OHS Matters: HSRs, Safety Data Sheets & Vaccines

Health and Safety Representatives have a very important role in the workplace – representing members of their DWG, who elected them to this position in all matters related to occupational health and safety. Their role is to take issues up to the employer to get them resolved. They also have a role in monitoring the employer’s compliance with their duties under the OHS legislation. The OHS Act gives them rights and powers to assist them in doing this. These include the right to training so HSRs have an understanding of the law. Sometimes, though, there can be some confusion when it comes to certain obligations. Here’s a recent, vaccination-related, example.

I work in a sector where it looks like COVID vaccinations will be made mandatory. My employer has said that to facilitate this, vaccinations will be arranged at the workplace. However, several of my colleagues are concerned about the safety of the vaccines.

I have pulled up the Pfizser Material Safety Data Sheet but seems all relevant information is not listed or there is no data available. Would this be the complete MSDS with so much information not available? Shouldn’t a full MSDS be provided to the workplace? Would you please advise if this is correct or which would be the best platform to find all current and relevant information pertaining to this and other COVID vaccines.

The Pfizer vaccines Safety Data Sheet (SDS is the new term for MSDS), is available as a pdf online

But note that under the WHS/OHS legislation SDSs must be written and supplied for hazardous chemicals provided to and used/handled in workplaces. That is, the SDS is required provided to workers who use a substance in the workplace and so the need to be aware of and trained in the requirements for storage and handling, PPE and adverse effects if exposed during this use or handling.

In other words, there is no requirement for an SDS to be provided for the vaccines, as not only are these not being used/handled by those who will be vaccinated, but are not registered as ‘hazardous substances’ and are not covered by the OHS legislation.

Nevertheless, even though this is the case, an SDS would be useful information for health workers, and so on who handle or use the vaccine.

Regarding the safety of the vaccines: The approval process for vaccines to be used in Australia is through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Each of the vaccines in our current program (AstraZeneca, Pfizer and recently Moderna) vaccine was approved by the TGA after the organisation evaluated all the clinical trial data and information provided by the company.  These vaccines have been approved by many other countries and have been used in vaccination programs for many months. The TGA also took into account the experiences of other countries which used the vaccines before Australia. Each vaccine has been deemed safe to use by doctors and health professionals both in Australia and worldwide. More information on the safety of the vaccines can be found on the federal government’s health website. You can also check the information on the COVID vaccines on the TGA website. The TGA provides information on the approval process, the safety monitoring and the outcomes, and more.  

For example, the Pfizer vaccine was tested widely before being used and research from the Department of Health shows that people with both doses of Pfizer were 95 per cent less likely to get symptomatic COVID-19. More information on this research can be found in a fact sheet which you can access at health.gov.au.

The federal government then takes the advice of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) in terms of who should get the vaccine (eg age groups) after the TGA approves its use.

This is a stressful and unprecedented time for everyone, and it is understandable if your coworkers are concerned about the vaccines and their effects, and that they come to you as the HSR.