Health and safety in a pandemic

May, 2020

By: Paul Jarvie

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There has been millions of words written about health and safety, some of it not too flattering, however with the arrival and management of the COVID 19 pandemic we have witnessed the strength in having good formal systems around H & S.

Who would have thought that a virus so small it would take around 50 of them to cover the diameter of a human hair, could bring the world to its knees and cause immeasurable cost and suffering.

The virus management and return to work here in NZ has been under a Worksafe lens. That means it’s the safety of workers, contractors, public, customers and others that is of prime importance.

Businesses wishing to restart under COVID 19 Levels 3 and 2 were required to consider, develop and promulgate a safety plan before they could re-open. It’s not surprising that companies with good robust and formal H&S systems would not find this difficult. When boiled down, it’s the management of risk that we must get our heads around.

Health and safety system are developed to anticipate, recognise, control and evaluate hazards/risk to workers and the business at large. The coronavirus is just another example of a hazard and/or risk that poses threats to workers and other.

Under the hierarchy of control as outlined by our legislation (General Risk and Workplace Regulations 2016) we see:

(1) This regulation applies if it is not reasonably practicable for a PCBU to eliminate risks to health and safety in accordance with section 30(1)(a) of the Act.
(2) A PCBU must, to minimise risks to health and safety, implement control measures in accordance with this regulation.
(3) The PCBU must minimise risks to health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable, by taking 1 or more of the following actions that is the most appropriate and effective taking into account the nature of the risk:
­ (a) substituting (wholly or partly) the hazard giving rise to the risk with something that gives rise to a lesser risk:
 (b) isolating the hazard giving rise to the risk to prevent any person coming into contact with it:
 (c) implementing engineering controls.
(4) If a risk then remains, the PCBU must minimise the remaining risk, so far as is reasonably practicable, by implementing administrative controls.
(5) If a risk then remains, the PCBU must minimise the remaining risk by ensuring the provision and use of suitable personal protective equipment.

As can be seen, the controls that were reasonable and practicable were, isolation, engineering controls, administrative controls and lastly PPE.

The results have been shown to work for all NZ and indeed within workplaces. It is up to all businesses to maintain the strict controls to completely starve the virus of fresh resource’s to live on, i.e. people.

Another simple but hugely important message is the value of hygiene both personal and workplace. A very simple activity such as washing hands (just with soap and water) proved to be a massive disruptor in the transmission of the virus. In a public health sense we could do with maintaining this heightened level of hand washing as overseas data suggests that we do not do this very well. We do not need to become over clean but merely remember to wash hands after using bathrooms, before preparing meals and after coughing. If we just did this, the rate of common colds and winter flu would reduce. Also remember we are heading for our winter season so colds (virus attacks) and winter flu (another virus) will be increasing. Having a flu shot will ward off this years predicted seasonal flu virus, but good personal hygiene will also help.

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