Workers who contract the virus at work are entitled to lodge a worker’s compensation claim.

This is already happening with workers compensation claims for Covid-19 having been lodged in all Australian jurisdictions for suspected workplace transmission.

SAFE WORKPLACE PRINCIPLES

Through Safe Work Australia, the National Cabinet has developed 10 National Covid-19 Safe Workplace Principles.

These 10 principles clearly layout the requirements of all businesses at this time. There are also protocols around reporting and communicating if transmission is detected.

BUSINESS CHECKLIST

1. Identify transmission hot spots

The highest risk of transmission has been identifiedthrough face-to-face contact of 15 minutes or longer and contact with infected surfaces, so identifying work practices where this may occur is a good place to start.

As we have seen in supermarkets where shields have been installed to change contact between customers and staff, businesses need to reduce the likelihood of transmission and be able to evidence how this has been done.


Denise Zumpe argues for rigour and accuracy on Chain of Responsibility, here


In addition to the six business-as-usual risk control measures, other risk controls will need to be considered.

2. Don’t just rely on your workers to do the right thing with social distancing and hygiene

Cleaning is an important defence against the spread.

Visibility and validation of cleaning protocols, traceability of where and when cleaning occurs provide assurances this is being done and quality is maintained.

Temperature checking is widely used in some countries (China and South Korea). And thermal cameras with this capability are readily available in Australia. Expect to see more of this, not just in workplaces, but anywhere large numbers of people gather – e.g., shopping centres and sporting venues.

This would seem to be a viable method of preventing anyone potentially infected with the virus having an elevated temperature from entering the workplace.

Whilst there are protocols that need to be followed and this is certainly not foolproof, it does present one way of reducing exposure at work with far more reliability than having employees and visitors complete a self-declaration.

There is extensive guidance material published by Safe Work Australia and all state safety regulators. It’s time to put this into action, to benefit your business, workers and the community as a whole.

Denise Zumpe is a qualified and experienced consultant with practical industry knowledge in work health and safety and heavy vehicle safety and compliance, SafeSense Workplace Safety in 2010

 

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