Occupational hygiene and management of COVID-19 related risks

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Date: 
Monday, 5 October, 2020 - 12:00
Category: 
Industry news
Location: 
National News

A big challenge for many organisations when it comes to occupational hygiene and management of COVID-19 related risks is around rearranging physical space and flow, to limit human congestion, according to the University of Adelaide.

The most important exposure scenario is people speaking face to face in proximity, without protection such as shields and respirators, said Dino Pisaniello, a Professor in the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Adelaide.

“Much has been said about indoor ventilation and air filtration, but there doesn’t seem to be much happening,” said Pisaniello, who was speaking ahead of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety South Australian Learning & Update Symposium: Tackling the Big WHS Issues event which will be held on Friday 23 October 2020.

“The analogy I like is that of smokers in offices,” he said.

“What would you do if a smoker came in and started smoking in your work area? Could the system cope or would you ask workers to wear respirators?

“There is no way that a normal air conditioning system can cope. They’re not designed to deal with high/variable emission air contaminant sources.”

On the other hand, Pisaniello said too much (or poorly targeted) attention has been paid to surface cleaning.

“Fomite transmission is rather indirect and probably overrated. But perhaps businesses see that as something they can do relatively easily,” he said.

OHS professionals need to interpret or filter the community advice, according to normal conceptual frameworks for risk assessment and hazard management (that is, understanding the relative importance of exposure mechanisms and pathways, susceptibility etc).

“I think you will see occupational hygiene take on greater importance in the longer term,” he said.

“This will be fuelled by future studies reporting on what we could have done better.”

Pisaniello also observed that COVID-19 has some unexpected characteristics and there could be different viruses in the future with different characteristics.

“Occupational hygiene could become institutionalised to address that future uncertainty, and as a side benefit deal with colds and flu transmission, which can be important for customer-facing operations, open plan etc,” he said.

The Australian Institute of Health & Safety South Australian Learning & Update Symposium: Tackling the Big WHS Issues event will be held on Friday 23 October 2020 from 11:30 to 21:00 (ACDT) at Sanctuary Adelaide Zoo, 1 Plane Tree Drive, Adelaide SA. For more information email events@aihs.org.au, call (03) 8336 1995 or visit the event website.