Providing a COVID-safe workplace

The easing of COVID-19 restrictions has been a major step forward in allowing businesses to increase patronage, bring staff back to the workplace and begin transitioning to normal operations.

However, as the one-size-fits-all approach of public health directions is removed, your business will need to revisit your COVID-19 safety plan to address the ongoing risk of community transmission and your extended obligations under the new Work Health and Safety Act (the Act).

Work Health and Safety Act

Under the new Act, a person conducting a business of undertaking (PCBU) must take reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of their workers and any other worker whose activities are influenced or directed by the organisation

CCIWA Principal Workplace Relations Advocate Paul Moss said WA businesses will now need to consider how their safety management practices will apply to their own employees, subcontractors, labour hire employees and the workers of other businesses affected by their operations.

“This may create overlapping responsibility, with more than one organisation having obligations as a PCBU for the same group of workers,” Moss said.

“This requires greater communication between these entities to ensure complimentary safety practices are in place.

“You also need to take reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of other non-employees aren’t put at risk from your operations — this includes customers, clients and visitors.”

The ultimate effect of these new changes is that businesses need to extend the scope of the safety practices beyond their direct employees.

Ongoing risk of community transmission

Moss said the rolling back of public health restrictions provides employers with an increased opportunity to develop COVID-19 safety practices that reflect the risk profile of their organisation.

“I’d recommend undertaking a risk assessment in consultation with your relevant workers,” he said.

“This involves identifying the hazard, assessing the risks, considering the availability and suitability of options to reduce the risk, and reviewing these controls.”

When addressing the risk of COVID-19, a range of measures may help reduce the risk of transmission to workers and others. Typically, these fall into four broad categories:

  • Measures intended to isolate workers from the hazard; these may include the ongoing use of virtual meetings where possible, the use of RAT tests, and working from home arrangements where employees have been in a high-risk setting;
  • Engineering controls which physically control the risk, such as improving air quality, counter screens, or changing workplace layouts to allow greater social distancing;
  • Administrative controls that change the way work is done, such as hygiene protocols, vaccination policies, plans for managing a positive case in the workplace, implementing capacity limits for meeting rooms, or reducing movement of workers between different work locations;
  • Personal protective equipment, which may include the continued use of masks, face shields and gloves in some high-risk settings.

Moss said that as we enter the influenza season and face the risk of a new Omicron variant, it’s vital that everyone remain vigilant in managing the ongoing risk of COVID-19.

CCIWA’s upcoming Workplace Relations Conference on June 2 will provide members with further insight on addressing this risk.

Our Employee Relations Advice Centre is also available to respond to your questions on (08) 9365 7660, or via [email protected].

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