The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down. Employers will play a frontline role on the path back to normality. Success will require an ongoing commitment to creating and maintaining safe work environments now and in the months to come.

What are my legal obligations when it comes to creating a safe work environment?

As COVID-19 restrictions fluctuate across the country and employees in certain states return to the workplace, it won’t quite be back to business as usual. Businesses of all sizes will play a vital role in the ongoing fight to contain the pandemic and prevent its spread in our workplaces.

Employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment for their employees. This is irrespective of whether the workplace is a factory, office, shop, at home or out in the field.

Under the national COVID-19 safe workplace principles, employers have several important guidelines when it comes to creating a safe work environment for your employees. These include:

  • Employers must consult with workers and their representatives to identify, understand and quantify COVID-related workplace risks and to implement and review control measures to address those risks.
  • Employers and workers must adapt and promote safe work practices in line with advice from health authorities. This includes social distancing and high hygiene standards.
  • Employers must be ready to respond immediately and effectively to cases of COVID-19 in the workplace.
  • Employers must continue to comply with existing state and territory Work Health and Safety (WHS) regulations.

How can insurance help me create a safe environment?

Depending on the specific circumstances of each case, COVID-19 infection may be covered under the existing workers’ compensation legislation in each State and Territory. However, claims would need to show that there was a clear link between a worker’s employment and contracting the virus.

In many cases, this may be difficult to determine, however downloading the Government’s COVIDSafe App would assist in maintaining records of safe work practices, staff training and cleaning protocols will also assist should a claim arise.

While workers compensation will only cover you for illness or injury as a direct result of your job, Income Protection Insurance can cover you for injuries and illnesses suffered both at and because of work, and also outside of work.

We can help you explore Income Protection Insurance, especially where you have family members or dependents who rely on that income or have debt, such as a mortgage, you’ll need to make payments on, even if you’re unable to work.

What should I do to create a safe work environment?

In addition to following existing WHS protocols as normal, there are several important things you can do as part of your COVIDSafe plan. These include:

Conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment
Identify any workplace hazards that could contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in your workplace and implement actions to manage, control or eliminate each hazard.

This could include separating workstations to comply with social distancing standards, temporarily closing shared workplace spaces such as conference rooms, and restricting the number of visitors to your office.

Prepare to prevent
Your COVIDSafe plan should include a range of measures designed to prevent COVID-19 transmission in your workplace.

These include scheduling thorough daily cleaning of your workplace, and providing alcohol-based wipes, hand sanitiser and personal protection equipment (PPE) to employees where appropriate. Also consider posting social distancing, handwashing and hygiene instructions in prominent places around your workplace, and directing foot traffic with strategically placed floor markers.

Get ready to respond
Employers should be prepared to immediately and effectively respond to a COVID-19 outbreak in your workplace. To do so, educate your employees about common symptoms, encourage them not to come to work if they are experiencing any, and provide clear instructions on how employees should notify the business if they test positive to COVID-19.

You should identify the person in your organisation who is responsible for reporting the infection to the relevant health body in your state or territory. Also have a business continuity plan for how you’ll identify and notify employees who have had close contact with an infected person, and how you will manage a shutdown and disinfection of your workplace if necessary.

Ongoing vigilance will be the key to preventing or managing a second wave of COVID-19 infection. If cases begin to increase, advice from health authorities and government restrictions may change on a daily basis. Employers should regularly refer to Safe Work Australia’s COVID-19 hub for up-to the-minute guidance.