COVID vaccination concerns exist in workplaces too

Recently NSCA Foundation conducted an online seminar on mandatory vaccinations. As happens with many online seminars, this one became more of a lecture because there was insufficient time allocated to answer the questions from the audience. The online seminar was in three sections – Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), Industrial Relations (IR) and Privacy. The information from Sparke Helmore lawyers was fine and current, but the questions from the audience provide an interesting insight on some of the main COVID vaccine challenges facing employers.

The seminar started with a useful poll. Below are the questions and results:

Login or subscribe to SafetyAtWorkBlog to continue reading.

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.

Login or subscribe to SafetyAtWorkBlog to continue reading.

Ventilation is an obvious COVID-19 control but could be a bugger to use

Vaccines are currently the most effective tool available to minimise the spread of COVID-19 to large populations. Fortunately, effective vaccines have been able to be manufactured at such a rapid pace. But previous pandemics have not had vaccines and have had to rely, primarily, on hygiene and isolation. Part of the hygiene practice was to ensure that buildings were well-ventilated. Ventilation actions on COVID-19 were part of Europe’s response to the pandemic in 2020, but Australia has only just started to accept the need for improved ventilation as it was very late to the risks of aerosol transmission.

As vaccinated workers return to workplaces in many of Australia’s urban centres, employers will need to assess their occupational health and safety (OHS) duties in new ways, and ventilation will be a significant challenge.

Login or subscribe to SafetyAtWorkBlog to continue reading.

Can the sex industry be the same as any other industry?

The Australian State of Victoria has committed to the decriminalisation of sex work. It made this decision some time ago, conducted an inquiry into how this could be achieved and is now in a further consultative process on what laws and practices need to change. The aim is honourable – to reduce the stigma of a legitimate industry. However, there is one statement repeated in media releases and discussion papers that encapsulates the challenge:

“Decriminalisation recognises that sex work is legitimate work and should be regulated through standard business laws, like all other industries in the state.”

That challenge is can, and should, Victoria’s sex industry be treated like “all other industries”?

Login or subscribe to SafetyAtWorkBlog to continue reading.

Can Australian employers make you get a COVID-19 vaccine? Mostly not — but here’s when they can

[Editor: this article has been reproduced from The Conversation’s website under the Creative Commons licence.]

Joo-Cheong Tham, The University of Melbourne

Australia’s official policy on vaccines is that they be voluntary and free. But the federal government hasn’t shut the door completely on employers pursuing mandatory policies of their own.

Last week the federal government reiterated it won’t use its powers to give employers a free hand to mandate vaccines. Yet Prime Minister Scott Morrison also said:

Decisions to require COVID-19 vaccinations for employees will be a matter for individual business, taking into account their particular circumstances and their obligations under safety, anti-discrimination and privacy laws.

So far just two Australian companies — regional air carrier Alliance Airlines and canning company SPC — have declared they will make a COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for their workers.

The reason so few have declared such intentions is because the law isn’t on the employer’s side. There are only limited circumstances where workplace vaccine mandates are likely to be found lawful.

Continue reading “Can Australian employers make you get a COVID-19 vaccine? Mostly not — but here’s when they can”

Business is getting some clarity on COVID-19 vaccines and a reminder to act

On August 12 2021, the Chair of Safe Work Australia, Diane Smith-Gander entered the fray over making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory in an article in The Age. Later that day, in the absence of any clear guidance on the issue from the Federal Government, The Age reported that the Fair Work Ombudsman will be providing guidance on 4 tiers of workplaces relevant to assessing COVID-19 exposure risks.

The combinations of advice from these sources, greatly clarify what businesses can do to improve the safety of their workers and customers. The reticence to take reasonable occupational health and safety (OHS) steps by business groups will remain but the clarity they have been requesting will soon be available.

Login or subscribe to SafetyAtWorkBlog to continue reading.

To boldly go where no Australian company has gone before

The response to SPC’s decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for its workers, contractors and visitors illustrates a common misunderstanding of occupational health and safety (OHS) management, poor OHS literacy and some industrial and media rent-seeking.

On ABC Radio’s PM program in early August 2021, the main objection of Andrew Dettmer of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union was insufficient consultation prior to SPC’s decision. (Really?! What about the validity of the company’s OHS decision?) Dettmer said:

Continue reading “To boldly go where no Australian company has gone before”