On the afternoon of May 8 2020 the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, revealed the decisions of the National Cabinet. This is a national plan developed with the agreement of State Premiers and Chief Ministers who will be largely responsible for how this plan is implemented in their local jurisdictions. Many of the occupational health and safety (OHS) challenges have been anticipated by business owners as discussed in this morning’s blog article but it is worth looking at the infographics of the plan revealed by Morrison and Murphy but also the transcript of the press conference as that provides an important context to what the government expects to happen.
The government released two infographics, one was four pages of the broad plan, the other is that plan split into industry sectors.
Workplace health and safety risks related to COVID19 emerge in Australia and the United Kingdom.
Trade Union Suggestions
On May 5 2020, the Australian Council of Trade Unions released a statement on occupational health and safety (OHS) calling for certain Industrial Relations and OHS changes, including:
- Paid pandemic leave
- New regulations on safety and health standards, and
- Compulsory notifications to Health Departments and OHS Regulators.
SafetyAtWorkBlog has been led to believe that the paid pandemic leave is intended to apply from the time a worker is tested for COVID19 through their isolation while waiting for the test results and the operation of sick leave should the test results be positive.
As parts of the world begin to emerge from the disruption and lockdowns of COVID19 some academics and experts are advising that the future must be built on the past but should not seek to replicate it. Over a dozen prominent, global academics (listed below) have written a discussion paper to be published in the Economic & Labour Relations Review (ELRR) in June 2020 entitled “The COVID-19 pandemic: lessons on building more equal and sustainable societies” which includes discussion on workplace relations and factors affecting mental health at work. These big picture discussions are essential in the development of strategies and policies for the post-COVD19 world and occupational health and safety (OHS) has a legitimate, and some would say unique, voice.
The COVID19, business disruption surveys keep coming. This time from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI). On 25 April 2020 released its Business Conditions Survey Report 2020. which was
“… undertaken between 30 March and 17 April, and involved 1,497 businesses across all states and territories.
This overlaps the April 9 survey by the Australian Council of Trade Unions which had a similar sample size and data limitations.
The current COVID19 pandemic has presented businesses with a confusing risk challenge. Is the risk of infection a public health issue or an occupational health and safety (OHS) issue? The easy answer only adds to the confusion – it is neither and both.
In relation to epidemics and pandemics these are public health risks within which the OHS risks must be managed. In Australia, many of the OHS regulations and agencies were slow to provide the level of detailed guidance that employers were requesting and this was partly due to the regulators and agencies having to scramble together working groups and experts to rapidly produce such guidance. The situation in the United States offers a useful and reassuring comparison to how the Australian governments have responded but also offers OHS lessons for Australian employers.