Workplace Injuries

Should COVID-19 be declared a workplace injury for frontline workers?

Greg Smith
Oct 14, 2021
min read
Covid-19 declared work injury for frontline workers

What it means to be a frontline worker in Queensland

In these unprecedented times, people are relying more on frontline workers to provide the essential services necessary to keep people well, healthy, fed, and safe.

The healthcare profession is built on a desire to help others. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, this desire in frontline healthcare workers has been at odds with the desire to keep themselves, their colleagues, and all of their families safe.    

Since the pandemic began, frontline workers in the health care industry have queried their rights and entitlements and those of their colleagues, should they contract COVID-19 during the course of their employment.

We know about the financial support available to people who have lost work because of a Queensland COVID-19 public health order, but what support is available to those who have actually contracted COVID-19 from their work?

Unsurprisingly, frontline workers are at the greatest risk of contracting COVID-19 because of their work and the fact they can’t perform the essential services they provide at home. 

Workers in the healthcare and social assistance industry are at the greatest risk of exposure to and contraction of COVID-19. This is reflected in preliminary data collected by Safe Work Australia. The data indicates that the highest number of approved and pending claims for COVID-19 workers’ compensation were those made by people working in that industry.

Across Australia, from 1 January 2020 to 31 December2020, more than 1200 workers’ compensation claims were lodged, 40 of which came from Queensland. Of the total number of claims, 974 were accepted, 127 were rejected and 121 were still pending an outcome.

Of the 1095 accepted and pending claims lodged:

-       75% were for workers who contracted COVID-19

-       19% were mental health claims associated with COVID-19

-       5% were testing or isolation claims

-       69% of all claims made were from workers in the health care and social assistance industries.

Frontline workers risk more than just exposure to the virus

For frontline workers, particularly those in the healthcare and social assistance industry, exposure to COVID-19 is just one of the many risks faced during the pandemic.

Other risks include:

·       Work-related violence and aggressive behaviour: new measures and restrictions have been put in place to minimise the spread of COVID-19 and protect staff, patients, and others requiring services. Unfortunately, these measures are not always met with understanding, and staff are being exposed to inappropriate and inexcusable behaviours.

·       Fatigue: this can take many forms and be due to many factors, including a high workload, working long shifts, and constantly dealing with public fears about COVID-19.

·       Stress: this includes extreme psychological stress resulting from experiencing vicarious trauma, as well as fears of exposing loved ones to COVID-19 and compromising the health and safety of close contacts and family members.

·       PPE shortages: the availability of supplies and shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE),cleaning, and disinfectant equipment has been a significant challenge throughout the pandemic, particularly in its early stages when the open market for PPE led to shortages amongst medical personnel who needed it most.

·       Workforce and skills shortages: with hospitals bracing for an influx of COVID-19patients and health care workers having to quarantine for 14 days after any COVID-19 exposure or suspected exposure, the effects of workforce shortages are felt by already fatigued workers.

What are my rights if I catch COVID-19 at work?

All workplaces must protect workers and others from the risk of exposure to COVID-19 so far as is reasonably practicable. While this should remain the focus of every workplace, the transmission of COVID-19 may still occur in some high-risk environments.

If you contract COVID-19 at work, you may be eligible to lodge a statutory compensation claim for workers’ compensation withWorkCover Queensland.

As with all statutory claims, WorkCover will consider the particular circumstances of each individual claim when making its assessment. To determine whether COVID-19 claims will be accepted, WorkCover will require information such as:

-       medical confirmation of a COVID-19 diagnosis

-       evidence to demonstrate that your exposure to COVID-19 occurred at work

-       medical confirmation that your job was a significant contributing factor to you contracting COVID-19

When deciding whether to accept a compensation claim,WorkCover will apply specific criteria set out in the legislation.

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