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Returning to the workplace
As of Monday 14 December 2020 the public health order requiring employers to allow employees to work from home (where it is reasonably practicable to do so) is repealed.
As employees return to the office, workplaces are encouraged to have COVID-19 Safety Plans in place.
Employers are encouraged to stagger staff starting and finishing times to reduce the impact on public transport.
Safe Work Australia guiding principles
Safe Work Australia has established 10 guiding principles (PDF, 25.84 KB) to help businesses and workers maintain safe working environments through the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Safe Work Australia also has a business resource kit to help workplaces operate safely and manage the risk of COVID-19 infection.
COVID Safe return to the office
As the public health restrictions ease, many businesses and employers may consider transitioning workers back into the office and other usual workplaces.
The public health order requiring employers to allow employees to work from home (where it is reasonably practicable to do so) is repealed as of 14 December 2020.
Gatherings in office environments are exempted under the public health order. However, businesses still have a responsibility under the NSW Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to ensure a safe working environment, including managing COVID-19 risks.
Before workers come back to the office, 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 and registering as a COVID Safe business will help address this.
A COVID-19 Safety Plan template for the office environment (including call centres) is available on the NSW Government website. Safety Plans for other industries and workplaces are also available.
A positive COVID-19 detection in the workplace may cause people in your workforce to have to self-isolate. The advice given here will assist businesses and employers to ensure a COVID Safe transition.
Work Health and Safety Duties
To ensure the health and safety of your workers, you should:
- check advice from the NSW Government and comply with the NSW public health orders, rules and restrictions
- keep up-to-date with any changes such as localised outbreaks and follow advice and restrictions for your industry/workplace.
- You must consult with your workers to understand concerns they may have about returning to the workplace and work together to ensure your workplace is COVID safe.
- Encourage workers to raise any work health and safety concerns with their Health and Safety Representatives (HSR) or manager.
Keeping people safe
- Businesses, workers and others must work together to reduce the spread of COVID-19 while at work. A risk management approach must be used to eliminate and/or minimise the risk of spreading or contracting COVID-19 in the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable.
In consultation with workers and health and safety representatives (HSRs):
- Conduct a risk assessment to manage the risk of COVID-19 entering and spreading in the workplace and implement control measures to eliminate and/or 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 – gathering at an office building for normal operation is exempt from the physical distancing 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 any changes that have been put in place or updated.
- Review and, if necessary, update your emergency plan – this may include how you will manage and respond to a potential further 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.
- Be aware of how to spot 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
- Instruct workers to tell you if they are unwell or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, have been in close contact with a person who has COVID-19 or have been tested for COVID-19 and direct them to stay home. See more information about pay and leave during the pandemic.
- Plan how you will respond to a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 in the workplace.
- If someone at the workplace is confirmed to have COVID-19 arising out of their work, notify SafeWork NSW by calling 131 050.
- Arrange for affected areas of the workplace to be appropriately cleaned and disinfected – see Safe Work Australia cleaning and disinfecting guidance for more information.
- Redesign the workplace environment to ensure physical distancing of at least 1.5 metres between workers and others. For example:
- adjust the layout of the workplace to keep occupied desks, tables and workstations at least 1.5 metres apart
- install physical barriers such as plexiglass between workers and/or customers where appropriate.
- Limit the volume of recirculated air in ventilation/air conditioning systems and increase fresh air intake and/or natural air flow where possible.
- Make contact with your building owner and/or any businesses that share your 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.
- Consider flexible work arrangements such as staggered starting and finishing times, staggered days in the office, to allow workers to travel outside of peak times where possible to maintain physical distancing on public transport.
- Limit the number of workers and others in enclosed workspaces such as lifts, meeting rooms and lunchrooms so far as is reasonably practicable and encourage physical distancing at other times such as during breaks.
- Use posters and signage such as floor and wall markers to remind workers and others at the workplace to maintain physical distancing requirements.
Hygiene and cleaning
- Provide handwashing facilities such as running water and soap. Provide alcohol-based hand sanitiser where handwashing 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, hot desking, 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.
- Inform workers about their workplace entitlements if they have COVID-19 symptoms or they are required to self-quarantine (such as access to paid leave).
- 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, as restrictions begin to ease and you transition into your new normal. For many employees working from home will continue.
To travel safely it’s essential to plan your trip before deciding to make your journey for work, and to reconsider your need to travel if the transport network is busy. Estimated capacity information is now available in the Trip Planner and Opal Travel App for all metro and train, Opal-enabled bus, ferry and light rail services, to help you plan ahead.
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 Support4work grant offers $4,000 to help a small business manage the recovery at work of an injured person while the business recovers from the economic impacts of COVID-19.
- 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.
Tools, programs and advice
- The Recover at Work Assist program for small business continues to help employers overcome financial hardship when providing suitable work to help their worker recover at work.
- The SIRA COVID-19 hub includes a Small Business Assist tool that assists employers navigate their workers compensation obligations during and beyond the COVID-19 crisis.
- SIRA provides a COVID-19 hub for injured workers and road users.
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.