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Urgent Task Force Needed To Address COVID-19 Health And Safety At Work Risk

The New Zealand Institute of Safety Management (NZISM) is proposing an immediate task force to develop improved protocols to help maintain the health of workers at risk from COVID-19, especially those in healthcare and other high risk occupations.

The recommendation mirrors the approach of the Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS) and its vocal support for protecting the health of healthcare workers after it publicly criticised the Victorian Government and the record of its infection control advisors.

The recommendation comes in the midst of a debate whether the risk of infection from COVID-19 on frontline healthcare workers is a health and safety at work issue or a clinical incident. It also follows questions about managing the health of workers at Managed Isolation Facilities.

Unions are calling for an official investigation into safety failings after figures revealed 10 percent of COVID-19 infections during the first NZ outbreak involved on-duty healthcare workers. Worksafe has labelled these clinical incidents.

Robyn Bennett, President of NZISM is offering a way forward in the debate as a willing and supportive partner to find a solution:

“The Health and Safety at Work Act clearly states, ‘workers are entitled to work in environments where health risks are properly controlled.’ There is a professional duty to control risk from COVID-19 infection while people are at work, especially those related to healthcare, border control and quarantine.

“Reviewing current processes and preparing for potential future situations is vital to keep people healthy at work, no matter what the circumstances.

“What we have in this debate is a difference in opinion and definition, which we believe needs some managed agreement as we are living in a very different environment now compared to when the Act was passed into law.

“Our view is that COVID-19 risk is both a workplace health and safety issue, and a clinical one, and therefore needs a combined approach as to how it is managed and supported.

“We do agree with the Union’s view that mistakes have been made in terms of keeping workers safe during the first outbreak and this should be investigated in order to improve processes in the future. The longer we leave this, the more time there is for workers to be at risk.”

NZISM is recommending a partnership between the health and safety profession and Worksafe to develop a reviewed approach and a cohesive and collaborative solution. NZISM represents 2,000 health and safety professionals nationally and is the largest professional body for the profession in New Zealand.

“We believe we are very well placed to play an integral role to assist this very important discussion. Our proposed task force approach is both relevant and practical, and very similar to the one that is being successfully progressed in Australia. It will improve worker protection, not only in this current pandemic but in future ones as well.”

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