Health care standards failing to protect frontline health care workers

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Media Release

Australia’s peak workplace health and safety body is calling for immediate government action to stop the spread of COVID-19 among healthcare workers.

An examination of current health and safety standards in healthcare by the Australian Institute of Health & Safety (AIHS) has found they are inadequate for the current crisis.

This comes as over 1200 Victorian healthcare workers have now tested positive to coronavirus.

AIHS Chairwoman Naomi Kemp, says the failure to provide adequate workplace health and safety standards in hospitals and aged care centres has contributed to the state’s devastating second wave.

“The current infection rate is unacceptable.

“But more tragically, it is preventable,” says Ms Kemp.

Ms Kemp adds that current health and safety practice rebuked the assumption that hospitals were some of Australia’s safest workplaces.

“Workers on many building sites currently have better protection than our healthcare workers when it comes to personal protective equipment, protocols around common work and recreation areas and transmission management,” she says.

“Despite months of preparation, hospitals and aged care centres don’t have the health and safety practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 amongst their frontline workers.

“The rate of infection of frontline workers is putting additional pressure on the sector to be able to deliver services.”

Australia’s National Guidance on personal protective equipment use in hospitals does not require staff to wear P2/N95’s masks in all activities with confirmed or potential COVID-19 patients, even though it is an airborne virus.

Surgical masks are not designed to protect the wearer.

Ms Kemp says that urgently needed to change.

“We’re not saying that individual hospitals and aged care centres aren’t trying, but many are only implementing the minimum health and safety standards, and those requirements are dangerously inadequate for frontline workers,” she says.

The AIHS is calling on the federal and state governments to implement the following:

  • Immediately upgrade federal and state infection control guidelines and standards.
  • Hospitals and aged care centres to upgrade their health and safety management plans and practices to the appropriate standard.
  • Immediate increased surveillance and enforcement by government workplace health and safety regulatory authorities in hospitals and aged care centres.
  • Mandate the use of approved P2/N95 masks for all tasks healthcare workers perform dealing with patients suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19.
  • Provide training and fit-testing in the use of masks provided to staff.

Ms Kemp says, unless these five areas are addressed as a matter of urgency, infection rates in hospitals and aged care centres will continue to escalate.

“The Victorian experience will simply be repeated in other states unless we act urgently to introduce better protocols across Australia,” she says.

“No worker should have to go to work and contract COVID-19.”

Text by: Australian Institute of Health & Safety (AIHS)