Established safety practices should still be investigated

Every profession has safety practices that have existed for years and are integral to that profession’s character and operations. These have usually occurred because of correlation more than a cause, and occupational health and safety (OHS), in particular, advocates evidence-based decisions.

One longstanding example could be the mandatory wearing of lace-up ankle-high safety boots for working in the construction of railway infrastructure. Another could be the current debate over the effectiveness of face masks for protection from dust particles and airborne infections.

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Business continuity planning by another name

Occupational health and safety (OHS) gets a mention in a full-page advertorial in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) (February 3 2021, page 33) revolving around the legal and business services of Clyde & Co. The advertorial contains a good example of the contemporary business jargon such as “organisational resilience” – a concept that has come to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Organisational resilience” has several definitions but here is one used by the British Standards Institution:

“….the ability of an organization to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper.”

This has very strong similarities to the much longer-established concepts of “business continuity” or sustainability within which OHS has dabbled for decades.

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“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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