We should give a fat RAT’s clacker about COVID-19 testing

Australia’s strategy for combatting the COVID-19 pandemic is almost entirely based on vaccinations. The supplementary control measures of increased ventilation, social distancing, mask-wearing and hygiene are still vitally important but have dropped off the radar a little in the rush to maximise the number of vaccinated citizens and workers. One of the measures not currently listed on the Safe Work Australia COVID-19 website (at the time of writing) is rapid antigen testing (RAT), even though this screening method is integral to reopening businesses in the United States.

RAT has started to appear in Australia. It is a valuable tool, but it is not a replacement for the medical PCR test, and there are administrative considerations that affect the occupational health and safety (OHS) management of COVID-19.

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It’s not the laws, it’s the implementation

A major criticism of the Australian government about its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has provided mixed messages about what to do and when. Those messages are sometimes amended by State Governments, and the messages from both these sources could change in a matter of days. This creates an enormous challenge for businesses and their occupational health and safety (OHS) personnel, if they have any.

This is a major factor in the campaign by business and industry groups and trade unions for the government to issue Public Health Orders (PHO). PHOs take the risk assessments out of the hands of the employers by establishing specific criteria that are legally binding. This is convenient in the short term, but PHOs are regularly updated to address the changing COVID-19 situation, so the stability of messaging that PHOs hopefully remove could end up with similar administrative results for employers and business operators. This veneer of security was discussed recently by lawyer Michael Tooma.

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2000 Interview with Paul Kells

Recently Paul Kells passed away. Paul had a major influence on workplace health and safety awareness and promotion around the world. He was the founder of the Safe Communities Foundation in Canada. I was able to interview Paul prior to his attendance at a Symposium on the “Global Perspectives on Effective Workplace Safety Strategies” in Melbourne, Australia on the 15th and 16th of March 2000.

The full interview from the SafetyAtWork magazine is reproduced below and on open access. I think this interview and the Youtube video insert below gives a good indication of Paul’s passion and pain and our loss. (Paul’s memorial service will be on October 8)

SAW: How did the Safe Communities Foundation start and where is it at?

PAUL: My son was 19 years old and he was killed in an accident in a small warehouse in a suburb of Toronto. In this little shop, it was a small business with only 4 or 5 people there. He got the job through a friend whose father ran the business. It was the second or third day on the job and he was asked to go back and decant some fluid from a large drum to some small vessels.

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No psych regulation in Victoria until mid-2022

The Victorian Government has pledged to introduce regulations to address psychological risks in workplaces. According to a second consultation paper on psychological health regulations, seen by SafetyAtWorkBlog, the consultation process continues but has been extended, so the new regulations are unlikely before the middle of 2020. This extension would seem a little unnecessary given the work on this hazard already from Safe Work Australia and SafeWorkNSW.

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Guidance can help but change needs a challenge

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) has released a guide for employers on managing sexual harassment in workplaces. It contains a lot of helpful information, but it also illustrates the self-imposed limits that business has on preventing workplace psychological hazards. To a lesser extent, it is downplaying the preventative role of occupational health and safety (OHS).

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OHS is a key process for control of COVID

It is always important to note when those outside the traditional occupational health and safety (OHS) networks speak in favour of OHS and its critical role in business decisions.

On September 20 2021, ABC’s Mary Gearin spoke with Emeritus Professor Malcolm Sim of Monash University about the likelihood of mandatory vaccinations on the ABC Drive program. Sim said:

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Mandatory vaccinations without making vaccinations mandatory

In a little over a month, the Australian conversation about mandatory vaccinations at work has changed dramatically. In early August, food processing company SPC was treated suspiciously over its requirements for its workers, customers, and contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Recently, the New South Wales Premier, Glady Berejiklian, required vaccinations for workers to move outside of certain residential locations. And today, the Victorian Health Minister, Martin Foley, has all but made vaccinations mandatory for the construction industry.

As Berejiklian has shown, you don’t need to impose mandatory vaccinations to make vaccinations mandatory.

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