Coles supermarket workers worried about switch to non-alcohol hand sanitiser amid coronavirus pandemic
By Elias Clure
Posted 19 AprApril 2020, updated 19 AprApril 2020
Coles worker Tony Williams said he felt unsafe using the sanitiser Coles had switched to.(ABC News: Elias Clure)
Coles staff have accused the supermarket giant of not providing the best possible protection against coronavirus after their complaints about the effectiveness of non-alcohol-based hand sanitiser were dismissed by the head office.
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends using hand sanitiser that is at least 60 per cent alcohol
Coles has switched to a non-alcohol sanitiser for staff in some stores
The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union first raised concerns with Coles about the sanitiser six weeks ago
Employees have told the ABC they are concerned about Coles management’s decision to switch from alcohol-based hand sanitiser to a non-alcohol-based product.
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Safe Work Australia recommend that workers use hand sanitisers containing 60 per cent alcohol, which are more effective at neutralising the coronavirus.
However, Coles has told staff the product it uses has been tested and protects against the virus.
Coles worker Tony Williams said he was dubious about the product’s efficacy and felt unsafe.
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“Why don’t we have the other stuff? Like, why not? Why change it? You feel safer,” he said.
Mr Williams works at a Coles store in Melbourne’s south-east and said staff were confused by management’s decision not to provide them with a product recommended by the DHHS.
Some Coles staff say the sanitiser they are being provided is less effective than the alcohol-based products they were using previously.(ABC Radio Sydney: Matt Bamford)
“We certainly feel less safe,” he said.
“The anxiety levels have certainly gone up because of everything that’s going on, especially with the knowledge that the stuff that we have isn’t as good as the other stuff that we were using.”
He said supermarket workers were more at risk than a lot of other workers.
“We want to have every shield, every guard to try and stay safe and this non-alcohol-based hand sanitiser is second-best,” he said.
Another Coles worker, who asked not to be named, said the change to non-alcohol hand sanitiser had created “quite a lot of concern”.
“There’s a lot of people in the stores and everyone’s using it, so there’s a chance that that could be the location where transmission happens in the community because of people not using an efficient sanitiser.”
University of Sydney dean of pharmacy Andrew McLachlan said that the product Coles was supplying was not as effective as alcohol-based sanitisers.
A Coles spokesperson said the safety of staff was the company’s highest priority.(ABC News: Tom Joyner)
“All the guidelines strongly suggest an alcohol-based hand sanitiser, if you can’t wash your hands using soap, and the next resort is non-alcohol based sanitiser,” he said.
“So we know it has some efficacy but it’s certainly not as effective as alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
“It’s quite possible that it has some efficacy, but the question is: is it the most effective?”
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In a statement to the ABC, a Coles spokesperson said: “The safety of our team members and customers is our highest priority. Coles uses a number of different hand sanitiser products for use in our stores, including ethanol-based products.”
The manufacturer of the non-alcohol hand sanitiser provided at some Coles stores, Jasol, also told the ABC the product was tested and safe.
But Retail and Fast Food Workers Union secretary Josh Cullinan said the tests were not sufficient.
“The report that was done by the laboratory showed it was done as a hard surface disinfectant, not as a hand sanitiser so it’s fundamentally flawed,” Mr Cullinan said.
“We’ve been raising this concern with Coles for the last six weeks regularly.
“Our members are deeply concerned that their health is being put at risk.”