The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) is reminding both employers and employees that they have rights and obligations regarding their own safety and the wellbeing of others during a pandemic situation.
NZNO Associate Professional Services Manager Hilary Graham-Smith said that much of the information coming from authorities such as the Ministry of Health was comprehensive and helpful, but that the rights of nurses and others working in health to be fully informed and fully protected must also be very clear.
“Good infection control practices by clinicians will be essential in reducing the likelihood of disease spread should we find ourselves in a pandemic situation and coronavirus cases start turning up in Aotearoa New Zealand.
“Nurses and health care assistants will be central in this work and employers must ensure these employees are given guidance around best practice in a pandemic and about how to remain safe while providing clinical care.”
NZNO recommends all health facilities have up-to-date disaster and pandemic guidelines for employee health and safety and Ms Graham-Smith said employees should notify management via their health and safety representative if they are not satisfied their wellbeing is being sufficiently cared for.
“Under the Health and Safety Act employees have the right to refuse to perform work likely to cause them harm if steps to mitigate risks to wellbeing are not taken in conjunction with employers to resolve the situation.
“We recommend nursing staff contact NZNO and that other employees contact their unions immediately if they have remaining doubts about their safety at work.
“It is often nurses, midwives and health care assistants who play an important and leading role in ensuring readiness for an emergency such as a pandemic, and they should be supported in this task by management – and their leadership, expertise and mana acknowledged.”
The World Health Organization has declared a public health emergency of international concern over the coronavirus and Ms Graham-Smith said that should send a clear signal to both employers and employees around preparedness and full disclosure of information, including information about employee rights to safety and how staff will be protected at work.