Work-related impact of COVID-19 worse than GFC

In an editorial in BMJ journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine Professor Malcolm Sim from the Monash University Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health in Melbourne has warned that the current pandemic poses major health risks to frontline workers, but also that other less obvious serious safety issues will arise from pandemic-related job insecurity and prolonged teleworking. 
Read more: Malcolm Sim The COVID-19 pandemic: major risks to healthcare and other workers on the front line [Full editorial]

Working from home risks 'amplified' by COVID-19

French researchers have said that the sudden large-scale increase in telework as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, has "amplified" a range of physical and psychosocial occupational risks. They say, however, that key prevention measures for employers can be as simple as providing information on ergonomics and facilitating virtual collective working periods. 

The researchers from France's National Conservatory of Arts and Trades' department of epidemiology and surveillance of health risks, and other bodies, say that more than 3.4 billion people across 84 countries have been confined to their homes in the pandemic - meaning many millions of workers temporarily at least, working from home. 

In a letter on how to "preserve occupational health" – to BMJ journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine – they say that in many cases, employers and workers haven't had the opportunity to ensure the safety of home working environments during the unanticipated shift to remote work. In addition to this, the widespread closure of schools has forced many parents to telework and look after and plan home-schooling for their children at the same time. These overlapping responsibilities increase the psychosocial risks associated with unstructured working periods. 

On top of all that, add the general anxiety around COVID-19, which is "likely to worsen telework-associated psychosocial and behavioural risks, especially those associated with addictions". Referring to a recent editorial by Professor Malcolm Sim from the Monash University Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health in Melbourne (see item above), the researchers say these factors taken together suggest the pandemic "may exacerbate occupational hazards beyond the more obvious examples of healthcare settings or other jobs on the front line". They outline a number of risks and control measures for remote work identified in academic literature since the emergence of telework-facilitating digital and broadband internet in the early 2000s including: Risks associated with the home; increased risks of musculoskeletal injuries; increased psychological risks due to isolation, blurring of work/home boundaries; increased behavioural risks - eg diet, sleep, addictions.  Source: OHSAlert 

See this page on Working from home for advice on issues and what to do. 

New discussion paper coming soon

Barry Naismith, of OHSIntros, has announced that his next paper, 24. Deaths at Work. Victoria 2019, will be available soon. 

The paper will be available to download free for a short period from a link on the OHSIntros FB page.

This will be the 12th paper in a series for OHS professionals. It covers traumatic deaths during 2019 and recent prosecutions over deaths at work in the Victorian OHS jurisdiction. The paper has been prepared to mark this year’s international workers memorial day and to inform the lead up to industrial manslaughter laws coming into operation in the state on July 1. A theme of the paper is the rising annual death toll in Victoria, supposedly the nation’s safest state in which to work, and what OHSIntros believes are soft penalties given by Victorian courts over serious harms at work. These fines are consistently well below the maximum specified in the OHS Act, and as result are, in the view of OHSIntros, blunting the sharpness of deterrence. Worse than that, the perfunctory fines are failing to deliver “justice” in context of the wider harm done to the community by a death at work that was preventable. According to OHSIntros, "Simply adding an industrial manslaughter offence to the enforcement mix for the most abhorrent of safety fines is not the solution."

Already this year, as of just our first four months, there had been 23 fatalities in Victoria - not all, however, in the WorkSafe official tally. When the paper is available, we will also promote it in this section of SafetyNet.

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