Identifying risks to health in the healthcare and social assistance industry
You must identify the risk level of your employees’ exposure to COVID-19 at their workplace, including where care is provided in people's homes. This must be done in consultation with health and safety representatives (HSRs) and employees.
Some activities that pose a risk of exposure to COVID-19 include:
- Providing direct care or support to people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection.
- Transmission from workers who may have been exposed to patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection to other workers.
- Physical examination of people who are presenting with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 infection.
- Cleaning medical equipment used with people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection.
- Cleaners, domestic staff or visitors entering the room of people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection.
- Cleaning rooms and public areas where people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection have been.
- Transiting through areas where people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection are located (e.g. wards, corridors, waiting rooms, cafeterias, common areas of residential settings).
- Manipulating respiratory samples of people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection.
- Reception tasks involving interactions with people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection.
- Handling contaminated waste or personal protective equipment (PPE), which has been used by staff caring for people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection.
You must also identify whether there are other increased risks as a result of COVID-19, including:
- Work-related violence and aggression (both in the workplace and in public areas where staff may wear uniforms), due to poor front-line management, rapidly changing information, increased workload, implementation of government restrictions and public fears about COVID-19.
- Fatigue, as a result of increased workload, inadequate staffing levels, additional or longer shift lengths and other pressures.
- Stress, as a result of vicarious trauma, increased workload and ongoing heightened levels of concentration.
- The availability of supplies, such as PPE or cleaning equipment.
- Workforce and skills shortages, including changes to the workforce composition or duties normally undertaken by an employee.
- The practicality of using PPE in a frontline environment (such as entering patient’s homes, treating patients on the floor of a residence).
- PPE becoming ineffective or damaged.
Information about preventing work-related violence and aggression, fatigue and stress
- Prevention and management of work-related violence and aggression in health services handbook
- Guide to working safely in people’s homes
- Preventing and managing risks to work-related psychological health handbook
Controlling risks to health
Where a risk to health, including psychological health, is identified at a workplace, you must do everything you can to eliminate the risk. Where this isn't possible, you must ensure the risk is managed.
You must consult with workers and health and safety representatives on health or safety matters that directly affect or are likely to directly affect them. This includes consultation on identifying hazards or risks, and decisions about how to control risks associated with COVID-19 (e.g. working at a location other than the usual place of work, procedures for managing deceased persons).
The types of control measures required depends on the level of risk as well as the availability and suitability of controls for each workplace, including individual work areas.
Control measures may include:
Systems of work
- Developing organisational-level plans to address a surge in demand as a result of COVID-19 including preparation and implementation of control measures to prevent exposure risks to workers. These plans should be prepared in accordance with advice provided by Queensland Health.
- Developing facility-level plans that describe the controls that will be enacted in the event of an outbreak (e.g. quarantine of residents, use of bathroom and kitchen facilities), in accordance with advice provided by Queensland Health.
- Adopt infection prevention and control measures in accordance with Queensland Health guidelines.
- Preventing unnecessary contact with people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection (e.g. preliminary phone screening to triage to an appropriate facility, phone consultations).
- Minimising the risk of cross-infection by segregating teams caring for suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19.
- Limiting transmission by allocating employees to work in a single facility, or in home-based care settings, consistently allocating patients or clients to the same employee.
- Consistently applying social distancing measures in all workplace settings, including clinical and non-clinical settings, during handovers, outreach, home visits and welfare checks.
- Explicit advice to staff to ensure they do not attend work when unwell.
- Monitoring the health of workers to aid in early detection of suspected COVID-19 infection to prevent transmission.
- Ensuring business continuity plans are in place for staff absenteeism, including appropriate induction and context-specific training for staff who are redeployed to areas outside of their normal work areas.
Work environment and facilities
- Changing the work environment to prevent unnecessary contact with people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 (e.g. designated COVID-19 facilities, perspex barriers at reception areas, designated entry and exit points for people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19).
- Providing adequate facilities or products (e.g. hand washing facilities with liquid soap and paper towels, hand sanitiser with at least 60% ethanol content, and detergent and disinfectant products) to allow employees to maintain good hygiene practices.
- Avoiding shared use of phones, desks, offices, kitchens or other work tools and equipment.
- Thorough and regular cleaning and disinfection of the healthcare environment in accordance with Queensland Health guidance
- Appropriate waste management systems, including for the safe disposal of contaminated PPE.
- Providing employees with time to wash up and change their clothes prior to the end of their shift.
- Ensuring all employees have access to clean and safe locations for meal breaks.
- Providing PPE that is appropriate for the level of risk associated with the task, in accordance with guidance from Queensland Health for health services and general practitioners.
- Information, instruction and training must be provided and should include information on why PPE is required, how to safely use it, how to safely remove and how to dispose of it in accordance with Queensland Health guidance.
- Ensuring any provided PPE is practical for the work environment (e.g. full coveralls for paramedics working in uncontrolled environments).
- Providing clothing for employees to wear at work to reduce risk of cross-contamination of clothing during travel and at home and reduce the risk of violence and aggression when commuting.
- Providing adequate facilities for employees to safely remove and dispose of PPE and contaminated clothing.
- Providing laundry services for employees to reduce the need to transport and handle potentially contaminated clothing.
- Regularly communicating with staff about the availability of PPE (e.g. stock levels).
Communications and employee welfare
- Consulting with HSRs and workers as often as necessary to ensure their input to any proposed changes.
- Communicating any altered expectations and working conditions to patients, clients and visitors to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection to workers.
- Providing information in a format and language that workers can readily understand.
- Ensuring workers who are considered to be at high risk in relation to COVID-19 exposure are provided with opportunities to work in lower risk settings where possible.
- Using video conferencing for teaching and departmental meetings.
- Ensuring workers take regular rest breaks and have access to adequate facilities for rest breaks.
- Providing updated information to all workers, including those on leave, contractors and casual workers.
- Ensuring that workers know how to handle, transport and disinfect potentially contaminated clothing and items used at work (e.g. shoes, phones, identity badges).
- Ensuring that workers know what to do, or who to notify if they feel unwell or they have been directed by Queensland Health to self-quarantine or self-isolate
- Ensuring that workers know what to do, or who to notify if they feel unsafe or uncomfortable in the workplace.
Working from locations other than the usual place of work
If you require your staff to work from a location other than their usual place of work – such as different areas, newly established clinics, improvised hospitals, contingency units and changes in home-based care – you should first consult with workers and HSRs and:
- consider whether a worker is at a high risk of contracting COVID-19, or experiencing associated complications, before deploying them to an area of high exposure risk
- consider whether working from a different location will introduce additional risks, such as risks associated with hazardous manual handling or psychological health risks associated with isolation
- keep up to date with information about COVID-19 risks and appropriate control measures
- seek advice specific to their circumstances, including from official advice issued by Queensland Health or other government agencies and legal providers
- establish communication systems for providing information to workers about working arrangements
- ensure that working hours are monitored and flexible, where possible
- ensure that support systems are in place for IT, equipment and personal needs
- provide adequate induction and context specific training.
- Last updated
- 24 April 2020