Local accommodation moves during the outbreak
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 3, 11 May 2020, page no. 17
Movement of teachers in and out of teacher accommodation is a common feature of life in rural and remote communities. Given COVID-19, local accommodation committees (LACs) should consider such moves carefully and plan them with incoming or exiting tenants. Where consideration has not yet occurred, it should be on the agenda for LAC meetings.
As the employer, the Department of Education (DoE) has a duty of care to teachers living in accommodation provided to them. Planning for moves must actively consider social distancing. Actively consulting with affected tenants on processes that consider and genuinely endeavour to safeguard the health and wellbeing of teachers, particularly tenants in a multi-tenancy arrangement, is also expected under work health and safety legislation.
The QTU understands that the department provided the following advice to LACs and local accommodation officers (LAOs) in April.
- Practice good hand and cough/sneeze hygiene.
- Avoid handshaking and other physical greetings; maintain social distance.
- Regularly clean shared high-touch surfaces, such as tables, kitchen benches and doorknobs.
- Increase the amount of fresh air by opening windows or adjusting air conditioning.
- If you can, leave the property when the removalists enter.
- When unpacking household contents at the destination, maintain good hand hygiene and clean items with soap and water.
- If your household contents are in transit for some time, even if the removalist or staff member is a carrier/contagious, the virus would be inactive after a period of time.
How long does the coronavirus last on surfaces?
It is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days.
If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with a common household disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others.
Wash your hands with soap and water and avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose
All of the above precautions need to be increased for people who are sick and/or are in the following high-risk categories:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years and older with one or more chronic medical conditions
- people 65 years and older with chronic medical conditions
- people 70 years and older
- people with compromised immune systems.
The QTU’s advice to LACs is to minimise movements as much as possible. Active consideration also needs to be given to safe processes for teachers moving into or exiting a multi-tenancy arrangement, as well as how such a move may impact on other tenants. Consideration should also be given to providing basic cleaning materials such as clean cloths and disinfectant, as local shops may not have available stocks.
Considered approaches that allow for time, consultation and coordination are more likely to ensure that good practices are communicated and actioned.
These are some key questions for LAC consideration.
- Could other accommodation units be used, rather than increasing the number of people in the tenancy?
- What strategies can be put into place to support existing tenants impacted by a tenant moving in or out of a multi-tenancy arrangement, e.g. cleaning, timing to support social distancing, etc?
- As well as surface-cleaning with disinfectant once accommodation has been vacated, can the new tenant’s entry be delayed to further mitigate the risk of infection?
- Has access to interim accommodation been considered to provide time for appropriate coordination of the move/s, including managing the impact on other tenants?
- How is the arrival of removalists going to be managed and what cleaning will occur after they leave? What steps do the removalists have in place to mitigate against the transmission of COVID-19? Have people observed these steps being complied with?
- What consideration has been given to managing relocations that may impact on tenants who are sick and/or are in the COVID-19 high-risk categories?
There can be a sense of urgency to get the new tenant into accommodation and settled as quickly as possible. However, it is important to remember that a teacher can be accommodated in temporary accommodation while plans are put in place to manage their entry to accommodation, considering the precautions identified above.
The first duty of an employer is the safety of workers and others. While ordinarily the decision would be to maximise the number of tenants in multi-tenancy units, at this time active consideration should be given to allocative choices that spread people out.
Teachers with concerns for their safety should formally raise their concerns with the LAO.