COVID-19 and your safety

26-Mar-2020


Firstly, thank you for everything you are doing to keep our community safe.

There’s no doubt that for many of us, the coming weeks and months will be the most challenging of our careers. We can’t promise it won’t be tough, but we can promise that we will be here for you, to advocate for your health and safety, and to address any concerns you have.

Over 1000 of you recently completed a survey which asked about those concerns and how equipped you think we are to deal with the challenges COVID-19 is throwing at us.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to complete the survey. The insights are proving invaluable in assisting us to lead the discussion on what the frontline needs. A full report has been sent to the Minister and Ministry highlighting findings between Districts. Our key findings are summarised below.

We know that you are concerned about what COVID-19 means for you, your family and for our health system. Many of you are frustrated with inconsistent communications, a lack of co-ordinated responses, and, in some areas, inaction.

One of the safety issues we wanted to assess from the survey was PPE availability. We’ve heard you loud and clear on that. There’s no doubt that PPE is in short supply.

ASMOF has already been working to ensure that our government and health officials are putting in place measures to ensure those in need are given priority when it comes to equipment. We have raised the issue of PPE again with the Ministry this week and new advice on PPE was issued yesterday evening.This advice affirms that staff should not undertake tasks requiring PPE if it is not available.

We have included further advice on PPE and your rights at work in this update. We will be continuing to monitor this situation to ensure PPE is available where and when our members need it.

We will also be holding a virtual mass meeting of members next Wednesday where we’ll be able to go through in more detail what the current landscape looks like. The Hon. Brad Hazzard will be attending as well as experts in the field. An event invite will be distributed over the coming days, and if you can, please try to attend. It will be an opportunity to hear first-hand what the latest advice is, and it will also an opportunity to ask questions.

During these challenging times we are doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our medical workforce is not compromised. As always, you can get in touch with us via allocation@asmof.org.au

In unity,
ASMOF NSW

 

(click to view each infograph below)

 

 


 

PPE & your work rights

Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) your employer has to take every step they reasonably can to eliminate or minimise the risk of employees and others contracting COVID-19.

If you are providing care for patients who have, or are suspected to have COVID-19, your employer must provide you with appropriate PPE to ensure you can do your job safely.

The PPE must be readily accessible to you so you can use it when you need it

Your employer needs to ensure you are trained in how to use the PPE safely, and you are required to undertake this training. ASMOF strongly encourages every member that might need to be trained to undertake that training as a very high priority.

What PPE do I need when working with patients with COVID-19?
The Clinical Excellence Commission document Application of PPE in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic provides detailed information about PPE – describing which specific types of masks, gown etc are appropriate when working with patients who are confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19.
For broader infection control information read Infection Prevention and Control- Hospital setting.

Can I refuse to work?
Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) you have the right to refuse work or cease work if there is a reasonable concern that you would be exposed to a serious risk to your health and safety from an immediate or imminent hazard. A serious risk of exposure to a COVID-19 infection would meet this definition.

What does this mean in practice for ASMOF members?
Our advice to members is that you are within your rights under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) law to decline to work if you are asked/required to undertake an exposure prone clinical activity without an evidence backed standard of PPE.

If you have any questions you should seek immediate advice from ASMOF and your workplace Health and Safety Representative (HSR).
An HSR is authorised to direct a worker to cease unsafe work if they have a reasonable concern that a worker would be exposed to a serious risk to health and safety from an immediate or imminent hazard. HSRs should consult and attempt to resolve the issue with the business first, unless the risk is so serious and immediate or imminent that it is not reasonable to consult. If work ceases or is refused, you and/or the HSR must tell your employer as soon as possible.

You may be asked to carry out alternative work, such as working from home. You should comply with this direction, as long as it is safe and appropriate for you to do so.

Report PPE concerns
If you have concerns that your employer is not providing you with the necessary PPE (or is making it very difficult to access) and/or is not training people in its safe use, then you should:

  1. Put in an incident report at your workplace
    AND
  2. Escalate your concerns to your employer in writing and ask for an urgent response.

If your concerns are not being taken seriously, we can assist to ensure appropriate measures are in place. Contact us - allocation@asmof.org.au.
You can also contact SafeWork NSW on 131050.


 

Advice for at-risk & pregnant members


ASMOF members asked us to raise the issue of vulnerable health care workers and pregnant employees with the Ministry of Health. The Ministry has provided the following response to ASMOF.

“Healthcare workers who are either pregnant , aged 65 years or older, or who have underlying medical conditions that place them at greater risk of severe complications from COVID-19 should be re-deployed, wherever possible, to clinical areas and duties that have reduced exposure to patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.

Medical conditions associated with a greater risk of severe complications from COVID-19 include:

  • people with chronic medical conditions, such as lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease, neurological conditions and diabetes.
  • people with impaired immune systems (such as people who have cancer or HIV, or who take high dose corticosteroids).


Clinical areas with an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 include:
• emergency departments,
• infectious disease units and
• intensive care units.”

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) has issued some important advice regarding COVID-19 and pregnant health care workers and other at-risk workers. The College says that:

  • pregnant women do not appear to be more severely unwell if they develop COVID-19 infection than the general population.
  • there is no evidence of an increased risk of miscarriage, teratogenicity or vertical transmission of the COVID-19 virus.
  • there is a possibility of an increased incidence of premature birth but there is insufficient evidence at this point in time.

However, pregnant women are potentially at increased risk of complications from any respiratory disease due to the physiological changes that occur in pregnancy. These include reduced lung function, increased oxygen consumption and changed immunity.

The College recommends that:

  • where possible, pregnant healthcare workers should be allocated to patients, and duties that have reduced exposure to patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection.
  • everyone should observe strict hygiene protocols and have full access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
  • employers should be sensitive to the fact that pregnant women are, appropriately, often anxious about their own health and protective of their unborn baby. Consideration should be given to reallocation to lower-risk duties, working from home or leave of absence.