Coronavirus workplace inspectors are not visiting locked-down aged-care homes in person because the risk of spreading the virus is deemed too dangerous, The New Daily can reveal.
Instead, they’re checking on mask compliance and other safety regulations, over the phone – even as deadly aged-care outbreaks continue to drive up Victoria’s soaring death toll.
The revelations follow Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ announcement on Wednesday that WorkSafe inspectors had visited 724 high-risk workplaces since a major blitz was announced on July 19.
Workplaces on their hit list included aged-care homes, construction sites, prisons, schools, food distribution centres, abattoirs and health services.
Of those on-site inspections, 62 compliance notices were dished out to bosses failing to comply with coronavirus safety measures.
But new WorkSafe data, obtained by The New Daily, shows inspectors made an additional 1430 coronavirus-related “virtual inquiries” from July 20 to August 17.
These inquiries resulted in 185 compliance notices.
“Procedures to limit the risk of spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) include inspectors making virtual inquiries where appropriate, but where a site visit is required WorkSafe will attend,” a WorkSafe spokesman told The New Daily.
The New Daily understands aged-care homes with coronavirus-infected residents were deemed too dangerous for inspectors to visit on-site, in which cases phone calls was considered “appropriate”.
During these phone calls, inspectors demand proof of COVID-safe management plans and workers’ access to PPE and hand hygiene products.
The aged-care debate
Deaths linked to aged-care homes increased Victoria’s COVID death toll again on Wednesday, which rose to 363 with 12 further fatalities.
But the federal and Victorian governments refuse to take the blame.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison came under fire for again deflecting federal responsibility for the deadly aged-care crisis in Victoria.
Speaking on ABC News Breakfast, Mr Morrison reiterated that “public health was a matter for the Victorian Government”.
“We regulate aged care, but when there is a public health pandemic… then they are things that are managed from Victoria,” he said.
I'm just working through Morrison's logic. His government
– funds aged care
– regulates aged care
– runs aged care workforce policy
– was supposed to oversee aged care pandemic plans
– supports aged care workers working at multiple sites
But it's Victoria's fault? https://t.co/I6aglN1xCQ
— Bernard Keane (@BernardKeane) August 18, 2020
Meanwhile, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews pointed out that while five cases were linked to public sector aged care, 2045 were linked to private sector aged care, which is regulated by the federal government.
So whose responsibility is it anyway?
Legally, there is no clear answer.
Nowhere in the Constitution does it give specific power to the federal government over aged care, said Anne Twomey, professor of constitutional law at the University of Sydney.
This responsibility was likely given to the federal government under an intergovernmental agreement.
The Commonwealth does, however, have direct power in relation to quarantine in the Constitution.
“That quarantine power could be used directly to deal with our aged care facilities during a pandemic,” Professor Twomey said.
But that doesn’t mean it should.
“It’s just not practical,” Professor Twomey said.
“The Commonwealth does not have people on the ground to do that – they can’t magic up doctors or nurses to run a hospital or aged care homes.”
When asked if Prime Minister Scott Morrison was trying to shirk responsibility for the aged care crisis, Professor Twomey said he was right in saying that states manage public health.
“The states have powers and responsibilities in relation to public health – and have for a very long time,” she said.
“The states run the hospitals, so it makes sense the states deal with public health emergencies.”