“Soldier On” should be “F### Off”

Many workers continue to work when sick. This is called presenteeism and in a time of infection pandemic, is a major problem. Many countries have addressed the COVID19 risks of presenteeism by requiring people to work from home if they can. In Australia, the message is not totally working with people ignoring the rules for various reasons.

However, presenteeism also has a deeper cultural and institutional origin that has been exploited by some and downplayed or ignored by others.

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Deaths of Health Care workers from COVID19

A doctor in a protective suit taking a nasal swab from a person to test for possible coronavirus infection

The theme for most commemorations on April 28 is the COVID19 pandemic. This is understandable as the pandemic has disrupted lives and economies globally and many people have died. Perhaps the most tragic of these deaths are those of medical and healthcare staff who have contracted the infection through their work. The largest public outrage over this situation has been in the United Kingdom, but a similar situation could easily have occurred in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere if those governments had not acted as quickly as they did or were less better prepared.

Some research has already commenced on healthcare worker infection deaths showing important initial clues on how governments, hospitals and medical employers can do better.

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Safe Work Australia’s COVID19 guidance

In mid-March, pandemic advice from occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators was assessed with the generic guidance from WorkSafe Victoria being praised. Many changes to workplaces have occurred since then and Safe Work Australia (SWA) has caught up with the demand for industry-specific guidance on managing work in this pandemic. SWA’s advice is very good and is discussed below.

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Australian OHS guidances for COVID19

Every occupational health and safety (OHS) man and their dog is providing advice about how to manage the COVID19 pandemic.  The only advice this blog has offered is to target your sources of information about managing the risks to your local health department or OHS regulator.  This information is changing all the time in response to new information but there are a couple of OHS guidances that are worth paying close attention to.

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“…the first thing you are going to want to do is organise the earliest survivors… into delivery people”

In 2005 I was able to interview prominent risk communicator, Peter Sandman. It was a time of pandemic threats from Avian Influenza, or “Bird Flu”, and we talked about pandemics, their complications and their management. The virus situation has progressed enormously from 2005 to today’s announcement by the World Health Organisation of a coronavirus pandemic but I provide access to this interview to offer a different and historical perspective on the current outbreak of coronavirus. I also had to include my tips for managing coronavirus in Australian workplaces.

Of most interest and relevance, perhaps, is this statement from Peter Sandman:

“If you really think there is going to be a severe pandemic, the first thing you are going to want to do is organise the earliest survivors, the people who get the flu and don’t die, into delivery people. Then they can deliver food and fuel and everything people need so that everyone else can stay home .”

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Swine flu – A very odd catastrophe

Each weekend the readership of one particular swine flu article increases.

It is almost two months since that article was posted and the mood in Australia is remarkably blasé about swine flu even though over that time Australia has experienced its first swine flu deaths.  It seems that for those not directly affected by a swine flu case, the influenza is a non-issue.

This mood is surprising as the initial reports of Australian exposure, when isolation remained a valid option, were alarming, even allowing soem leeway for media hype.   Perhaps the alarms was more from the authorities’ response – isolation – than from the infection.  Perhaps one’s expectations were increased from a teenage diet of disaster movies and novels such as Day of the Triffids.

The issue currently has no specific workplace relevance so there are no plans for further SafetyAtWorkBlog articles on the issue.  Still it feels a very odd catastrophe.

Kevin Jones

Research review of influenza and noise-induced hearing loss

The Cochrane Library has long been a good source of research information.  Recently, the library undertook reviews of some of the seasonal influenza intervention and have produced a short podcast on the research.

Also, the Library looked at noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).  The importance of this condition is high due to the damage being irreparable.  In some countries, regular occupational hearing tests are a regulatory requirement in some industries and the research review did find some low-level research that supported hazard control through legislation. The review says

“There is contradictory evidence on the effectiveness of hearing protection and hearing loss prevention programmes. Higher quality prevention programmes and better implementation of legislation are needed.”

There was some support for the efficacy of PPE but training in the proper use of earplugs increased the benefits considerably.  Those readers who are in the mining industry may find the NIHL podcast particularly useful.

These reviews are of  rsearch studies and are not research in themselves, but they are useful summaries of a current state of knowledge on particular matters.  Always look to the original data source if you wish to initiate prevention strategies or, better yet, contact you local OHS regulator and apply for a research grant so that you can generate research that meets the OHS needs of your industry.

Kevin Jones