COVID-19 in the workplace

Coronavirus - Guidelines for Employers

COVID-19 in the Workplace

COVID Information for Australian Businesses

This instruction sheet aims to provide SARS-Cov2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2) related information for employers,1 and should be read alongside documents published by the Australian Department of Health, such as:

What should be considered during COVID-19 planning?

Employers are advised to evaluate the COVID-19 situation for their business and prepare continuity plans to minimise the impact of coronavirus on their business. Planning should aim to protect the essential business functions by putting alternatives measures in place. Planning should ensure that the business is minimally affected even if the critical staff members are absent.

The established procedures should be followed so that business can continue to function even with a limited number of staff members. Employers may need to reassess their dependency on the customer’s requirements, suppliers, or agents, and be prepared to modify their business practices accordingly. For example, an employer may need to suspend some of the operations temporarily or contact alternative suppliers or agents.

Businesses may also need to consider customer dependency on products or services, and alter the current practices according to the customer's needs. For information on business continuity planning, visit:

What actions should employers take to minimise the risk of COVID-19?

Employers must access relevant information from reliable outlets such as local research centres or Government sites (such as health.gov.au) to prepare contingency procedures. The official advice, information, and procedures to minimise the risk of COVID-19 should be provided to all (contractual, permanent, cleaning, etc.) staff members to contain COVID-19 from spreading. Every effort should be made to minimise the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace to protect staff.7

Multiple levels of control should be set based on formal risk assessment,6 the nature of the business or workplace, working conditions, and worker’s specific needs. Some of the controls may include,8 but are not limited to:

  • Encouraging staff to work from home, whenever possible, by supporting them with necessary infrastructure, policies, and procedures.
  • Avoiding situations when people have to touch each other, whenever possible.
  • Avoiding unnecessary travel.
  • Avoiding car-pooling with others, from the same or neighbouring offices.
  • Strictly following advice on social distancing, for example, by encouraging staff to work from home, changing office visiting hours, allowing a limited number of staff members to be present in a workplace at a time, working in shifts, by altering workplace roasters, etc.
  • Minimising staff interactions. Employees must use phones or online tools for meetings. If unavoidable, meetings should be held in open spaces by following social distancing rules.
  • Ensuring 1.5 meters distance among staff,9 or no more than one person within each 4 m2 space10 while working, meeting, having coffee, or any other time within the workplace.
  • Encouraging employees to follow excellent hygiene measures,11 like using alcohol-based hand sanitiser or providing appropriate waste vessels or containers to dispose of medical waste accessories.
  • Ensuring frequent cleaning and sanitisation of workspaces, especially those objects and surfaces which are touched regularly.
  • Training staff on social distancing, hand etiquette, and respiratory hygiene.
  • Training staff to identify early indications or symptoms of COVID-19.12 Update office policies so that staff can stay home if they are not well.
  • Staying abreast with the latest information on COVID-19 and perform risk assessment regularly to minimise the spread.
  • Opening workplace windows regularly and allowing appropriate ventilation inside the workplace.

 

What is COVID-19 by the WHO

How can the risk be minimised for the vulnerable staff members?

Currently, there is limited evidence to evaluate the risk of COVID-19 in pregnant women. The population at a higher risk of getting affected with COVID-1913 is described as follows:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population who are at or above the age of 50 years with any chronic medical condition.14,15
  • People who are 70 years or older.16
  • People at the age of 65 years or older with any chronic medical conditions.16
  • People with weakened immune systems.13

What COVID-19 precautions should be taken by the cleaning personnel?

The “Information about routine environmental cleaning and sanitisation in the society” sheet contains more information on environment cleaning and disinfection at

Can water or food spread COVID-19?

Sharing utensils or crockery should be avoided. Adequately cooked or prepared food is not likely to spread COVID-19. However, people in the food industry should adhere to high standards of preparation and hygiene to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

At present, the survival of COVID-19 in sewage water is unidentified. Those who work with sewage-treatment should follow the same measures as those described for cleaners.

