Today’s correspondent asked for “information regarding any regulations/protocols/policies regarding the carrying or consumption of personal food in an ambulance (workplace) during shift?” I asked for more context and they replied
The context surrounding my Question is that, as an organisation/PCBU is to provide a safe eating space for workers, and we are to be allocated a 1 x 30min break in a 10hr shift, or 2 x 30min break in a 12hr shift.
Are there any provisions in place that stipulate that food can or cannot be carried within an ambulance that transports persons with infectious diseases, significant trauma and other health conditions which may contaminate an officers food ?.
In addition to this, as some ambulances have only one (1) refrigerator within the ambulance, which is to be used for patient water, medicines, and possibly amputated parts. Is there a requirement that the organisation to provide a safer means of transporting a workers meal/food if the worker does not return to their home station or a station throughout their shift until the completion of their shift, which is basically every shift.
Paying particular attention to Worksafe QLD Code of Practice – Managing the work environment and facilities code of practice 2021 (3.5 – Dining facilities), the opening sentence states that: Workers must be provided with access to hygienic facilities for eating and for preparing AND storing food.
That context effectively answered the question.
The legislature is never going to get into specifics and write laws ‘regarding the carrying or consumption of personal food in an ambulance (workplace) during shift’. I cannot access internal documents or policies but that is where the answer (if any) will lie and it will be there for the reasons stated by my correspondent.
In the absence of a subject specific law, normal industrial and work health and safety laws will give the answer. The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (Qld) r 41(1) says:
A person conducting a business or undertaking at a workplace must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the provision of adequate facilities for workers, including toilets, drinking water, washing facilities and eating facilities.
The terms of employment will say what meal breaks are required but the nature of a 24 hour 7 day a week emergency service is that of course those meal breaks at the prescribed times cannot be guaranteed.
That begs the question of what is ‘adequate’. I would imagine an ambulance service would say that there are stations that probably have refrigerators, hot plates, microwave ovens etc and that is ‘adequate’. Paramedics, like my correspondent may say they are not adequate given the nature of the work and the time away from station.
When deciding what is adequate, r 41(3) says:
For this section, a person conducting a business or undertaking must have regard to all relevant matters including—
(a) the nature of the work being carried out at the workplace; and
(b) the nature of the hazards at the workplace; and
(c) the size, location and nature of the workplace; and
(d) the number and composition of the workers at the workplace.
The nature of the work and the nature of the hazards are both relevant to the question of what can be provided in an ambulance and whether carrying food in an ambulance carries an unacceptable risk.
Paramedics of course know what their job is, what the demands of their job are and can and should make allowance to ensure that they have food with them and to also consider whether they can or should carry food that requires refrigeration if they know they do not have access to the fridge. It is their duty to take reasonable care of their own safety (Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) s 28(a)).
Equally the PCBU knows of the demands on their staff and has to ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ provide facilities including ‘eating facilities’. The law won’t get any more specific than that. Within that context and taking into account the terms of employment the PCBU needs to determine what it can provide. IF there is no agreement on what is ‘reasonable’ and ‘reasonably practicable’ then it is an industrial matter to be taken up using the consultation processes in industrial and work health and safety law. This will not be a situation where one can look up a law book and find that there is a rule that ‘any ambulance must be fitted with a staff fridge’ or the like. Modern work health and safety law leaves it up to the PCBU, in consultation with workers, to come up with a solution based on the situation in their unique workplace.
There is no law specifically on ‘carrying or consumption of personal food in an ambulance’. There are general legal principles in particular in the work health and safety legislation that say there must be reasonable access to facilities. What is ‘reasonable’ depends on all the circumstances and is a matter for the PCBU to determine in consultation with workers. If a paramedic thinks that what they are being provided is not ‘reasonable’ they should take this up with their health and safety representative, WHS committee or their industrial union.
This blog is made possible with generous financial support from the Australasian College of Paramedicine, the Australian Paramedics Association (NSW), Natural Hazards Research Australia, NSW Rural Fire Service Association and the NSW SES Volunteers Association. I am responsible for the content in this post including any errors or omissions. Any opinions expressed are mine, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or understanding of the donors.