WHS Update - Safe Work Australia releases a raft of new pandemic resources

Employment & Workplace
White Background, Orange Underscore Ampersand

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that COVID-19 is a pandemic, workplaces within Australia and globally have had to vastly adapt their way of working.

This article sets out the key relevant health and safety legal obligations from WHS regulators, as well as the recently published information and resources set out by Safe Work Australia (SWA), and practical steps for organisations and workers in managing COVID-19.

Common-sense, educative approach from Australia's Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulators

Australia's Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulators recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic has created an exceptional set of circumstances and will have significant impacts on organisations, their officers, workers, and other persons with duties under WHS laws. All organisations must therefore prepare and act to protect workers and others at their workplace from the risk of exposure to COVID-19 so far as is reasonably practicable.

In light of this, WHS regulators have said they will adopt a common-sense educative approach to dealing with workplaces, providing these workplaces make "genuine attempts" to comply with their WHS duties. SWA has also added to its website a national statement of regulatory intent, which sets out the enforcement approach that WHS Regulators (excluding Victoria) will take to ensure compliance with Australian WHS laws during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keeping up to date with WHS knowledge for your workplace: SWA publications

In addition to the above changes, SWA has released a range of new pandemic resources for workplaces with advice on how to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace and help limit the spread as well as to assist workplaces to comply with their WHS duties.

The new resources available to organisations and workers include:

  • Workplace checklist - to help organisations identify what to do in the workplace.

The new workplace checklist for COVID-19 clarifies what duty holders need to do in relation to working from home arrangements, physical distancing, handwashing and hygiene, cleaning, monitoring systems and planning ahead.

The workplace checklist also includes reference to a Working from home checklist which sets out the minimum considerations for short-term working from home arrangements. Organisations may have their own more detailed working from home guidance, which should be used in conjunction with these SWA checklists.

  • How to keep workers safe factsheet - an overview of what organisations need to do.

The factsheet includes advice on working from home, physical distancing, handwashing and hygiene, signage and posters, cleaning, and tips on self-isolation.

The infographic suggests talking to your workers, thinking about your workplace, training your workers, reviewing control measures and future-proofing your business as ways to identify all that organisations can reasonably do to protect the health and safety of workers and others at their workplace.

New industry-specific information from SWA

SWA has also provided new industry-specific information on its website, with a range of resources on minimising the risk of exposure to COVID-19. This includes information for early childhood education and care; in-house services; food processing and manufacturing; warehousing and logistics, public transport, fly-in-fly-out and drive-in-drive-out workers, health and aged care providers, NDIS providers, and marine and airline workers.

Incorporating WHS risk control measures into your business continuity plan

Importantly, the identified WHS risks and control measures should be incorporated into an organisation's business continuity plan. This will ensure WHS measures are reviewed, along with other parts of the plan, and their implementation is coordinated with other COVID-19 pandemic management measures.

Organisations could develop and implement a continuity plan that covers pandemic preparedness, including (among others):

  • Preparing to work with a reduced workforce;
  • Minimising exposure to COVID-19 for workers;
  • Identifying business-essential positions and how they will be carried out during a pandemic;
  • Organising a central team to communicate accurate information to workers during a crisis; and
  • Reviewing and updating WHS risk control measures as required.

In addition, with many workers now working from home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is important to consider the direct risks arising from changes to usual work arrangements, as well as the indirect risks that can arise from other factors associated with caring for children, financial strain, or domestic violence.

Importantly, when planning WHS control measures and considering business continuity planning we recommend that organisations should consider and consult workers on all relevant risks and offer support to workers to manage these risks. If you require any assistance with your current COVID-19 WHS business practices, please be in touch.

Our team is actively monitoring and considering the implications of legal and regulatory developments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can find our COVID-19 collection here.

All information on this site is of a general nature only and is not intended to be relied upon as, nor to be a substitute for, specific legal professional advice. No responsibility for the loss occasioned to any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material published can be accepted.

Key contacts

Felicity Tighe

Felicity Tighe