Eliminating transmission in the workplace is no longer ‘nice to have’

Despite widely differing opinions on the status of SARS-Cov-2 and reluctance towards public health care, Australian businesses (and the economy) continue to be battered by absenteeism and disruption induced by the COVID.

Sick leave due to fever and cough is already five times higher than last year’s levels, with the latest flu tracking data showing 2.25% of people off work due to illness, compared to a five-year average of 1.5%. Hundreds of thousands of Australians are already estimated to be suffering from Long COVID – costing the country $100 million a week, and if current costs persist, almost $5 billion a year.

Conversely, as restrictions and mandates have been removed, the responsibility for community public health has shifted unceremoniously to the general public and business owners to care for their workers.

According to Fair Work and Safe Work Australia, employers have a duty under the Model Occupational Health and Safety Acts to eliminate or minimize the risk of COVID-19 at work where possible.

Persons running a business or enterprise (PCBU) must protect the health and safety of their workers and eliminate or minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19. They must also assess any other new or changed risks arising from COVID-19, for example, client aggression, high work demand or lone working, as well as cover any sick leave payments that may be due.

PCBUs are required to have appropriate policies and procedures in place to minimize exposure to and transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace and should consider developing a COVID-19 management policy that outlines the how their organization manages risk, including ensuring workers do not come to work if they are unwell, have just had COVID-19, or are in close contact with a person with COVID-19.

Confusion still exists around the recent shortening of the COVID-19 isolation period from seven to five days, but what most people seem to have missed is that the new ruling only applies to people asymptomatic – and it does not apply to people in high-risk workplaces. The exact period during which a person is contagious varies depending on the severity of the infection, the vaccination status and the person’s immune system. People with weakened immune systems can be contagious for weeks or longer.

Businesses may not know how to adequately protect their staff and meet WHS obligations at this time, but there is a simple solution that can be implemented and managed cost-effectively. Employers concerned about the effect of SARS-CoV-2 on their workforce should ask staff to test negative on a rapid antigen test before returning to work.

Establish a “return testing” policy with a highly sensitive rapid antigen test in conjunction with a digital verification, recording and reporting platform that ensures the test was performed according to the manufacturer’s instructions for use and is traceable through a unique QR code, gives management peace of mind that the employee is doing well, eliminating the ingress of COVID-19 into the workplace and protecting the workforce work and the wider community in a collaborative and compliant manner.

Similar to regular COVID-19 testing programs implemented in high-risk environments, a “return to work” program using the bespoke digital app and monitoring platform enables reporting of test results, proactive resource management and occupational health and safety compliance. In addition to ensuring business continuity, the collection of all test result information is managed in accordance with the WADA Privacy Act and Code of Ethics (2016).

Although the WHS mitigation requirements may initially seem ambiguous, the penalty for non-compliance and the potential for workers’ compensation claims are clear. According to a report in Allens Insights, an employer can be held liable for a death or injury related to COVID-19 when it can be established that the employee contracted COVID-19 in the course of their employment. and that his work-related activities were the major contributing factor to COVID-19 infection.

Just months ago, the New South Wales Personal Injury Commission (the Commission) found an employer liable for the death of an employee who contracted COVID-19 while employed and ordered him to pay to the widow a lump sum death benefit of $834,000 and a weekly indemnity for the duration of the hospitalization of the deceased.

Speaking about the decision, Graham Gordon, CEO of Gardian and developer of the Gardian T3 rapid saliva-based antigen test, Self Check app and Test Tracker solution, said: “Companies need to ensure that they implement a response adapted to the objective. COVID place we are in now.

“Employers should want employees to stay home when they have COVID-19, and they should encourage workers to do all they can to reduce the spread, including following the recommended isolation period. and ensuring that they have obtained a negative test result before returning to the workplace.

“Not only is it grossly unfair to have employees back to work before they are fully cured, but it is also bad management.”

/Public release. This material from the original organization/authors may be ad hoc in nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors.

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