 

How can we prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Adopting appropriate hand hygiene and cough/sneeze etiquette is the best shield against contagious viruses. All people should:

  • Frequently use soap and water to wash hands for 20 seconds, or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser before and after eating, and after using lavatory/restroom.7
  • Cover nose and mouth with a tissue every time they sneeze or cough, dispose of tissues, and then wash or sanitise their hands.21
  • Avoid (physically) coming close to each other. Keep at least 1.5 meters distance from others, if possible.22

Can staff members come to work?

What is the difference between isolation and quarantine?

Isolation is when an employee is found to have the symptoms of COVID-19, and they need to avoid social meet-ups to contain further spread to others.25

If a member of staff has been confirmed with COVID-19, health authorities may communicate with the employer. The staff members positive for COVID-19 are required to be in a formal isolation period until released by the local public health unit or their treating doctor.26

 

Quarantine is when a healthy person at risk of developing COVID-19 need to stay away from others to reduce the spread of disease in the community, in case they become sick with the virus.27

People who have returned to Australia from abroad or those in touch with someone with COVID-19 must quarantine for 14 days at home/hotel.28 People cannot go to their workplace during the quarantine period.

 

Quarantined or isolated employees are advised to update their employers about their medical condition frequently. Employees in good health during the quarantine or isolation period may wish to make arrangements to work from home.

What is the procedure for return to work after completing quarantine?

A separate medical clearance is not required to return to work for those who successfully followed a quarantine period of 14 days and did not show any coronavirus symptoms. Employees should not be asked to take a COVID-19 test to return to work.

 

What are the criteria for return to work following recovery from COVID-19?

Staff members who were affected by COVID-19 and isolated themselves can return to work after they have fully recovered and have met the isolation clearance criteria.29 These criteria may depend on numerous factors, for example, the environment of the workplace, or local states rules. Different territories may manage isolation clearance criteria differently. The staff must obtain a clearance letter from the treating clinician or public health authority before returning to work.

 

Health-care and aged-care workers may have specific criteria in place for them.29 These workers should obtain isolation clearance from a general practitioner (GP) or the public health authority before returning to work.

 

Even after recovering from COVID-19, people must remain assiduous regarding hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and must follow social distancing criteria of 1.5 meters.

5 things to know about COVID-19 transmission

What steps can be taken to reduce COVID stigma at the workplace?

The employers should support staff and ensure that worksite discrimination does not arise for members returning to work after quarantine or isolation. The employers can take the following steps to reduce stigma around COVID-19 for those returning to work after a period of self-quarantine or isolation. These measures include, but not limited to:

•       Determining risk in a non-discriminatory way, neither based on race nor country of origin.
•       Upholding the confidentiality of the staff directly affected by COVID-19.
•       Having private discussions with staff showing any signs of concern regarding coronavirus in the workplace.
•       Informing all staff members that it is safe for their colleagues who have followed quarantine or isolation period (got clearance from the health authority and no longer show any symptoms of COVID-19) to return to work.

Information on COVID-19 and mental health can be found at:

Where can employers find support for small businesses?

The Government is actively participating and supporting businesses during COVID-19 pandemic. Information on Government aids for businesses can be found here.32

Where can employers find more information about COVID-19?

  • For the latest information, news, and resources, visit Safe Work Australia.34
  • Employers may also need to inform the government if someone at their workplace is confirmed to have COVID-19.35
  • For information on responding to COVID-19 in the workplace; visit this webpage.36
  • Call the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080, which is functional 7 days/week and 24 hours/day. For translating or interpreting services, call 13 14 50.
  • Corporate Care if you need to organise a Workplace Flu Vaccination Program
  • For any health-related concerns, talk to the GP/doctor.

