COVID-19 Vaccine risk assessments: Consultation processes and strategies for the elimination or mitigation of COVID-19 exposure
The PSA and Department of Regional NSW (DRNSW) staff were provided with correspondence from management on the proposals and risk assessments for COVID-19 exposure on 22 September. This was consistent with the requirements set down by the NSW Government and part of agreements between the PSA and DRNSW or when/if the issue of compulsory vaccination was to be entertained. Subsequent correspondence was sent to DRNSW staff on late Thursday 7 October.
The PSA notes, without a Public Health Order that directs staff to undertake compulsory vaccination, DRNSW is appropriately following the mechanisms to determine the risk of exposure at work to COVID-19. This is to develop an evidence-based strategy on the provision of public services and whether compulsory vaccination is a requirement to administer those public services.
As part of any assessment there needs to be a recognition that the current health advice (especially on opening up) continues to evolve as further details on the NSW Roadmap come to light.
What is causing some level of consternation is the way some elements of these risk assessments are being interpreted by DNRSW.
What are we weighing up here?
DRNSW has an obligation to administer a safe workplace under harmonised Work, Health & Safety laws. DRNSW is seeking a to mitigate or eliminate the prospect of COVID-19 transmission of staff either through workplaces or stakeholder engagement. There are a number of strategies already in use by DRNSW with the option of mandatory vaccination (which all we know is an evasive procedure) being one of many options. Whilst there is a large group of our members who are supportive of vaccines, they are less inclined to accept it being mandated upon other staff who object or who are currently hesitant.
The risk assessment is designed to determine whether there are other satisfactory mechanisms available to DRNSW to eliminate or mitigate any COVID-19 exposure risks with vaccination simply being one option.
Medical exemptions and contraindications
There are some circumstances whereby staff with have genuine medical conditions that will preclude them from currently undertaking COVID-19 vaccinations. These exemptions are subject to several medical factors and should come from consultation with members’ medical professionals.
What are the categories already identified and where do DRNSW staff fit?
There are four categories that have been identified as to the risk of exposure and vaccine mandating that relate to the severity of potential COVID-19 exposure.
- COVID-19 quarantine or functions directly related to quarantine
- Working with Vulnerable People including aged care and hospital admissions
- The requirement of staff to administer face-to-face work with the public or stakeholders or in offices
- Staff who can administer their work remotely or from home.
The obvious understanding is that an agency such as DRNSW has no direct COVID-19 quarantine applications nor are they an emergency service. However, the risk assessments indicate that staff can fall into the other three categories dependent on the classification of work. Accordingly, it is clear that there is not a “one size fits all” approach that should be entertained by DNRSW. Our concerns provided to DRNSW representatives on Friday 8 October, was that vaccination appears to be the first and only strategy that is being considered. Accordingly, there is some level of concern about the lawfulness and reasonableness of these rather board categorisations.
What does the PSA want assessed?
Already there has been significant interaction with our membership on this issue and it is important that members have their say on the risk assessments by either providing their feedback to DRNSW or through the assistance of the PSA.
The PSA has provided DRNSW with a list of items that should be part of any assessment. Click HERE to read that correspondence. Much of this is consistent with the Fair Work Ombudsman recommendations because they relate specifically to harmonised Federal Work, Health & Safety laws that affect all business and public services across the country.
Where does the PSA sit on this?
Every day the PSA strives for the administration of safety and productive working environments for our members. The PSA has always maintained that our members should be cognisant and follow NSW Public Health Orders. It is some of our PSA members in the Department of NSW Health that are providing the science based applications designed to keep our communities safe.
Notwithstanding any of the current legal challenges to mandatory vaccination that reside in the NSW Supreme Court and that relate to the lawfulness of those Public Health Orders, the PSA understands that there will be some instances across the NSW Public Service where mandatory vaccination should be considered.
As previously explained the PSA believes that all members should make informed decisions about vaccination. This should be done through consultation with your treating health professionals
Staff objections should be properly understood, and dealt with on a case by case basis.
Production and collection of evidence of vaccination status
If DRNSW staff are required to be vaccinated as a result of a Public Health Order or a lawful and reasonable request/direction, DRNSW is entitled to request the employee to provide evidence of their vaccination status.
DRNSW must comply with the Privacy & Personal Information Protection Act 1988 and the Health Records & Information Privacy Act 2002. The Health Privacy Principles provide understanding that DRNSW must not collect health information unless the information is collected for a lawful purpose that is directly related to a function or activity of DRNSW and the collection of information is necessary for that purpose.