Coronavirus advice for NSW workplaces

Tuesday, 24 March, 2020

Coronavirus advice for NSW workplaces

SafeWork NSW has provided advice for persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) to help them comply with their obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, and manage the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. As the situation evolves, PCBUs should monitor the Australian Government Department of Health and NSW Health websites for the latest information in relation to the spread and clinical management of the disease. SafeWork NSW advises that COVID-19 spread in a similar way to the flu; when someone who has COVID-19 coughs or sneezes, they release droplets of infected fluid that fall on nearby surfaces and objects, such as desks, tables, telephones, etc). People could contract the illness by breathing in airborne droplets, or touching contaminated surfaces or objects, and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

The groups at greatest risk of contracting the illness include elderly people, people with compromised immune systems (eg, cancer), people with diagnosed chronic medical conditions (eg, diabetes, heart and lung disease), very young children and babies, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (particularly those in remote communities) and workers in high-risk industries (eg, health care, social services and transport).

SafeWork NSW has developed staged advice to assist NSW businesses to manage the increasing risks of exposure of workers to this illness in the workplace. SafeWork NSW recommends all NSW businesses take action to prepare and manage the risk of COVID-19 to workers and others at their workplace; action should be proportionate to the nature of the work undertaken and level of risk in the community.

All businesses should review their infection control policies and procedures, promote social distancing, encourage good hand and respiratory hygiene, and increase cleaning of common areas within the work environment. Workplaces must also develop and implement safe systems of work that include directions and advice provided by health authorities, and monitor the COVID-19 situation as it develops.

Workers are also obligated under WHS legislation to protect themselves and others. Workers who are at risk of infection of coronavirus must raise their concerns with their manager or WHS representative; if they are unsatisfied with the response, they can contact SafeWork NSW on 13 10 50 or raise their concerns via the Speak up platform. Businesses may also need to respond to community responsibilities around social distancing and reducing exposure to illness, by providing flexible work options. These could include working from home or another location, flexible start and finish times, compressed hours/compressed working week, flexible rostering or bid rostering, job share, or taking a team-based approach to align service delivery requirements with the flexibility needed to reduce risks to employee health and wellbeing.

When working from home, employees are still covered under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011; therefore, employers have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of their employees is maintained while they work at home. Employers must consider communication requirements, managing workflow, use of equipment and workers compensation requirements. Employers must also take steps to ensure that for workers, at home work areas meet workplace health and safety requirements, with an assessment of the work area performed before the worker starts working from home.

While working from home, workers must follow procedures about how the work is performed, keep equipment in good working order and use equipment issued by their workplace as per instructions. Workers are also responsible for maintaining a safe work environment (by designating a specific work area), managing their own in-home safety (eg, maintaining electrical equipment) and reporting changes that may affect their health and safety when working from home.

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