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Latest COVID-19 information and FAQs

Managing COVID-19 health and safety risks in medical practice

Managing COVID-19 health and safety risks in medical practice

Summary:
Maintaining a safe workplace in your practice during COVID-19 has obligations such as conducting a risk assessment and managing any issues that arise. Understand your responsibilities and obligations in this factsheet.

FactsheetsWorkplace & employment
08 / 10 / 2021

Work health and safety laws require a medical practice to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers and others at the practice. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a range of new health and safety risks for medical practices to manage.

The usual process applies to health and safety risks arising from COVID-19 - identify the hazards, conduct a risk assessment, consult with staff, determine measures to minimise or eliminate the risks and implement those measures.

The challenging part for practices is undertaking a risk assessment with constantly changing advice and novel measures to manage the risks (for example, face coverings, COVID-19 vaccination and COVID-19 testing).

A properly performed risk assessment is a critical tool to manage work health and safety risks, and other risks (such as the risk of a discrimination claim). This guide provides an overview of the risk assessment process for medical practices.

What is a risk assessment?

A risk assessment allows you to identify: 

  • The risks associated with COVID-19
  • The measures that could be implemented to minimise or eliminate the risks
  • The measures that should be implemented to minimise or eliminate the risks

Risk assessment is an ongoing process.

Resources
Risk assessment | Safe Work Australia

Does a risk assessment need to be in writing?

Yes, it should be in writing. 

This will assist in your thinking and communication with your workers. 

It may also be required in response to a request from a work health and safety inspector.

Resources
Template and example COVID-19 risk register | Safe Work Australia

How do I undertake a risk assessment? 

Safe Work Australia has provided the following guidance: 

What should the practice consider as part of the risk assessment? 

Safe Work Australia has provided the following guidance: 

Key considerations for undertaking a risk assessment – COVID-19

Examples of the matters to consider include: 

  • Advice from state and federal health departments
  • Advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC)
  • Advice from work health and safety bodies such as Safe Work Australia
  • Public health directions
  • Advice from your college or other professional body
  • The rate of community transmission
  • The risk of transmission in your practice, having regard to the nature of the work performed in your practice
  • The nature of the services your practice provides
  • The consequences of your practice refusing access to the medical service
  • The type of people who attend your practice and whether there is a heightened risk they will suffer severe disease (for example, people over 60 or people with pre-existing health conditions)
  • The time people generally stay inside the medical practice when receiving medical services
  • Whether it is possible to socially distance in the practice
  • Availability of personal protective equipment (PPE), face coverings and COVID-19 vaccinations
  • Whether workers interact with a large number of people such that a “super-spreading” event could arise
  • The other control measures that your practice has in place
  • Where the practice is located (for example, in private hospital grounds)
  • The staff demographic (for example, whether a worker also works in a respiratory clinic or in a COVID ward)
  • How workers travel to work.

What are possible risks in a health care practice?

Risk to your practice will be determined by all the above considerations. Examples could be:

  • Covid infection worker to patient / visitor
  • Covid infection worker to worker
  • Covid infection patient to patient
  • Covid infection patient to worker
  • Closure of practice due to COVID-19 exposure
  • Adverse effect from wearing PPE
  • Adverse effect from sanitiser and cleaning substances
  • Worker shortages for isolation or illness
  • Worker serious illness
  • Aggressive patients
  • Delayed or missed diagnosis
  • Staff complaints and disputes
  • Staff resignations
  • Workers travelling to work on public transport
  • Working from home
  • Fatigued workers
  • Working in more than one clinic
  • Communal areas shared with respiratory clinic staff
  • Managing pop up clinics
  • Sharing equipment
  • Mental health
  • Patient privacy.

How do I consult with workers?

Safe Work Australia has provided the following guidance: 

Consultation | Safe Work Australia 

Practical steps include:

  • Have a practice meeting to discuss the risk assessment and what it means for staff 
  • Invite the team to review the risk assessment and give input about their concerns and possible alternatives
  • Invite the team to speak to you about their concerns and individual circumstances
  • Document the consultation process (for example, minutes of meeting, email to staff).

How should the practice document the measures it will adopt?

We recommend that practices update their COVID-Safe Plan as new measures are implemented to manage the risks associated with COVID-19, rather than having separate policies dealing with each issue. 

Resources
National COVID-19 Commission Advisory Board – My business’s COVDSafe plan
RACGP – COVIDSafe plan template

What measures could the practice implement to manage COVID-19 risks? 

Examples include: 

  • Physical distancing
  • Good hygiene
  • Increased cleaning
  • Additional training
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Perspex screens
  • Removing items such as toys and magazines from waiting rooms
  • Telehealth and video consultations
  • Seeing patients in the car park or another area outside the practice
  • Requirement for lunch breaks outside the practice
  • Mandatory face masks for workers and patients
  • Mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for workers and patients
  • Mandatory COVID-19 testing for workers and patients
  • Working from home
  • Educate patients about health and safety measures
  • Possible alternative measures for staff and patients who cannot comply due to disability
  • Patients entering via a back entrance or being placed in an isolation room
  • Disposable or single use pens and pencils
  • A designated isolation area for suspected COVID positive patients. 

Resources 
How to determine what is reasonably practicable to meet a health and safety duty | Safe Work Australia

What measures should the practice implement to manage COVID-19 risks? 

This is a decision for you and your team.

What should you do if a patient is unable or unwilling to comply with a health and safety requirement?

When performing the risk assessment, you should consider whether there are alternate measures that the practice could implement so a patient's care is not compromised. Examples include:

  • Patients entering via a back entrance
  • An isolation room for patients who cannot comply with measures
  • Setting consultation times at the end of the day for a high-risk patient so the practice can prepare and clean
  • Consulting with the patient in full PPE (including N95 or P2 masks)
  • Referring to a partner practice or other facility.

What should you do if a worker is unable or unwilling to comply with a health and safety requirement? 

When performing the risk assessment, you should consider whether there are alternate measures that the practice could implement if a worker cannot or will not comply with a measure. You should have regard to any medical reports the worker provides. Examples include:

  • Alternate duties
  • Working from home
  • Wearing full PPE at work (including N95 or P2 masks)
  • Taking leave
  • Telehealth appointments.

For more information or immediate medico-legal advice, call us on 1800 128 268 24/7 in emergencies.

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