The UK “should have aimed for a target of zero work-caused fatalities” in the NHS and other essential services in its battle against the coronavirus, the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) has said.
Several NHS workers, including doctors, surgeons and nurses, have already tragically died after contracting the disease from patients.
SOM has emphasised that no worker should die of work-acquired Covid-19 if controls are applied properly, and it is calling for the effective use of personal protective equipment (PPE), supported by training, fit-testing and compliance management.
It said new PPE guidance published by the government last week should be considered “minimum” protection and higher levels of protection should be used if they are available.
It said: “SOM is calling for robust and increasing access to occupational health. The need for advice from OH doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, psychologists, hygienists, and ergonomists amongst other professional groups is required. The need to protect our workers has never been greater; protecting the workforce is the core role of OH.
“SOM is supporting a multidisciplinary drive across sectors to raise awareness, share knowledge and engage employees in solutions. It is encouraging workplaces to design-in exposure prevention measures as advised by the Health and Safety Executive – helping employees take the opportunity to better understand the risks and demonstrate good practice in their work.”
The organisation also welcomed the Health and Safety Executive’s announcement that dangerous activity or work exposure to Covid-19 is reportable under RIDDOR. HSE also said doctors have an obligation to notify HM Coroner, or the Procurator Fiscal if in Scotland, if they suspect a Covid-19 death is work-related.
Meanwhile, two-thirds of doctors who participated in a British Medical Association survey said they do not feel safely protected from coronavirus infection at work.
According to the survey of almost 2,000 doctors, more than half working in high-risk environments said there were either shortages of adequate face masks, or none at all, while 65% did not have suitable eye protection.
Alarmingly, 55% felt pressurised to work in a high-risk area despite not having adequate PPE.
One hospital doctor told the BMA: “The quality of our eye protection and apron is useless. Some of the PPE provided feels like a tick-box exercise just for psychological reassurance.”
Only 195 said they had access to Covid-19 tests, despite the government stating it was increasing testing of healthcare workers.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA, said: “We are weeks into the most serious health crisis this country has faced in modern times and doctors are telling us they don’t have any or don’t have enough protective equipment. Until now, we have been hearing anecdotal stories about shortages or a lack of PPE, this survey confirms the extent of this failure.”