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How to Prepare your Workforce for the Recovery

by Adrian Markovski

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As we slowly start to see States across the Country relax rules and restrictions around COVID-19, it is important to start planning for a physical return to work.  In order to successfully return to work and further minimise the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, we must focus on a new way of work, follow mandatory rules and regulations and incorporate a number of key measures and practical steps.            

Workplace Safety Mandatory Rules and Regulations

Every business has a duty of care underpinned by State and Federal legislation. This means that all reasonable steps must be taken to protect the health and safety of everyone at the workplace, including:

  • Talk to your Team Members (Consultation). Your Team Members may be confused or concerned about the information they hear. Stay across authoritative sources and provide information to Team Members about the measures you are planning to take to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19 at the workplace.

  • Physical (Social) Distancing. The likelihood of interactions causing the spread of COVID-19 is low if physical distancing advice is followed. This involves:

    • Keeping a distance of at least 1.5 meters between people

    • One person for 4 square metres of space

    • Face-to-face interactions limited to less than 15 minutes

    • Close proximity interactions limited to 2 hours

To ensure you are implementing the correct physical distancing measures, please make use of the Safe Work Australia (SWA) Physical Distancing Checklist.

  • Self-Isolation. All Australians have to self-isolate if they have COVID-19, have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, or arrived in Australia after midnight on 15 March 2020. Self-isolation means we must stay at home for 14 days. If a Team Member suspects they have COVID-19, they must isolate themselves (self-quarantine), advise their Manager immediately and call a doctor or hospital and tell them their recent travel or close contact history. If they have serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing, call 000 for an ambulance and notify the Officers of the recent travel or close contact history.

  • Where vulnerable Team Members (E.g. over 70 years of age or having existing health conditions) undertake essential work, a risk assessment must be undertaken. Where risk cannot be appropriately mitigated, Employers and Workers should consider alternate arrangements to accommodate workplace absence.

National COVID-19 safe workplace principles.  The National Cabinet has been working to develop principles around easing social distancing restrictions across Australia. They apply to businesses and workers and have been designed to prepare workplaces to resume normal operations.

The 10 principles include:

  1. All workers, regardless of their occupation or how they are engaged, have the right to a healthy and safe working environment.

  2. The Covid-19 pandemic requires a uniquely focused approach to work health and safety (WHS) as it applies to businesses, workers and others in the workplace.

  3. To keep our workplaces healthy and safe, businesses must, in consultation with workers and their representatives, assess the way they work to identify, understand and quantify risks and to implement and review control measures to address those risks.

  4. As Covid-19 restrictions are gradually relaxed, businesses, workers and other duty holders must work together to adapt and promote safe work practices, consistent with advice from health authorities, to ensure their workplaces are ready for the social distancing and exemplary hygiene measures that will be an important part of the transition.

  5. Businesses and workers must actively control against the transmission of Covid-19 while at work, consistent with the latest advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), including considering the application of a hierarchy of appropriate controls where relevant.

  6. Businesses and workers must prepare for the possibility that there will be cases of Covid-19 in the workplace and be ready to respond immediately, appropriately, effectively and efficiently, and consistent with advice from health authorities.

  7. Existing State and Territory jurisdiction of WHS compliance and enforcement remains critical. While acknowledging individual variations across WHS laws mean approaches in different parts of the country may vary, to ensure business and worker confidence, a commitment to a consistent national approach is key, including a commitment to communicating that constitutes best practice in prevention, mitigation and response to the risks presented by Covid-19.

  8. SWA, through its tripartite membership, will provide a central hub of WHS guidance and tools that Australian workplaces can use to successfully form the basis of their management of health and safety risks posed by Covid-19.

  9. States and Territories ultimately have the role of providing advice, education, compliance and enforcement of WHS and will leverage the use of the SWA central hub in fulfilling their statutory functions.

  10. The work of the National Covid-19 Coordination Commission will complement the work of SWA, jurisdictions and health authorities to support industries more broadly to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic appropriately, effectively and safely.

Return to work practical safety steps

On top of following any mandatory rules and regulations, there are number of key measures and practical steps that should be adopted in your workplace to minimise the spread of Covid-19.  As a starting point, make use of the SWA Workplace Checklist which helps to identify how Employers can keep their Workers safe and limit the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace.

The appropriate key measures and practical steps include Handwashing and hygiene, Signage and posters (to download relevant posters click here), Cleaning, Identifying and responding to Covid-19 cases (to download symptoms fact sheet click here), Train your Workers and Review Company Policies and Procedures which could include Work, Health & Safety, Disciplinary, Flexible Work and Leave.

If you would like advice or any assistance with a safe Return To Work plan, please contact either of our Trak HR Consulting Directors – Belinda McPhee  0417 239 458 or Garry Connell 0409 590 996.