Keeping workers safe
COVID-19 health and safety guidelines will help keep your workplace clean and hygienic and minimise the risk of infection.
Safe Work Australia guiding principles
Safe Work Australia has COVID-19 information for workplaces to help maintain safe working environments.
Safe Work Australia also has a business resource kit to help workplaces operate safely and manage the risk of COVID-19 infection.
There are also COVID-19 resources for workplaces available at Fair Work Ombudsman.
Reporting COVID-19 at work
Businesses should notify SafeWork NSW if a worker is hospitalised or dies as a result of contracting COVID-19 at work – they do not need to notify SafeWork NSW if a worker tests positive for COVID-19.
Employers must take a risk management approach and consult with workers to determine the best way to prevent workplace transmission of disease, including COVID-19.
SafeWork NSW considers vaccination a high order risk control measure against disease.
Businesses may require workers to be vaccinated for COVID-19 if reasonably practicable to do so.
A variety of factors such as eligibility for the vaccine, personal health, medical history, type of work and alternative control measures should be considered, along with the risk of exposure.
Read the Safe Work Australia COVID-19 vaccination guidance for employers, small business and workers.
Safe return to the office
Businesses have responsibility under the NSW Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to ensure a safe working environment, including managing COVID-19 risks.
It is important that businesses have a plan to keep the workplace safe and healthy, and to minimise the risk of COVID-19 infection.
Having a COVID-19 Safety Plan in place will help address this.
Work health and safety duties
- Businesses must consult workers to understand any concerns about returning to the workplace.
- Businesses and workers need to work together to ensure workplaces are safe, including from COVID-19.
- Encourage workers to raise any work health and safety concerns with their health and safety representatives (HSR) or manager.
Keep everyone safe
- Businesses, workers and others must work together to reduce the spread of COVID-19 while at work.
- A simple risk management approach should be used to eliminate and minimise the risk of spreading or contracting COVID-19 in the workplace, so far as is reasonably practicable.
Risk management process
Businesses and employers need to consult with workers and HSRs about risk management.
- Conduct a risk assessment to manage the risk of COVID-19 spreading in the workplace and implement control measures to eliminate and minimise these risks so far as is reasonably practicable.
- Consider the size and layout of your premises and the work being carried out by workers.
- Assess any risks resulting from any changes to work practices, procedures or the work environment and communicate with workers and HSRs about changes.
- Review and, if necessary, update emergency plans – this may include how to manage and respond to a potential outbreak of COVID-19.
- Review and update your risk assessment and control measures regularly and monitor for any new risks that may emerge or as public health advice changes.
Read the tools and templates from SafeWork NSW to help assess risks and manage hazards.
- Be aware of COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, runny nose, loss of taste or loss of smell in workers, volunteers and visitors.
- Workers should tell their managers, HSRs or employers if the are unwell or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
- Workers who have tested to positive to COVID-19 should talk to their employer about when they should return to the workplace, this may vary depending on a number of factors (including type of industry and workplace).
Businesses must respond to a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the workplace.
- Where COVID-19 has been contracted at work, notification to SafeWork NSW is expected only when the worker has required hospital treatment, or there has been a fatality.
- Review the workplace environment and where reasonably practicable support physical distancing. For example:
- adjust the layout of the workplace to keep occupied desks, tables and workstations at least 1.5m apart
- install physical barriers such as plexiglass between workers and/or customers where appropriate.
- Limit the volume of recirculated air in ventilation or air conditioning systems and increase fresh air intake and natural air flow where possible.
- Make contact with building owners and any businesses that share premises to discuss return to work plans to coordinate risk management such as heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) requirements, lift usage and shared break areas.
Read the Safe Work Australia guide to improving ventilation in indoor workplaces.
Physical distancing of 1.5m is not a legal requirement in an office environment.
Workplaces do however have a duty to comply with work health and safety legislation.
Workplaces must assess and reduce workplace risks as far as is reasonably practicable, including:
- where possible, allowing people to keep a distance of 1.5m from others to reduce the risk of droplet transmission – it is recognised that it may not be possible or feasible in every workplace.
- keeping staff as safe as possible by
- encouraging employees to not come to a workplace when unwell and to get tested for COVID-19 when they have symptoms
- promoting good hygiene practices such as regular hand washing
- encouraging staff to be vaccinated when they are eligible for vaccination as a risk mitigation strategy.
- regularly reviewing and modifying risk mitigation strategies considering NSW Health advice and what is reasonable and practicable at the time.
The use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace must be determined by undertaking a risk assessment in consultation with workers and/or their HSRs.
Examples of PPE used to minimise COVID-19 exposure and transmission include:
- single use surgical masks
- P2/N95 disposable respirators.
Hygiene and cleaning
- Provide hand washing facilities such as running water and soap. Provide alcohol-based hand sanitiser where hand washing facilities are not available.
- Maintain good hygiene by encouraging workers to frequently wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use hand sanitiser.
- Limit contact with others.
- Avoid sharing equipment. Where this is not possible, such as with activity-based working or in lunchrooms, ensure equipment is cleaned appropriately between users.
- Ensure suitable cleaning equipment is provided and readily available.
- Make sure your workplace is regularly cleaned and disinfected. High touch surfaces such as door handles, lift controls and amenities should be cleaned more regularly – see Safe Work Australia cleaning and disinfecting guidance for further information.
- Use posters and signage such as hand washing protocols to remind workers and others in the workplace of hygiene and cleaning requirements.
Health and wellbeing of workers
- Consider the personal circumstances of workers such as if they are classified as a vulnerable worker or in a high risk group.
- Inform workers about their workplace entitlements such as paid leave if they have COVID-19.
- Provide information about mental health and other support services available.
Mental health at work
Speak Up Save Lives
Workplace safety is everyone’s responsibility.
If you see something unsafe in your workplace, SafeWork NSW wants you to speak up and tell your boss. This app lets you report an unsafe work situation and it gives you the choice to remain anonymous. You can tag your location, include photos, and choose to be kept updated on the issue you’ve reported.