Worried about operating your business safely in a Covid-endemic NZ? You're not alone.

30 November, 2021  | 

The Covid-19 Delta outbreak has created a unique landscape of uncertainty for businesses as New Zealand moves from an elimination strategy to learning to live with the virus in our communities. At IMPAC our team has undertaken the same thorough risk assessment that many businesses are going through, as we all try to balance workers' rights and safety with legal obligations.

Being a leader in the Health and Safety industry for 20+ years, we are well placed to do this. However Covid-19, the new Delta variant, and the introduction of a national vaccine rollout, have provided unique and complex challenges that no organisations have had to face before.

We are experiencing increased urgency from businesses who need to ensure the safety of their workforce while also managing their ongoing operations in a Covid-19 environment. Key to this is better understanding what is both justifiable, effective and adheres to New Zealand’s legal framework in implementing controls in the workplace.

Relief for some sectors has come in the form of government mandated vaccination and requirement for proof of vaccination to enter a workplace. For other employers an independent, robust Risk Assessment including effective engagement with workers, is critical to guide and inform H&S decisions. Tailoring the assessment to address the risk for specific roles in an organisation also provides a sound basis for opening a non-adversarial dialogue with staff.

As an essential service and with the diverse nature of our operations at IMPAC, we’ve had to assess the risks across a variety of business environments and job roles. This includes trainers, consultants and office staff in contact with one another, and clients, in our premises.

We approached our own internal risk assessment process using a detailed Bow Tie analysis to visually identify risk factors by role, and the proactive and reactive controls for each. Our risk assessment demonstrates the relative efficacy of administrative controls, PPE and the newest control in our toolbox, vaccination, in a way all staff can understand.

For workplaces where working remotely, or isolation is not a long-term solution, engineering controls such as physical barriers and vaccination are the next most effective control measures. Vaccination is a far more effective control than those which rely on an individual’s consistent application such as social distancing or mask wearing.

In June, our own internal Covid-19 Vaccination Policy was based on encouraging voluntary uptake with clear communication around the benefits and paid leave to allow our people time to go through the vaccination process.

Since then, the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021 has mandated vaccination for a significant number of workers estimated to affect approximately 40% of the nation’s workforce; and an increasing number of our clients have or are in the process of making it mandatory for their workers and suppliers. For these reasons we undertook a review of our approach and policy to Covid-19 vaccination.

We have been fortunate to work with a number of NZ’s largest organisations and unions specifically around the role of vaccination in the workplace. Following our robust and consultative Bow Tie exercise with “Transmission in the workplace” as the top event, it is our view that with Covid-19 endemic in our community a critical risk control is the use of vaccinations.

However, proposing vaccination and disclosure of private medical information in the workplace can trigger a variety of reactions from staff. Although we have encountered overwhelmingly positive support for vaccination in the workplace from our teams and clients, employers are understandably concerned about how to address resistance.

In our experience and with our clients, the consultative process is far more productive when emotion is removed. We remind clients that the risk assessment process is not a debate based on opinions rather on sound scientific facts and medical evidence. Employers can combat misinformation by directing employees to reputable sources such as:


Another point to note to employees with privacy concerns is that as a society, displaying a licence or passport for something is not new. Every time we operate a vehicle, we must be able to provide a valid driver’s licence, to travel internationally we need a verified passport and in some cases vaccination certificates. In due course, evidence of Covid-19 vaccination will likely become socialised into everyday life.

With the Covid -19 Protection Framework coming into effect in early December, there is a sense of urgency to plan for reduced restrictions and the increased risk of Covid in the workplace. Organisations we are working with are telling us they feel a sense of relief to have some clear guidance and reassurance that they are doing the right thing.

 


 

Whether you are starting from scratch or need an independent review of your existing Covid-19 risk assessment, IMPAC’s team of experts can help. Read more here about our Covid-19 Risk Assessment for Business and have confidence in your H&S decisions.

Call 0800 246 722 or email contactus@impac.co.nz