COVID19 and OHS gets political

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.

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What is needed to get us out of this crisis

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.


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Great loss, but no vision and limited interest

This year’s International Workers Memorial Day/World Day for Safety and Health at Work is over. Many of the memorial events were conducted online and many gave healthcare workers prominence, especially in the United Kingdom. SafetyAtWorkBlog watched the online service conducted by the Victorian Trades Hall.

Many worker memorials are little more than a reiteration of the importance of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. If the ceremonies are conducted by trade unions, as most are, they are usually advocating for the role of Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs). This year’s Victorian ceremony was typical. However, there were some curiosities and such ceremonies can, and should, be more than just a commemoration.

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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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What of International Workers Memorial Day in 2020?

ILO’s World Day on Safety and Health at Work occurs each year on April 28. Events are centred around monuments and places in capital cities and towns, speeches about the importance of occupational health and safety (OHS) are made and symbolic gestures are given.

The World Day is intended to be an acknowledgement of the importance of OHS for all workers and people of all political stances. The aim is to focus on workplace deaths, and the practical actions to prevent those deaths, not the politics of those deaths, but far more prominence is given to the trade union movement’s International Workers Memorial Day held on the same day.

So how will these memorial days work in this year of COVID19?

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