If you're looking at having employees back in your workplace, now is a great time to make sure you're up to date on the latest Work Health and Safety guidelines.
Six weeks in, the house is spotless, but I have serious Zoom fatigue.
With the government releasing the Roadmap to a COVIDSafe Australia last week my mind is turning from “did I have a shower today?” to “did I leave food in the office fridge six weeks ago?”. Given the latter point, is it safe to return to the office?
Safe Work Australia - Mission Central
While no specific mention of the office fridge, the federal government has released a set of protocol to guide business back to “normal”.
The goal of the National COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles together with industry-specific guidelines is to establish a virus-free economy by July by giving business the tools and resources to begin the process immediately.
The ten principles outlined by the federal government are detailed below, but the key read from Safe Work Australia are the industry-specific guidelines here.
At a high-level, the guidelines cover twenty-three specific industries in great detail, including from the perspective of an Employer, Small Business and Worker. It covers key areas such as risk assessment, physical distancing, hygiene, cleaning, PPE and masks.
I won’t lie, there is a hell of a lot to digest here. It is not an easy read but it is a vital one.
For those with exposure across multi industries, I would recommend starting with the rules around General Industry Information and then reading into the specifics of each industry. This will include those in the manufacturing or warehousing space with an office, or those in education who have workers using public transport. While much of the information is repeated there are specific guidelines for each industry.
To add to the pain, the guidelines are constantly updated. As at the time of writing this blog they had not been updated for the Roadmap to a COVIDSafe Australia.
The guidelines will need to be revisited as and when restrictions are changed.
Recognising that the COVID-19 pandemic is a public health emergency, that all actions in respect of COVID-19 should be founded in expert health advice and that the following principles operate subject to the measures agreed and implemented by governments through the National Cabinet process:
- All workers, regardless of their occupation or how they are engaged, have the right to a healthy and safe working environment.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Existing state and territory jurisdiction of WHS compliance and enforcement remains critical. While acknowledging that 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. This includes a commitment to communicating what constitutes best practice in prevention, mitigation and response to the risks presented by COVID-19.
- Safe Work Australia (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.
- 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.
- 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.
We encourage you to check in on these guidelines regularly to make sure your workplace is adhering to the most up-to-date and appropriate advice.