The unprecedented situation that has been brought upon the world by the rampant spread of COVID-19 has forced hundreds of thousands of frontline medical staff to adapt to new and unfamiliar work routines, procedures and expectations surrounding the provision of health care.

While we take off our hats to medical staff working in hospitals, primary care and ICU units while placing their own health in unchartered territory, other medical staff have essentially been removed from normal healthcare settings to instead perform consultations via virtual offices in order to reduce the chance of transmission of this disastrous and debilitating virus.

Never in our lifetimes have we been faced with such a critical situation that has warranted international border closures, office and community lock-downs, business closures and global concern about the long-term social and economic consequences. But these new rules are necessary and compliance is crucial, as social distancing and enhanced hygiene practices are the most significant ways to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Below is a graph outlining the total confirmed COVID-19 cases by sex and age in Australia.

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Across the world, there have been more than half a million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 201 countries, areas or territories (according to the WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Situation Dashboard.)

Occupational Health & Safety and COVID-19 – a Duty of Care

In the most recent RACP (Royal Australasian College of Physicians) President’s message, Associate Professor Mark Lane states,

“In these very difficult times, many members of the community are looking to us for advice and for leadership.”

With so much information surrounding COVID-19 now available, access to timely and accurate health advice from credible sources of information is critical for not only the general public, but for health professionals providing health care and advice regarding COVID-19. Accurate information regarding minimising exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace and early intervention for suspected cases will complement public health measures while reducing disruption to businesses.

Businesses and organisations have a duty of care to reduce the rate of transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace and community. To assist with this need, the RACP has outlined a number of recommendations to guide employers in their response to this global health pandemic including;

  1. Prioritising the health and wellbeing of workers and their families
  2. Showing leadership
  3. Effective two-way communication between employers and workers
  4. Showing empathy and compassion
  5. Applying innovative thinking
  6. Being responsive to the changing situation, and
  7. Planning ahead

When it comes to Planning Ahead, the RACP is urging businesses to continue to ensure the health and safety of their workers in this changing environment, as it is anticipated that this disruption will last for a significant period.  As such, employers are beginning to focus on what their future business might look like, and how to ensure that together with their workers and the nation more broadly, they can survive and thrive once the pandemic ends.

Working from home our new norm

The recommendations outlined in the RACP’s Applying Innovative Thinking specifically emphasise adopting new and innovative solutions that comply with the current official advice including social and physical distancing and self-isolation (i.e. staying at home only with people who usually live in the home, not going to public places including work, school, childcare, university or public gatherings and not seeing visitors).

These innovative solutions include adopting flexible working hours, working from home, or creative use of technology, all of which allow workers to continue to undertake their work roles as far as feasibly possible, whilst limiting contact with their colleagues and the general public as much as possible.

However, it is also highlighted that employers will also need to acknowledge that depending on employees’ personal circumstances, working from home may impact on productivity and there may be an increased need for flexibility in working arrangements.

Occupational Physicians in the Climate of COVID-19

As specialist doctors in the health and wellbeing of workers and the working population more broadly, Occupational Physicians are well placed to assist in this situation.

In order to assist employers in creating work environments and conditions that are beneficial to the health and wellbeing of their employees during this challenging time,

Occupational Physicians can incorporate organisational structures and workplace specifics into each your COVID-19 response.

This insight and guidance will be very useful in helping to provide employers with targeted workplace-specific advice and solutions amidst this unprecedented health crisis marked by hundreds of thousands of worldwide fatalities globally.

For further access to timely and accurate COVID-19 Health Information

CLICK HERE for the central resource that informs all official public health advice in Australia.

CLICK HERE to see the Australian Government’s Department of Health Coronavirus (COVID-19) health alert. This page includes information about how the Australian Government is monitoring and responding to the outbreak, how you can help slow the spread of COVID-19 in Australia, and what to do if you have symptoms. It also includes the latest official medical advice and case numbers.