Review your workplace COVID Plan

Articles Written by Lucienne Mummé (Partner), Louise Russell (Special Counsel)

Yesterday’s announcement by the Victorian Premier of the Stage 4 restrictions for workplaces means it is timely for employers to review their COVID Plan. An employer should either have a Universal COVID Plan or, if they are in a High Risk Industry Sector, they must have a High Risk COVID Plan.

The High Risk Industry Sectors are warehousing, construction, distribution centres, meat-processing, cold storage and aged care (High-Risk Industry Sectors). It is likely WorkSafe will be increasing its compliance activities and workplace visits and asking employers to provide their COVID Plan, inspect the workplace control measures and also request other evidence that measures in the Plan have been implemented.

The Workplace COVID Plan must have been developed after a COVID risk assessment has been conducted. As set out on the WorkSafe website, such a risk assessment needs to have considered the expert advice on COVID-19 from sources such as the DHHS website, current infection control policies and practices, education, training and updates to employees on relevant information. Employers should also take into account where a work activity might involve other people such as customers, members of the public or suppliers, measures to prevent and address the transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace and a response plan in the event of a COVID-19 positive test result.

The control measures which, as a minimum, should be in the COVID Plan include:

  • Employees working from home where they can.
  • Physical distancing in accordance with the recommendations by the Chief Health Officer.
  • Good hygiene practices with adequate facilities available.
  • Masks and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including training for employees on safely putting on and taking off the PPE and disposal of it.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting of ‘high touch’ surfaces and reducing shared use of equipment.
  • Ensure employees understand the obligations on them including not attending work if they are unwell and advising their employer if they undertake a COVID-19 test and/ or are a ‘close contact’ of a person who has tested positive to COVID-19.
  • Consulting with contractors and others who may enter the workplace about the measures the contractor or other employing entity has taken in relation to COVID-19.
  • Where a person entering the site may be working at other workplaces because they are a casual or employed by a labour agency, ensuring the employer is aware where the worker may previously have worked and whether for example, it is in a High Risk Industry Sector.
  • The measures which need to be undertaken where an employee or worker has a positive COVID-19 test including the notification requirements to WorkSafe.
  • A business continuity plan in the event of a positive COVID-19 test by a worker at the site.
  • Consultation with Health and Safety Representatives and employees about implementation of the COVID Plan and the control measures introduced and ongoing consultation, compliance and monitoring.

The employer needs to ensure it has records of the training it has conducted with employees, the information provided to employees and that the relevant manager in charge of each shift (including afternoon and night shift) knows the location of the COVID Plan and supporting documentation.

Since 28 July 2020 under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, temporary regulations impose an obligation on employers to notify WorkSafe (Notifiable Incident) if there is a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 in the workplace. Relevant managers must understand the obligations under the WorkSafe Notifiable Incidents requirement including how to complete the COVID-19 reporting form, the duty to preserve the area where the employee or worker worked during the preceding 5 days and then implement the necessary measures to manage the confirmed case or outbreak at the workplace.

For the High Risk Industry Sectors, there will be a High Risk COVID Plan which builds on the Universal COVID Plan set out above but will have specific measures directed to the particular industry. Again, industry material is available on the WorkSafe site. 

The High Risk COVID Plan (applicable to the High Risk Industry sectors identified above) is likely to require the following additional measures:

  • Screening of anyone entering the site both with temperature checking and a short questionnaire asking them about their health and whether they have been in contact with any confirmed case of COVID-19.
  • A Workplace Mapping record that will show the times and work locations for employees, contractors and others in order to enable tracing if a confirmed case was to occur. The record should set out the date, names of employees and others working together, location and breaks taken, again including the time and location. It should also record any visitors to the site and where they went and at what times.
  • Where the nature of the work involves employees and others moving around the site, there should be clearly marked direction arrows to ensure physical distancing. There should also be staggered start times, breaks and finish times in high traffic areas to avoid congestion, physical barriers in other areas where physical distancing may otherwise be difficult and in all locations where close proximity between employees may occur limiting the number of employees undertaking the task and reinforcing physical distancing measures.
  • Reinforcement of good hygiene practices through the display of relevant information in all areas and ensuring hand sanitiser is available at all entries and exits, near crib and meal rooms and it is encouraged and reinforced.
  • Appropriate waste management, such as rubbish bins with touch-free lids.
  • Where possible eliminating shared use of any equipment, lifts and providing cleaning products for cleaning of equipment.
  • Ensure all cleaning and disinfecting is in accordance with the DHHS requirements.
  • Where physical distancing is difficult, such as an abattoir, an enhanced level of PPE, again in accordance with the DHHS requirements.

We expect additional material may be added to the DHHS and WorkSafe websites in the coming days and we will keep you updated as this occurs. In the meantime, if you have any questions please contact us.

Important Disclaimer: The material contained in this article is comment of a general nature only and is not and nor is it intended to be advice on any specific professional matter. In that the effectiveness or accuracy of any professional advice depends upon the particular circumstances of each case, neither the firm nor any individual author accepts any responsibility whatsoever for any acts or omissions resulting from reliance upon the content of any articles. Before acting on the basis of any material contained in this publication, we recommend that you consult your professional adviser. Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation (Australia-wide except in Tasmania).

Related insights Read more insight

Closing Loopholes No 2 Bill – new laws regarding casuals, contractors and the right to disconnect

The second round of the Federal Government’s “Closing Loopholes” amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) were passed by Parliament on 12 February 2024 and received Royal Assent on 26...

Recent work health and safety developments

All employers should now have implemented measures to discharge their obligation to take reasonable steps to eliminate sexual harassment and other unlawful conduct in the workplace given the...

Closing Loopholes Bill: partitioned and passed

Following a deal with crossbench Senators Jacqui Lambie and David Pocock, the Senate split the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 (Bill). As a consequence, the first...