 

References:

[1] Australian Government, Department of Health. Coronavirus (COVID-19) information for employers. Australia: Australian Government; 2020 Feb 29 [updated 2020 May 02; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://health.govcms.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/05/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-employers_0.pdf

[2] Australian Government, Department of Health. What you need to know about coronavirus (COVID-19). Australia: Australian Government; [updated 2020 Jul 08; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/what-you-need-to-know-about-coronavirus-covid-19

[3] Australian Government, Department of Health. Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Video – Social Distancing – Wik. Australia: Australian Government; [cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/resources/videos/coronavirus-covid-19-video-social-distancing-wik

[4] Australian Government, Department of Health. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information about routine environmental cleaning and disinfection in the community. Australia: Australian Government; 2020 Mar 26 [updated 2020 May 16; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/05/coronavirus-covid-19-information-about-routine-environmental-cleaning-and-disinfection-in-the-community.pdf

[5] Australian Government, Business. When things don't go to plan. Australia: Australian Government; [updated 2020 Jun 24; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.business.gov.au/New-to-business-essentials/When-things-dont-go-to-plan

[6] Commonwealth of Australia, Safe Work Australia. Small business planning tool - COVID-19. Australia: Commonwealth of Australia; 2020 Jun 05 [updated 2020 Jun 17; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/small-business-planning-tool-covid-19

[7] Commonwealth of Australia, Safe Work Australia. Workplace Checklist - COVID-19. Australia: Commonwealth of Australia; 2020 Apr 06 [updated 2020 Jun 12; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-06/COVID-19_Workplace-Checklist_12June2020.pdf

[8] Commonwealth of Australia, Safe Work Australia. Working from home - Workstation Setup Guide - COVID-19. Australia: Commonwealth of Australia; [updated 2020 Apr 30; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-05/Working_from_home_Workstation_Setup_%20Guide-COVID-19.pdf

[9] Australian Government, Department of Health. Physical distancing for coronavirus (COVID-19). Australia: Australian Government; [updated 2020 Jun 26; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/how-to-protect-yourself-and-others-from-coronavirus-covid-19/physical-distancing-for-coronavirus-covid-19

[10] Commonwealth of Australia, Safe Work Australia. Physical distancing checklist - COVID-19. Australia: Commonwealth of Australia; [updated 2020 May 19; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/covid-19-information-workplaces/industry-information/general-industry-information/physical

[11] Australian Government, Department of Health. Good hygiene for coronavirus (COVID-19). Australia: Australian Government; [updated 2020 May 16; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/how-to-protect-yourself-and-others-from-coronavirus-covid-19/good-hygiene-for-coronavirus-covid-19

[12] Australian Government, Department of Health. Coronavirus (COVID-19) – identifying the symptoms. Australia: Australian Government; 2020 Mar 16 [updated 2020 May 30; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/05/coronavirus-covid-19-identifying-the-symptoms.pdf

[13] Australian Government, Department of Health. Advice for people at risk of coronavirus (COVID-19). Australia: Australian Government; [updated 2020 Jul 06; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/advice-for-people-at-risk-of-coronavirus-covid-19

[14] Australian Government, Department of Health. Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and remote communities. Australia: Australian Government;  [updated 2020 Jun 02; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/advice-for-people-at-risk-of-coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-peoples-and-remote-communities

[15] Australian Government, Department of Health. Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for people with chronic health conditions. Australia: Australian Government; [updated 2020 Jul 07; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/advice-for-people-at-risk-of-coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-people-with-chronic-health-conditions

[16] Australian Government, Department of Health. Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for older people. Australia: Australian Government; [updated 2020 May 14; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/advice-for-people-at-risk-of-coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-older-people

[17] Queensland Government. Guide to identifying and supporting vulnerable employees (COVID-19). Queensland: Queensland Government; [updated 2020 Jun 24; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.forgov.qld.gov.au/guide-identifying-and-supporting-vulnerable-employees-covid-19#actions-to-take-if-an-employee-is-considered-a-vulnerable-person

[18] Australian Government Department of Health.   Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information about routine environmental cleaning and disinfection in the community. Australia: Australian Government Department of Health; 2020 Mar 26 [updated 2020 May 15; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://health.govcms.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/05/coronavirus-covid-19-information-about-routine-environmental-cleaning-and-disinfection-in-the-community.pdf

[19] Commonwealth of Australia, Safe Work Australia. Cleaning Checklist - COVID-19. Australia: Commonwealth of Australia; [updated 2020 May 19; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/covid-19-information-workplaces/industry-information/general-industry-information/cleaning?tab=tab-toc-employer

