Keeping workers safe

COVID-19 health and safety guidelines will help your workplace clean and hygienic and minimise the risk of infection.

On this page

Safe Work Australia guiding principles

Safe Work Australia has established 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.

Changes to 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 no longer need to notify SafeWork NSW if a worker tests positive for COVID-19.

Read the guidance for businesses with a worker who tests positive for COVID-19.

COVID-19 vaccination

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.

When a COVID-19 vaccine is generally available, persons conducting a business or undertaking 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.

A positive COVID-19 detection in the workplace may cause people in your workforce to have to self-isolate

Work health and safety duties

To ensure the health and safety of your workers, you should:

Consultation with workers

  • Businesses must consult with 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.
  • 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 – gatherings at an office premises must comply with the  square metres rules of the public health order.
  • 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.

Workplace procedures

  • 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 they

Workers and businesses can read more about pay and leave during COVID-19.

Workers who are close or household contacts do not need to isolate.

Engineering controls

  • Review the workplace environment and where reasonably practicable support physical distancing of at least 1.5m between workers and others. 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

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.
  • being aware of and responding to NSW Health community updates about COVID-19 case locationstravel restrictions and other advice.
  • regularly reviewing and modifying risk mitigation strategies considering NSW Health advice and what is reasonable and practicable at the time.

Face masks

Wearing a face mask helps to reduce community transmission of COVID-19. 

  • Keep up-to-date with any changes such as localised outbreaks and follow advice and restrictions for your industry.
  • Ensure workers are provided with appropriate masks and know how to use and dispose of them correctly.
  • Instruct workers to carry a clean face mask with them at all times and wear it if it is mandatory to wear a mask or if they cannot maintain 1.5m of physical distance from others. 
  • For workers who are required to attend multiple premises such as field-based workers, like inspectors, consider if alternative arrangements can be made for face-to-face interactions such as undertaking a non-field response (phone or video meeting) or outdoor interaction if reasonably practicable. 

Important: a mask is not a substitute for good hand hygiene and physical distancing

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

  • Support and engage with workers to consider flexible work arrangements, balancing re-establishing social connectivity and routine in the workplace, with working from other locations away from the office.
  • 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 symptoms or are required to self-isolate.
  • Consider the psychological health and safety risks and impacts that may be associated with the COVID-19 pandemic including changes to working conditions and respond to signs a worker may be concerned or anxious about returning to the workplace appropriately.
  • Provide information about mental health and other support services available.

Travelling to and from work

COVIDSafe travel choices can help employers and employees make the right decisions about how and when to travel for work. For some employees, working from home may continue.

To travel safely it’s essential to plan a trip to work and reconsider travel if the transport network is busy.

Estimated capacity information is now available in the Trip Planner and Opal Travel App for all NSW metro and train, Opal-enabled bus, ferry and light rail services. 

Mental health at work

It’s a challenging time for businesses and employees.  

Read how to create a mentally healthy workplace with free training and resources. 

Supporting injured workers

The State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) is offering financial support, programs and advice to help get injured workers back into employment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Financial support for employers

  • The JobCover6 program offers financial incentive to employers who provide short-term work opportunities to help injured workers who are looking to gain new employment during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • The Connect2work program offers financial support to employers who provide work placements to assist workers who are unable to recover at their pre-injury workplace or are looking to gain new work skills during the COVID-19 crisis.

Read more about NSW and Australian Government financial support for businesses.

Tools, programs and advice

Related apps

Speak Up Save Lives app logo

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.


Last updated:
Top of page