On the 27th of May 2022, most RFS members should have received a communication from the RFS Commissioner.
The VFFA is encouraging as many RFS members as possible to provide feedback to the RFS (see the links in the content or use the buttons below).
Also: Feel free to comment using the form below.
Message from the Commissioner: COVID-19 – mandatory vaccination requirement
On 22 April 2022, the NSW Government lifted Public Health Orders requiring mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for some sectors, instead recommending vaccine requirements be based on risk assessments under Work Health and Safety obligations.
Following this, members were advised that the RFS position requiring all staff and volunteers to be vaccinated remained in place, having been based on comprehensive consultation with our members and risk assessments in conjunction with other NSW fire and emergency service agencies.
However, given the amendment in Health Orders and the change in the virus, I committed to reviewing the risk assessment in liaison with allied agencies. I further advised that once the review was completed we would share the results with the membership.
Risk assessment review
The risk assessment review has now been completed, in unison with other NSW fire and emergency service agencies, and can be found here.
Members are able to provide feedback on the risk assessment via this feedback form by Friday 10 June 2022. We have also directly provided the risk assessment to RFS elected Health & Safety Representatives (HSRs), and staff and volunteer association representatives for comment.
The risk assessment has been informed by the latest advice from Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). ATAGI continues to advise that the COVID-19 vaccines used in Australia are critical in protecting against COVID-19 due to all variants, including the Omicron variant. Vaccination is important in preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19 (particularly in adults and immunocompromised populations) and helps to decrease transmission, providing fewer opportunities for mutation and helping to prevent the emergence of further variants.
RFS policy position
Taking into account all available information, the RFS executive hold the view that at this point in time it is necessary to continue the mandatory requirement for all members to be fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated means having had two doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, with a third booster dose strongly encouraged. This aligns with the approach being taken by our fire and emergency services colleagues who we continue to work closely with.
We recognise that this global pandemic, which has impacted all of our lives to varying degrees, has shifted over time and restrictions have continued to ease accordingly. However, we also appreciate that this has largely been through the good efforts of the people of NSW, and Australia more broadly, complying with health advice around vaccination and other preventative measures.
We are unable to know what the future holds in the way of new variants and severity of impact, and based on health advice it is too soon to consider relaxing vaccination requirements. Vaccination remains the most effective control that we can put in place to safeguard the health and safety of our members and service delivery to the community.
We will continue to monitor the evolving situation over the coming year and adjust our approach as necessary. This may require tighter or additional control measures if we are faced with a more severe COVID-19 variant or widespread transmission, or it may mean relaxing our existing controls where warranted.
Mandatory vaccination exemptions
The RFS will continue to consider and apply exemptions to mandatory vaccination in accordance with our existing policy position, as follows:
- Medical exemption – a temporary exemption may be available for members who are unable to be vaccinated due to medical contraindication(s).
- Junior member exemption – Junior volunteer members are not required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but are strongly encouraged to follow ATAGI recommendations.
- Brigade exemption – Districts continue to work with the 424 brigades who told us they were not supportive of mandatory vaccination as it would significantly impact their ability to provide fire and emergency service to their communities. Exemptions will be considered and determined for these brigades by no later than 30 June 2022.
Note: All other brigades must comply with the mandatory vaccination requirement and their members must be recorded as ‘fully vaccinated’ in the RFS system by 30 June 2022 to continue to operate without restriction.
I understand that, as ever, the issue of vaccination remains a contentious and complex one. I have previously said that the decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for RFS members was not made lightly, and the same can be said for our decision to continue the mandate.
I trust that our membership will continue to approach this situation respectfully, as we go about our duty of ensuring the best fire and emergency services to the communities of NSW.