Employment & Safety Update – 15 May 2020

Work Health and Safety: COVID-19 and return to work

Recent weeks have seen COVID-19 infection rates slowing significantly across Australia. On 8 May 2020, the Federal government released a 3 step framework for a “COVIDSafe Australia” which set out the road map to “reopening” the country over the coming months. As a result, many workplaces are now thinking about how to reopen and reintegrate staff as restrictions are lifted.

Despite the unique circumstances posed by COVID-19, it remains a business’s duty to its workers to ensure their health and safety. A PCBU must take all reasonably practicable steps to eliminate or reduce any risks to health and safety.

Government authorities have developed resources to assist businesses to meet their respective duties as restrictions are lifted and people return to work.

Within the national framework, individual states have requirements under their model WHS laws.

General information – SafeWork Australia resources

SafeWork Australia has developed a central COVID-19 hub which contains information regarding the employer’s WHS duties: worker’s rights, strategies to keep workers safe and other protective measures that can be taken, such as working from home, and cleaning.

The National COVID-19 Coordination Commission has developed a template COVIDSafe plan, which contains practical information and guidelines on reopening businesses, including details on how to undertake a risk assessment, and how to help keep workers safe and limit the spread of the virus.

You can access SafeWork Australia’s information and template plan here.

Tasmanian specific matters – WorkSafe Tasmania resources

WorkSafe Tasmania recently updated its COVID-19 resources to include a “Safe Workplaces Framework” to assist businesses to keep their workers safe and limit the spread of COVID-19. The Framework includes minimum standards that all PCBUs will be required to meet under their COVID-19 Safety Plan.

The state government has also foreshadowed that it will shortly update the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012. It is expected that this update will incorporate the Safe Workplaces Framework into the Regulations and become enforceable as law at all workplaces.

The minimum standards under the Safe Workplaces Framework require workplaces to:

  • manage the risks of a person contracting or spreading COVID-19 in the workplace;
  • implement and maintain a cleaning schedule across the workplace;
  • have good hygiene procedures and practices (such as washing and/or sanitising of hands)
  • ensure workers who have been instructed to quarantine or self-isolate don’t come to the workplace;
  • make sure physical distancing requirements are met by workers, contractors and others entering, leaving or moving around the workplace;
  • provide information, training and supervision on how the risks of COVID-19 are to be managed and ensure all processes and procedures are applied by the workers; and
  • provide information and instruction to other people who attend the workplace about how they are to comply with your processes and procedures, and make sure they apply them.

WorkSafe Tasmania are advising that businesses must document their plans and will need to be able to demonstrate how they are complying with the minimum standards if they are asked by a WorkSafe Inspector.  This can be done by completing a “COVID-19 Safety Plan”.

Based on the current information from WorkSafe Tasmania, it is expected that under a COVID-19 Safety Plan businesses need to:

  • undertake a risk assessment to identify the ways the virus can enter and spread at the workplace. This includes identifying all entry and exit points and minimising unnecessary entries. For example, and whilst it may inconvenience some staff, workplaces should consider implementing policies to prohibit online shopping being delivered to the workplace as a means of minimising the number of persons entering and exiting the premises;
  • implement a policy so that unwell people do not attend work, and that staff ‘work from home’ where this works for the business and the worker. This may require a change in mindset, as it is common for staff to try to ‘solider on’ when only feeling a little unwell. Senior managers and employees can be central in implementing this cultural change if necessary;
  • implement and monitor a cleaning schedule and ensure that there will be sufficient cleaning/hygiene supplies at the workplace to meet that schedule. This will almost certainly require additional cleans to be carried out during the day, with door handles and other “high touch” areas, such as photocopiers, printers and reception desks, regularly cleaned and disinfected;
  • ensure that social distancing is observed in the workplace, and that at least 4m2 per person can be maintained in the workplace. As above, this can be assisted by encouraging work from home where it works for the employee and the business. Other measures can include moving workstations, implementing maximum room capacity and expanding video conference abilities. Unfortunately, this will probably mean a temporary end to social activities such as Friday night drinks;
  • communicate to workers that they each have an obligation to reduce the risks of COVID-19, and how they can comply with those requirements. The use of signage (such as room usage restrictions) will be important to assist in this regard;
  • maintain open consultation with the Health and Safety Representatives, and continually review the COVID-19 controls. Staff should always be involved in discussions about how to keep the workplace COVIDSafe; and
  • implement stringent record keeping for people entering the workplace. Limiting the number of individuals who can enter the workplace will reduce the administrative burden of this requirement.

Implementation of the minimum standards will vary from business to business. WST has developed useful template plans for small and medium businesses, and a checklist which can be found here.

If you like more information or assistance to develop your COVIDSafe plan within the needs of your business, please contact:

Joe Mullavey
Principal
M: 0416 794 061
E: jmullavey@pageseager.com.au

Published: 15 May 2020

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