WorkSafe has launched an investigation over a virus outbreak

The workplace watchdog on Wednesday confirmed it had launched an investigation into Cedar Meats as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases from the Brooklyn meatworks climbed to 88.

The probe will examine Cedar Meat’s pandemic preparedness, including checks on whether it had sufficient measures in place to ensure workers maintained social distancing wherever possible; avoid sharing work tools and equipment, and had access to hand sanitiser and personal protective equipment.

“WorkSafe is working with DHHS to develop appropriate industry guidance for managing and controlling coronavirus (COVID-19) in the workplace and is also working with DHHS to manage incidents of COVID-19 where they occur in a workplace,” a spokesman said.

WorkSafe first became involved in the Cedar Meats outbreak after an inspector attended a workplace incident on April 23, in which a boning room worker severed a thumb. After the worker tested positive to coronavirus in hospital the following day, five WorkSafe Victoria officers had to be placed in isolation.

The investigation is likely to assess whether Cedar Meats followed pandemic preparation guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as recommendations for dealing with the coronavirus threat made by the Victorian Chief Health Officer.

A Cedar Meats worker was finally told he had coronavirus – 11 days after undergoing a test that was later bungled by a laboratory.

As Victoria’s Premier, Health Minister and Chief Health Officer faced a parliamentary grilling over the state’s biggest coronavirus outbreak, cases linked to the Brooklyn abattoir grew by another eight yesterday to 85.

The new cases include a Cedar Meats worker who was first tested on May 1, but who had been unable to gain his test results due to an “error” at the private lab contracted to analyse samples. After the Herald Sun revealed the bungling of the distraught worker’s test on Monday, he finally received notification he was positive for coronavirus that evening.

“I know now, I can deal with it – you can’t deal with what you don’t know,” he told the Herald Sun. “I am still in isolation and will have to be tested to be cleared, but will have to wait for the health department to tell me when and where I can go.”

After the Herald Sun raised questions about the man’s delayed test results on Sunday, an Andrews Government spokeswoman said the incident was an “anomaly” due to an administrative error at the Dorevitch Pathology laboratory. Dorevitch failed to return calls relating to the test yesterday.

The man – who has asked not to be identified – was working in the Cedar Meats boning room with a colleague who severed his thumb on March 23 and was subsequently revealed to have coronavirus in the first alarm of the abattoir cluster.

During a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic yesterday, Chief Health Officer Prof. Brett Sutton was asked why boning room staff waited a week to be tested, replying:

“The first case that was identified in the boning did not identify any close contacts,” Prof Sutton said.

“I didn’t speak to this specific case myself, but the contract tracers will go through a very rigorous and standard process of interviewing individuals who’ve been identified as positive.”

Prof Sutton said hundreds of Cedar Meats staff remain in quarantine, including some who had become symptomatic in the previous 24 hours.

Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the testing error underlined that the Department of Health’s handling of the Cedar Meats cluster had been “far from perfect”.

“The confusion and mishandling of an employee’s test result has caused enormous and unnecessary distress to him and his family, with still more confusion around what he is to do next,” Ms Crozier said.

But appearing before the parliamentary committee, Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said all appropriate contact tracing began once it was clear that there were cases of coronavirus diagnosed among workers.

“The advice that I have is that initial contact tracing at the company focused on those most at risk, including employees, and that subsequent contact tracing was undertaken to identify any other visitors, including the meat inspectors,” Ms Mikakos said.

Source: Herald Sun

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