e-bulletin No. 97 - March 2020
Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) update
The Workers Compensation Commission is focused on protecting our people and those who use our services, while continuing to deliver our important work.
Please read this bulletin, which provides further information about:
- Conciliation conferences, arbitration hearings and mediation conferences
- Medical assessments
- Attending Commission premises and venues.
Conciliation conferences, arbitration hearings and mediation conferences
Until COVID-19 recedes as an issue, con/arbs and mediation conferences may be conducted by telephone, on application by either party.
Applications must be submitted to the Commission’s Dispute Services Officer contact. An application form is not required, just an email that sets out the reason(s) why a telephone con/arb or mediation is requested.
The Commission will continue to update our approach in accordance with expert advice being received. We are currently reviewing alternatives to personal attendance at conciliation conferences, arbitration hearings and mediation conferences.
Conduct of con/arbs and mediations at Oxford Street
Conference rooms 9 and 10 at the Commission’s Oxford Street premises are small and so have been temporarily decommissioned. With the loss of two conference rooms, we will utilise temporary rooms by converting the training room into three conference rooms. We will also schedule overflow matters in the hearing rooms.
In the other Oxford Street conference rooms, an ‘exclusion zone’ has been established between the arbitrator/mediator and the parties. The exclusion zone ensures that arbitrators and mediators maintain a sufficient distance from the parties, which is equal to the distance between the parties (1.2 metres).
Before commencing a con/arb or mediation, arbitrators and mediators will require all attendees to declare that they have not been to an identified high risk country, they have not returned from overseas on or after 16 March 2020, and have not been in close contact with a person suspected of having COVID-19. A person presenting with flu-like symptoms will be asked to leave the conference room.
Arbitrators and mediators will remind the parties that:
- they cannot encroach the ‘exclusion zone’;
- only those parties who need access to the conference table should sit at it; and
- those sitting at the table should move away from each other.
Common sense should be applied to ensure the participation of those who are not sitting at the table.
Hand sanitiser has been provided in each conference room.
Conduct of con/arbs and mediations at regional venues
In regional venues, arbitrators and mediators will establish an ‘exclusion zone’ directly in front of them at the conference table. Arbitrators and mediators will inform the parties in line with the protocols set out above for Oxford Street.
We have also written to each of the venues that we use, to ensure their facilities are able to meet our requirements. We have instructed regional venues to provide hand sanitiser; however, we strongly recommend that you take a personal supply with you.
Please contact Siobhan Flores-Walsh, Director Operations, by email at Siobhan.Flores-Walsh@wcc.nsw.gov.au if you believe that a venue is unsatisfactory.
Conduct of medical assessments
It is critical that workers who have travelled from a high-risk country, who have returned from overseas on or after 16 March 2020, who have been in close contact with a person with or suspected of having COVID-19, or who have flu-like symptoms not attend medical assessments (or any Commission proceedings). The legal profession can assist by getting this message out to their clients.
In appropriate cases, an assessment for a psychiatric or psychological injury may proceed by video (discussed below).
The Commission is implementing the following procedures to screen workers prior to an assessment by an Approved Medical Specialist.
- Assessment Notifications
- Pre-assessment telephone screening
The notifications issued to workers and legal representatives advising of appointment details now advise as follows:
1.The Commission will call the worker approximately 72 hours before their appointment to ask questions to determine if they are well enough to attend the assessment (these are COVID-19 triage questions).
A Commission staff member will contact the worker by telephone approximately three days before the assessment date, to check the worker’s recent travel, close contact and current health status.
If a worker is identified as being at risk of transmitting COVID-19, the medical assessment will be cancelled. A new assessment may be arranged at that time or at a later time when the worker is able to attend.
An assessment will also not proceed in circumstances where a worker does not wish to attend a medical assessment for fear of contacting COVID-19, either by travelling to the assessment or as a result of attending the assessment.
If the Commission is unable to contact the worker prior to the assessment to confirm the pre-screening information, the appointment will be cancelled.