[20] Commonwealth of Australia, Safe Work Australia. Cleaning to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Australia: Commonwealth of Australia; [updated 2020 May 26; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/covid-19-information-workplaces/cleaning-prevent-spread-covid-19

[21] Australian Government, Department of Health. Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Keep that cough undercover. Australia: Australian Government; 2020 Mar 17 [updated 2020 Mar 20; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/03/coronavirus-covid-19-keep-that-cough-under-cover_0.pdf

[22] Australian Government, Department of Health.  Coronavirus (COVID19) – Stay COVID free – do the 3 radio ad. Australia: Australian Government; [updated 2020 Jun 26; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/resources/audio/coronavirus-covid19-stay-covid-free-do-the-3-radio-ad

[23] Commonwealth of Australia, Safe Work Australia. Cleaning to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Australia: Commonwealth of Australia; [updated 2020 Apr 29; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-04/COVID-19-Infographic-Suspected-or-Confirmed-Cases-a3.pdf

[24] Australian Government, Department of Health. Coronavirus (COVID-19) – identifying the symptoms. Australia: Australian Government; 2020 Mar 16 [updated 2020 May 30; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/05/coronavirus-covid-19-identifying-the-symptoms.pdf

[25] Australian Government, Department of Health. Isolation for coronavirus (COVID-19). Australia: Australian Government; [updated 2020 May 20; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/how-to-protect-yourself-and-others-from-coronavirus-covid-19/isolation-for-coronavirus-covid-19

[26] Commonwealth of Australia, Safe Work Australia. COVID-19 in your workplace. Australia: Commonwealth of Australia; [updated 2020 Apr 29; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/covid-19-information-workplaces/industry-information/agriculture/covid-19-your-workplace

[27] Australian Government, Department of Health. Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for travellers. Australia: Australian Government; [updated 2020 Jul 10; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-travellers

[28] Commonwealth of Australia, Safe Work Australia. COVID-19 in your workplace. Australia: Commonwealth of Australia; [updated 2020 Apr 29; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/covid-19-information-workplaces/industry-information/general-industry-information/covid-19-your?tab=tab-toc-employer#heading--5--tab-toc-when_can_workers_return_to_work_following_recovery_from_covid-19?%C2%A0

[29] Australian Government, Department of Health. Working arrangements for the health and aged care workforce during COVID-19. Australia: Australian Government; [updated 2020 Jun 29; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-the-health-and-aged-care-sector/working-arrangements-for-the-health-and-aged-care-workforce-during-covid-19#when-can-staff-come-to-work

[30] Australian Government, Business. Coronavirus and mental health. Australia: Australian Government; [updated 2020 Jun 29; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.business.gov.au/Risk-management/Emergency-management/Coronavirus-information-and-support-for-business/Coronavirus-and-mental-health

[31] Australian Government, Department of Health. COVID-19 Support. Australia: Australian Government; [updated 2020 Apr 01; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://headtohealth.gov.au/covid-19-support/covid-19

[32] Australian Government, The Treasury. Economic Response to the Coronavirus. Australia: Australian Government; [cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://treasury.gov.au/coronavirus/businesses

[33] Australian Government, Department of Health. COVIDSafe app. Australia: Australian Government; [cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/

[34] Commonwealth of Australia, Safe Work Australia. Work health and safety incident notification COVID-19. Australia: Commonwealth of Australia; [updated 2020 Jun 11; cited 2020 Jul 09].  Available from: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-06/Incident_notification_fact-sheet_COVID19_11_June2020.pdf

[35] Commonwealth of Australia, Safe Work Australia. COVID-19 Information for workplaces. Australia: Commonwealth of Australia; [updated 2020 Jul 10; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/covid-19-information-workplaces

[36] Australian Government, Department of Health. Local state and territory health departments. Australia: Australian Government; [updated 2020 Feb 07; cited 2020 Jul 09]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/about-us/contact-us/local-state-and-territory-health-departments