At last, it seems that the COVID 19 outbreak in Victoria is coming under control with under 200 new cases reported on most days now. The number of Health Care Worker (HCW) infections is also coming down (down to 476 active cases as at 24 August). There has been recent confirmation that the majority of HCW infections are occupationally acquired with workers in Aged Care being at the relatively highest risk.
The outbreak in Victoria provides important lessons for Tasmania, including the need to:
- Plan for outbreaks by identifying experts and ensuring their availability
- Ensure unnecessary bureaucratic barriers are managed e.g. sorting out Federal vs State responsibilities in Aged care
- Mobilise GP resources and co-ordinate Public and Private services
- Appoint a multi-agency Task Force to co-ordinate Aged Care response and adopt a risk assessment approach in high-risk environments
- Develop Health Care Workforce plans to address shortages and other stress secondary to physical and mental/emotional exhaustion
- Avoid “blaming” community for spreading virus/ not complying with advice and restrictions.
- Preserve Trauma units (staff and beds) and increase mental health capacity.
- Develop industry specific educational materials with clear consistent messaging
- Use a precautionary approach for PPE advice for HCW and all essential/front-line workers
TFOM has written to the Tasmanian Premier, Mr Peter Gutwein to reinforce the need for a WHS approach to managing COVID-19 risk. Both The Tasmanian Health and Justice Departments have important roles in Public Health and Workplace Health & Safety as a component of an “All of Government” approach. The private sector also needs to be involved.
TFOM has highlighted the potential effects on Tasmania’s HCW’s and associated risks to Tasmania’s Workers Compensation Scheme.
Our president, Dr Barry Gilbert has been invited to participate in the upcoming WorkCover Medical Advisory Panel meeting scheduled for 01 September, where he will reinforce the following priorities:
- Mandatory reporting of occupationally acquired COVID19 infections
- Acceptance that prevention of occupationally acquired infection requires application of accepted Workplace Health & Safety (WHS) principles, including use of the “hierarchy of controls”
- A precautionary approach to PPE with adoption of P2 / N95 as the minimum standard for protection of potentially exposed workers
- Engagement with workers about risk and outbreak management
- Educational efforts to promote a “mask-wearing” culture amongst the general public in response to evidence of community transmission
TFOM plans to approach high risk employers about appropriate planning so they can be prepared should COVID-19 recur as a threat to the Tasmanian Community.
The following organisations in Tasmania have Occupational Medicine Expertise that might be useful to employers:
Gilbert Consulting Tasmania – https://gilbertconsulting.com.au
Hobart Occupational Medicine – www.hobartoccupationalmedicine.com.au
Sonic Healthcare – https://www.sonichealthplus.com.au/locations/hobart
Tasmanian Occupational & Environmental Medicine – Contact Dr Dale 62346376
Work Fit Tasmania – Contact Dr Ernst on 63317711
I hope there will be another Newsletter in early September given the rapidly evolving situation with COVID-19.
Secretary & Newsletter Editor