COVID-19 Useful Information -> Employer Responsibilities
In this Section:
^ Occupational Health and Safety
It is the responsibility of employers to ensure that their employees are working in a safe environment as far as is reasonably practical. Under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, employers are required to take “reasonable steps” to ensure that the workplace they provide is safe and without risks to employees and others. This notion extends to the risks posed by COVID-19.
If an employee is directed not to work due to workplace health and safety issues, and they are able and willing to work, that employee is generally entitled to be paid for the duration of the non-work period.
All employers should have appropriate policies and procedures in place to minimise infection risk and they must, when making decisions about control measures, consult with employees who are, or are likely to be, affected. Workplace measures employers can do help minimise the risk to employees include:
- Displaying signage reminding people to wash their hands regularly (especially before and after eating, and after going to the toilet) and thoroughly and practice cough etiquette.
- Ensuring there are alcohol-based hand sanitiser dispensers in meeting rooms and high pedestrian traffic areas such as reception areas.
- Reminding employees that they should not present at work if they are unwell, and they should sneeze or cough into their elbows and not their hands.
- Employees who share equipment such as phones or laptops should wipe down this equipment with a sanitising wipe after use.
- If unwell, employees should avoid contact with others and stay 1.5 meters away from other people. Employees who are unwell should also not come to work.
- Ensuring that once used, personal protective equipment is disposed of appropriately; unless it is marked as reusable and that it is reprocessed according to the manufacturer’s instruction.
^ PPE (personal protective equipment)
Healthcare workers being exposed to potential COVID-19 carriers must be told of the infection risk and must be provided with PPE and it must be worn properly.
It is understood that supplies of PPE is currently in short supply, hence healthcare providers are being asked to conserve PPE. As such, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is issuing advice in accordance to the same advice issued by the World Health Organisation, which states that PPE should only be worn by healthcare workers who, during their work, are within 1.5 metres of a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19. However, VAHPA is of the opinion that these guidelines fall short of identifying the at-risk groups of Allied Health Professionals who are being placed in dangerous situations because their employer is rigidly adhering to these government guidelines. It is the responsibility of employers to ensure that all healthcare workers are provided with adequate PPE.
As such, Allied Health Professionals who have to work within 1.5 meters of a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patient (i.e. when diagnosing) who aren’t provided PPE should not be dealing with that patient. More information on VAHPA’s position in relation to the DHHS PPE Guidelines can be read here.
^ Government direction
Since March 2020, there has been a shut down by the State Government of all non-essential services as well as non-essential travel. Schools and other educational institutions are also closed, with all learning – as far as practicable – being conducted online.
There has been talk within the last couple of weeks by both state and federal governments of reducing restrictions due to active case numbers significantly reducing. To this end, on the week of 4 May 2020, the Victorian State Government conducted a testing blitz – with the aim of having 100,000 COVID-19 tests conducted within a week – to inform it on whether or not restrictions should be loosened from 11 May. Loosened restrictions are likely to include re-opening of places like restaurants and cafes; while social distancing measures as well as measures to limit public gatherings, and especially interstate and international travel, will likely remain in place for a longer period of time.
From 13 May 2020, in addition to a renewed State of Emergency until 31 May 2020; visiting friends and family, with gatherings of up to 10 people, is now permitted outdoors (and 5 in the home) as one of the five reasons to leave the home, alongside:
- Shopping for food and other necessary goods and services
- Accessing medical services or to provide caregiving – for example, shared parenting obligations or providing care and support to an unwell, disabled, elderly or pregnant friend or relative
- Attending work or education where you can’t do those things from home.
**More outdoor and recreational activities are also now permitted, subject to physical distancing, including “walking groups, fishing, hiking – and yes, even a game of golf”.
The State Government, however, is still stressing the use of common sense. “You should only be undertaking these activities if you really need to. If it’s integral to your health and wellbeing”.
- March 2020 “Sequence for donning personal protective equipment“, Halyard Health
- 7 March 2020 “General considerations for conserving personal protective equipment (PPE)“, Queensland Health
- 19 March 2020 “Advice on the use of masks in the community, during home care, and in health care settings in the context of COVID-19“, World Health Organisation
- 5 March 2020 “Interim recommendations for the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) during hospital care of people with Coronavirus disease(COVID-19)“, Australian Department of Health
COVID-19 Useful Information -> Employer Responsibilities