'Dangerously unprepared': Disability workers feeling unsafe during COVID-19 pandemic

Disability support workers have had poor access to personal protective equipment and other health precautions during the pandemic, a new survey reveals.

People with disability have struggled to access masks and gloves for their support workers during the pandemic.

People with disability have struggled to access masks and gloves for their support workers during the pandemic. Source: AAP

Disability workers do not have access to personal protective equipment and have been feeling unsafe during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new survey reveals.

More than 2,300 disability workers responded to a UNSW survey during March indicating extreme anxiety about the lack of health precautions being taken.

"Dangerously unprepared with lack of PPE," wrote one survey respondent.

"We had to ask other houses for hand sanitiser.

"No face masks or protective eye wear for personal care procedures.

"Made me feel very unsafe working with children and I don't want to go back to work and be put at risk."

The Activ Foundation workshop in Perth where an employee tested positive for COVID-19.
Source: Google

'The Disability Workforce and COVID-19: Initial Experiences of the Outbreak' report was published on Monday, commissioned by the Health Services, United Workers and the Australian Services unions.

It says the disability workforce feels "dangerously overlooked" in the pandemic response and workplace protocols to protect them are inadequate.

Workers have been worried about day programs and community access activities remaining in operation, group homes remaining open to other NDIS service providers and visitors, creating more risk to client safety.

Some workers have lost jobs and are uncertain about the future of their work and many expressed concern about their inability to properly self-isolate, the report says.

The Fair Work Commission is due to hear an application by the unions Monday morning asking for a special COVID-19 care allowance to be added to the industry award.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his wife Jenny meet resident Ricky Hackett during a visit to a disability home in Sydney in February.
Source: AAP

The three unions hope the allowance will reward disability workers for their essential work and increased responsibilities helping clients who have contracted the virus.

"Disability workers are essential workers," Health Services Union secretary Lloyd Williams said.

"They provide critical services to the most vulnerable people in our community and deserve the additional support."

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

Published 4 May 2020 at 6:42am, updated 4 May 2020 at 7:42am