Providing PPE to health care workers is not enough

The recent announcement by the Queensland Government that they have stockpiled and secured ongoing supply lines for PPE equipment for our health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the employer’s duty of care to provide proper and safe plant and equipment to employees to safely perform the tasks of their employment.

But it is not just the provision of the proper equipment which determines whether the employer has discharged their duty of care.  To discharge the duty of care, the employer must also instruct in the proper use of the equipment, warn of the consequences of the failure to properly use the equipment and command and enforce obedience to the safe system of work (McLean v Tedman (1984) 155 CLR).  The consequences of an employer failing to discharge their duty of care in this regard is to place an employee at foreseeable risk of injury which could have been avoided by the exercise of reasonable care.

Whilst the Queensland Government should be applauded in gaining access to sufficient supply lines for PPE equipment for our health care workers, that is only half the job.  It is now incumbent upon the Government agencies such as Queensland Health to ensure that its employees are properly instructed and trained in the use of the equipment and that strict adherence to proper and safe use of equipment is enforced.  It is only then that we can gain comfort that our front line workers are protected to the fullest extent possible.

Health care workers need to be aware that should they contract COVID-19 in the course of their employment, they will have access to entitlements under the WorkCover scheme in Queensland.

A right to statutory entitlements under the WorkCover scheme will exist no matter the reason the infection has occurred.  It will only need to be established that the health care worker was exposed to the virus in the course of their employment.

However, if the exposure to the virus occurred as a result of a failure on the part of their employer to either provide, instruct or train in the safe use of PPE, the health care worker may have an entitlement to a claim for common law damages as a result of a breach of duty on the employer’s behalf. 

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