Concern over the health and wellbeing of Ballarat Health Services workers have been raised after BHS announced all break rooms would be closed every day for at least the next two weeks.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation has sought urgent intervention from the Department of Health and Human Services after being made aware of the memo, which was sent to staff on Friday evening detailing closure of communal break rooms and meal areas from 7am to 10pm each day.
"The memo suggests staff have their break in an outside area or in their cars which are often a 10 minute walk away," said ANMF (Victorian branch) secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick.
"Nurses and midwives are already exhausted wearing all of the PPE with little opportunity to hydrate.
"Their 30-minute lunch break now comprises - taking PPE off safely and a 10 minute walk to and from their car where they can store their meal. Their morning or afternoon tea break will not provide an opportunity for rehydration in the event this ban continues."
Ms Fitzpatrick said she was aware other health services had implemented similar closures, but those services "have managed to ensure a covered area with seating and heating has been put in place".
"Ballarat Health Services needs to be able to provide this same bare minimum for all of its staff."
Despite widespread anger from staff about the ban, which they said was implemented with no consultation, BHS stood firm on their decision saying the welfare of the community, staff, patients, residents and clients was at the forefront of their response to COVID-19.
BHS chief executive Dale Fraser said the precaution was being taken to mitigate the risk of staff contracting the virus in situations where they may remove their masks and face coverings.
"There are many things about COVID-19 that are to date unknown, however what we do know is that this virus is incredibly easy to spread, and that is something we have seen happening in certain settings in Melbourne," Mr Fraser said.
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"We are not willing to risk the health of our workers and the chance of spreading the virus to those most vulnerable, so we are being extra cautious in implementing these restrictions. Breaking the personal protective barrier is a necessary consequence of consuming food or beverages, hence the need to increase the social distancing in a health environment.
"This is not a decision we take lightly, and we are making every effort to minimise the extreme risk of transmission to our staff."
A spokesman confirmed WorkSafe is investigating the matter.
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