CODE 2, VOL 34, NO 13 : 26 march 2020
INSTRUCTION TO HAND OUT FORMS AT AIRPORTS
One very important and current example of very poor decision making in ‘One QFES’ that has not included your union (we were rung and told verbally it’s happening) was the idea to send operational firefighters to hand out forms at airports.
I and your executive and state committee consider this to be ill-conceived, poorly thought through and, at best, a total misuse of critical emergency response capability and, at worst, a lazy decision to put some of you directly at risk of exposure to COVID19 for absolutely no reason.
I have been told that the Queensland Chief Medical Officer (quite reasonably and legally) requested assistance from ‘One QFES’ during the current crisis through emergency powers created by the state government very recently, and then those within QFES who make decisions decided to send in frontline operational professional firefighters to hand out forms at some of the highest risk locations in Australia (airports both international and domestic across Queensland).
If we were involved in the planning of this work, as we should have been, we could have pointed out some basic facts, such as;
a) there are thousands of workers other than operational professional firefighters who (with appropriate risk controls in place) could easily perform this work, and
b) putting operational firefighters in direct exposure to potentially infected people creates the risk those workers are lost to illness, or self-isolation, compromising the ability to provide emergency response later on when the infection rate invariably climbs and you and your colleagues are called on to do more emergency response.
No other Australian jurisdiction has been so foolish as to risk some of the most important emergency workers in their state or territory to do such low level administrative work carrying such high risk.
And on risk, no one within Fire and Rescue has been able to provide your union with any sort of evidence of any risk assessment relating to consideration of the impacts handing out flyers to travellers may represent to you and your colleagues. As such, I am left with the view the decision was rushed, without a sensible consideration of who would be best suited to this work, and now some of you are at risk of being quarantined, or worse, contracting the virus.
Were this to continue, at the very least your union expects to see evidence of the control measures in place before the work continues. You have the right to be safe at work.
Where is the evidence of the engineering controls for this work, such as safe distances, and evidence there will be no physical contact (how do you hand someone a form from 1.5 metres away) for this work?
Where are the administrative controls for this work, such as a safe working procedure to follow?
Where is the evidence of PPC for this work, such as masks, hand sanitiser and more?
It would seem it’s easy for senior management to make a lazy decision to just send you in, but when the rubber hits the road, the WHS considerations within Fire and Rescue appear to be crossing fingers while sticking heads in the sand!
There are a multitude of other agencies, and even within QFES multiple groups of people potentially better suited to doing the work at the airports due to them not being necessary for critical emergency response (for example non-frontline staff in administrative roles).
I have spoken to the Commissioner and have asked him for this work at airports handing out forms to cease, and I will have more to say on this matter once the Commissioner responds to me.
John Oliver - General Secretary
Authorised by John Oliver General Secretary
United Firefighters' Union of Australia, Union of Employees QLD