Work in the time of corona: risk management for COVID-19

Tuesday, 31 March, 2020

Work in the time of corona: risk management for COVID-19

In order to mitigate the risks of coronavirus (COVID-19), employers and employees must identify and manage work health and safety risks, including the exposure to COVID-19. WorkCover Queensland also advises that businesses should plan to respond to cases of COVID-19 at work in line with advice provided by Queensland Health. COVID-19 is transmitted from person to person much like the flu, via close contact with an infected person or from touching objects or surfaces contaminated by the sneeze or cough of an infected person and then touching the eyes, nose or mouth.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include the fever, cough, sore throat, tiredness or shortness of breath. Most infected persons will experience a mild illness from which they will fully recover; however, others may develop more serious illnesses with pneumonia. People at increased risk include the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions or a weakened immune system.

It is important to remember that most people who become ill with respiratory symptoms at work are likely suffering from a cold, the flu or other respiratory illness — not COVID-19. However, workers are advised to self-quarantine if they have travelled overseas in the past 14 days or been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

Workers who need to self-quarantine must notify their employer, stay away from the workplace and seek medical attention if they become ill during the quarantine period. Employers must also make appropriate arrangements to enable workers who need to self-quarantine to stay away from work. Where possible, the worker should be provided with flexible work arrangements such as working from home.

To prevent the spread of infection at work, workers must clean their hands regularly with soap and water, or alcohol-based sanitiser. Workers must also cover their noses and mouths with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing and dispose of tissues immediately after use. Workers must avoid touching their faces, noses and mouths, and shaking hands. Workers must also avoid coming into close contact with anyone who is unwell and stay 1.5 metres away from anyone coughing or sneezing. Workers are also advised to stay at home if they are unwell.

Employers are advised to provide hand-washing facilities and ensure that they are kept clean and properly stocked. Employers must also provide alcohol-based hand sanitiser, tissues and cleaning supplies, and encourage good hygiene practices by displaying hand hygiene posters. Workplaces must be kept clean and hygienic, with regular cleaning of high-touch surfaces such as door handles and workstations to prevent contamination. Employers considering overseas business travel must consult the Smartraveller website for advice first.

Employers must also encourage workers who are sick with respiratory illness to stay home until they are recovered. If a worker becomes ill and develops respiratory symptoms at work, employers must isolate them by placing them in a room away from others and arrange for the person to be sent home or access medical assistance. If a worker is diagnosed with COVID-19, employers in Queensland must call 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84) for advice, inform co-workers about possible exposure to COVID-19, but maintain confidentiality.

For businesses where workers are at increased risk from contact with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 (eg, healthcare industry), additional infection prevention and control practices are required. Guidance for specific industries is available at

WorkCover Queensland advises that personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn by people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, as advised by their doctor or Queensland Health, or people who have close contact with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 (eg, healthcare workers). Surgical masks can help prevent people with COVID-19 from spreading infection to others but are not currently recommended for healthy members of the public.

WorkCover Queensland has provided FAQs for workers, employers and medical providers on workers compensation and COVID-19, and a guideline for employers implementing a telecommuting arrangement.

Image credit: ©

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