The COVID-19 pandemic brings a new challenge for managing infectious diseases at work. For most businesses and services this means paying closer attention to the basics, like regularly cleaning surfaces.

However, for some businesses and services, particularly those who are on the frontline of the government’s COVID-19 response, it means something different:

  • For healthcare services, it means combining existing practices with heightened vigilance.
  • For others, like managed isolation and quarantine facilities (MIQFs) and border services, it creates new types of work, or brings significant change to how work is done.
  • For all frontline businesses and services it means supporting workers experiencing heightened levels of stress and worry from working in close proximity to people infected or potentially infected with COVID-19.

In response to the pandemic, WorkSafe has been given an additional role of enforcing the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 (the Act)(external link). This means we have a part to play in ensuring businesses and services meet the public health requirements set out under the Act.

We’ve set out our approach on how we’ll enforce under the Act in our regulatory approach to our COVID Act responsibilities. In that statement, we’ve made it clear that our focus is the health and safety of workers in higher risk activities, such as MIQFs.

At the moment, this means we’re prioritising workers at border services, airports, ports, and MIQFs, rather than the healthcare sector, as we believe the risk is greater in these places. This is because, unlike the healthcare sector, they:

  • haven’t had to deal with preventing workers from being infected with a pandemic disease before, and
  • are only just starting to develop their capability and understanding of how to manage infection risks compared with the healthcare sector.

Healthcare workers are at high risk of exposure to COVID-19 too. The difference is that infectious disease management has always been a significant risk that the healthcare sector has had to manage, and so they have the experience, infrastructure, and systems to deal with this risk effectively. They are also subject to oversight by regulatory agencies with expertise in health practices, including the Ministry of Health.

This means we’re unlikely to investigate individual cases of work-related coronavirus in healthcare at this time. However, we may intervene if we’re sufficiently concerned with how healthcare services’ infectious disease management systems are performing. Currently, we are supporting frontline healthcare workers to stay healthy and safe by:

  • working with unions and DHBs to identify improvements that can be made at a system level, and
  • making sure DHBs are carrying out internal reviews of how transmission has occurred and implementing changes to address practice issues.