Research

New discussion paper on Victoria's fatalities released  

OHSIntros has released a new OHS discussion paper- “24. Deaths at Work. Victoria 2019”. It is available to download free for a limited time from here.

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 was prepared by OHSIntros 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.

The paper features narratives of recent deaths at work and case studies on recent prosecutions over death. An underlying theme of this section is the social impact of a rising annual death toll in Victoria, supposedly the nation’s safest state in which to work, and concerns about "soft" penalties given by Victorian courts over serious harms at work. These fines are consistently below the maximum specified in the OHS Act, and as result are, in the view of OHSIntros, blunting the sharpness of deterrence and therefore failing to deliver “justice” in context of the wider harm done to the community by a death at work.

‘Unacceptable risk’ to frontline workers

Health care workers are not being give the protection they deserve and are contracting deadly infections as a result, a top Australian biohazards expert has warned. Writing in the Lancet, Professor Raina MacIntyre, an epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales, has said the World Health Organisation’s current COVID-19 guidance, which has been the template for health worker protection around the world, is failing health workers by refusing to recommend respirators for a wide range of health care work.

“This kind of denial, what purpose is it serving — except to harm health care workers?,” she told journalists, adding WHO’s current guidelines reflected shortages of respirators rather than good practice. “Guidelines should be based on evidence, not on supplies,” she noted. “It’s like telling an army, ‘Oh sorry, we’ve run out of guns, just take these bows and arrows and face the enemy.’” She said WHO’s acceptance of surgical masks was harming workers. “Although medical masks do protect, the occupational health and safety of health workers should be the highest priority and the precautionary principle should be applied. Preventable infections in health workers can result not only in deaths but also in large numbers of health workers being quarantined and nosocomial [hospital originated] outbreaks. In the National Health Service trusts in the UK, up to one in five health workers have been infected with COVID-19, which is an unacceptable risk for frontline workers.”

In the commentary co-authored with Quanyi Wang, MacIntyre is scathing about WHO’s promotion of an ‘at least 1m’ physical distancing standard. “The 1–2 m distance rule in most hospital guidelines is based on out-of-date findings from the 1940s, with studies from 2020 showing that large droplets can travel as far as 8m. To separate droplet and airborne transmission is probably somewhat artificial, with both routes most likely part of a continuum for respiratory transmissible infections.”

Professor MacIntyre concluded: “Protection against presumed droplet infections by use of respirators, but not masks, supports a continuum rather than discrete states of droplet or airborne transmission. Both experimental and hospital studies have shown evidence of aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2.”
Read more: C Raina MacIntyre and Quanyi Wang. Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection for prevention of COVID-19, [Full text] The Lancet, published online 1 June 2020.01, 2020. Source: Risks 950

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