It is therefore important that all applications for dispute resolution and medical assessment include the telephone contact details for the worker. A mobile telephone contact is preferred.
3. Pre-assessment text messaging
24 hours prior to an assessment, the Commission will send a text message to the worker to remind the worker to report if there has been a change in their status. The text message will include an option to reply “Y” to proceed or “N” not to proceed with the assessment.
4. Pre-assessment screening before commencing assessment
On attending the proposed assessment, the receptionist will ask the worker questions regarding their recent travel, close contact and current health status.
If a worker attends with flu-like symptoms, the assessment will not proceed. If a worker represents that their flu-like symptoms are due to some other medical condition (e.g. asthma), the assessment will still not proceed unless the worker has a medical certificate confirming that other condition.
The Commission has a zero-tolerance policy for workers who become abusive or aggressive should a decision be made not to proceed with an assessment. Immediate action will be taken in the event of inappropriate conduct by a worker or support person.
Video medical conferences
If a worker requires an assessment for a psychiatric/psychological injury and can participate in a video conference, then the assessment will proceed by video, subject to the AMS’s concurrence. If a video conference will not work, then the assessment date will be vacated, and a priority appointment will be arranged when the worker is able to attend the appointment in person.
Protocols for visitors to the Commission
The Commission requires lawyers to observe the following protocols, and advise their clients (and others such as experts instructed by them) to comply with the protocols (to the extent they are relevant):
- If lawyers or their clients have flu like symptoms: They should notseek entry to Commission premises or attend Commission proceedings or medical assessments if they are experiencing symptoms like coronavirus symptoms.
- If lawyers or their clients have been to a country considered at higher risk of COVID-19 (excluding airport transit) in the past 14 days: They should stay at home and not attend Commission premises, proceedings or medical assessments. Persons who have been in, departed from, or transited through mainland China (excluding Macau and Taiwan), Iran, Italy or South Korea in the last 14 days should stay at home and self-isolate from others for 14 days from the day they departed mainland China (excluding Macau and Taiwan), Iran, Italy or South Korea.
- If lawyers or their clients have returned from overseas on or after 16 March 2020: They should stay at home and not attend Commission premises, proceedings or medical assessments. Persons returning from overseas on or after 16 March 2020 are required to self-isolate for a period of 14 days.
- If lawyers or their clients have come into close contact with a person who has or is suspected of having COVID-19: They should stay at home and not attend the Commission premises, proceedings or medical assessments.
- If compliance with protocol 1, 2, 3 or 4 disrupts the lawyer’s ability to participate in a scheduled event at the Commission: The lawyer should email or telephone the Commission for advice.
- If a lawyer cannot maintain carriage of a matter: The Commission expects lawyers to arrange for appropriately qualified persons to ensure the continued conduct of matters. If this is not possible, they should advise the Commission.
Public notices have been placed on the entrance doors to all hearing, conference and meeting rooms on level 21 to make this clear.
All Commission notices (listing notices and medical assessment notices) now have included a statement that people should not attend proceedings or medical assessments if they have flu-like symptoms.
A matter is unable to proceed if the worker cannot participate.
Practising healthy habits
Human coronaviruses are spread from someone with confirmed coronavirus to others by coughing or sneezing, or by contact with contaminated hands, surfaces or objects. Good hygiene is therefore important to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19, including:
- making sure to clean your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand rub,
- covering your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with a tissue or a flexed elbow,
- avoiding close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms.
Keeping you updated
This is a rapidly evolving situation. We will continue to review our protocols and inform you as we receive advice.
Please ensure you carefully read the e-Bulletins and monitor news alerts.
If you are in doubt about your personal health and wellbeing, it is better to act cautiously and in accordance with the advice given.
Our aim is to keep the Commission functioning and ensure the delivery of our services with as little disruption as is possible. We can only do this with the cooperation of all people, both within and outside the Commission.
The links set out below give general information about minimising coronavirus risks:
NSW Department of Customer Service:
Judge Gerard Phillips