VAHPA statement on PPE guidelines and shortages

One of the most contentious issues amidst the COVID-19 pandemic for Allied Health Professionals has been the lack of protective personal equipment (PPE) and what PPE is most appropriate for the role they perform.

Given the diversity of disciplines covered by Allied Health and even differences within those disciplines and the vast variances in presentations and workplace environments, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to PPE guidance. As a result, VAHPA feels the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Guidance Notes fall short of identifying the at-risk groups of AHPs who are being placed in dangerous situations because their employer is rigidly adhering to these government guidelines.

Every discipline and workplace interact with patients in a different way and VAHPA’s advice to members is that they must not put themselves, their patients, their colleagues, or their families in danger by working in any way that they consider unsafe.

The DHHS issues Guidance Notes that form the basis of the guidelines that health employers apply in the workplace. VAHPA does not believe that the PPE guidelines in the Guidance Notes are sufficiently detailed to ensure the safety of all AHPs. Therefore, VAHPA is advocating that all Allied Heath work areas undergo a risk assessment performed by the local Health and Safety Representative (HSR). HSRs are trained under the WorkSafe Victoria guidelines and operate under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. A discipline specific HSR will better understand the intricacies and inherent exposure risks of that particular workforce. These risk assessments should identify if PPE is required to reduce the risk of infection and, if required, what that PPE should be employed. Every workplace must have appropriate health and safety risk assessments for all areas of work where potential exposure to patients exists.  

Beyond the formal HSR assessment, VAHPA contends that all AHPs need to carry out their own risk assessment on every patient, they are facing. They just need to ask this simple question: can I image or treat or manage this patient without approaching within 1.5m of them or touching them? If the answer is no then you need PPE. If you are not provided with appropriate PPE then you should not be treating, managing or imaging that patient.

If formal risk assessments have not been carried out, or they do not take into consideration the developing COVID-19 situation, then you should raise this with your HSR and then with your manager immediately. Contact VAHPA if further assistance is required. If an employer fails to carry out a risk assessment, or refuses to do so, they are acting illegally. Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, states that Employers are legally responsible for ensuring that they do not expose (or allow employees to be exposed) to an unreasonable risk to their health and safety. This means that 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 the COVID-19 virus and the use of PPE.

The employer has a duty of care to staff under the OHS Act 2004, which cannot be ignored or reduced. This applies to health care professionals and the whole framework of health and safety management in the workplace, and its importance can not be over-emphasised. If the employer is not able to reduce the risk to the lowest level that is reasonably possible by providing PPE, then there is no requirement for the staff to undertake that work. No PPE, you can’t do your job.

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