What is physical distancing and how does it prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Physical distancing (also referred to as ‘social distancing’) refers to the requirement that people distance themselves from others.  

COVID-19 spreads from person to person through contact with droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets may fall directly into the person’s eyes, nose or mouth if they are in close contact with the infected person. A person may also be infected if they touch a surface contaminated with the droplets and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes before washing their hands.

Current health advice states that in order to reduce the risk of contact and droplet spread from a person, directly or indirectly, and from contaminated surfaces, people should maintain physical distance of at least 1.5 metres, practice good hand hygiene and engage in routine cleaning and disinfection of surfaces. 

Physical distancing can also include requirements for there to be 4 square metres of space per person in a room or enclosed space, as well as limits on gathering sizes. These requirements differ between industries and between states and territories. For example, some states and territories have updated public health directions to adjust physical distancing rules in line with local circumstances, such as revising the one person per 4 square metres rule to one person per 2 square metres in some circumstances. 

For more information about physical distancing requirements applicable to your business, go to your relevant state and territory government website. You can also go to our Public health directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to enforceable government directions.

Do I need to implement physical distancing measures in my workplace?

Yes. It is your duty under work health and safety laws to manage the risk of a person in your workplace spreading and contracting COVID-19, including the risk that persons with COVID-19 enter the workplace. Physical distancing is one of the key ways to lower the risk of COVID-19 being spread or contracted at your workplace.  

The risk of COVID-19 should be treated in the same way as any other workplace hazard – by applying a risk management approach. 

In consultation with your workers, including volunteers, and their representatives (e.g. health and safety representatives (HSRs)), you will need to assess the likelihood and degree of harm people may experience if exposed to COVID-19 and then implement the most effective control measures that are reasonably practicable to manage the risk. The control measures you implement should include outcomes that support physical distancing and operate alongside measures encouraging good hygiene amongst workers and others as well as regular and thorough cleaning of the workplace.

To meet your WHS duty you should be continually monitoring and reviewing the risks to the health and safety of workers and others, as well as the effectiveness of control measures put in place to eliminate or minimise these risks. You must also assess any new or changed risks arising from COVID-19, for example customer aggression, high work demand or working in isolation.

Further guidance on the risk management process is available in the Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks.

You may also need to comply with physical distancing measures issued under public health directions in your state or territory. Each state and territory has directions that reflect local circumstances. For more information about physical distancing requirements, go to your relevant state or territory government website. You can also go to our public health directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to government health directions. 

How do the public health directions in my state or territory interact with my WHS duty?

You must comply with your state or territory’s public health directions that apply to your business. 

Your WHS duty is to do all that you reasonably can to manage the risks of a person contracting and/or spreading COVID-19 in your workplace. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to implement control measures in order to meet your WHS duty that go beyond the minimum requirements stated in public health directions or advised by public health authorities. For example, public health directions may state you can have up to 10 customers in your shop at any one time. However, in undertaking your risk assessment you may determine that due to the layout of the workplace and your work processes, having 10 customers in the store would not effectively support physical distancing outcomes. Instead, limiting your store to 8 customers at a time would ensure everyone can maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres from each other.

How do I determine which physical distancing measures to implement to minimise the risk of COVID 19 spreading in my workplace?

To determine which physical distancing measures will be most effective in your workplace, you will need to undertake a risk assessment.

A risk assessment is part of the risk management process which involves identifying where the risk arises in your workplace, assessing the risks (including the likelihood of them happening), controlling the risks and reviewing these controls regularly. These steps remain the same whether you are conducting a risk assessment in relation to work health and safety generally, or specifically in relation to COVID-19.

In order to determine the most effective physical distancing measures you will need to: 

  • identify all activities or situations where people in your workplace may be in close proximity to each other,
  • assess the level of risk that people in these activities or situations may contract and/or spread COVID-19 in your workplace, and
  • determine what control measures are reasonably practicable to implement based on the assessed level of risk. 

Remember, you must consult with workers, including volunteers, and their representatives (e.g. health and safety representatives) on health and safety matters relating to COVID-19, including what control measures to put in place in your workplace. See also our information on consultation.   

See also our information on key considerations for undertaking a risk assessment – COVID-19

What physical distancing measures do I need to implement in my workplace?

Below are suggested measures to ensure physical distancing is achieved in your industry. Certain activities may not be permissible or there may be specific requirements in your state or territory at this time and therefore some of the proposed measures may not be relevant to your workplace. For more information about physical distancing requirements, go to your relevant state or territory government website. You can also go to our public health directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to government health directions. 

Remember, you must do all that is reasonably practicable to manage the risk of people contracting and/or spreading COVID-19. See also our guidance on determining what is reasonably practicable for more information.

Also remember, you must consult with workers and their representatives (e.g. health and safety representatives (HSRs)) on health and safety matters relating to COVID-19, including what control measures to put in place in your workplace.  

Worker interactions and work tasks 

Where possible, provide each person (workers and customers) with 4 square metres of space in enclosed areas in accordance with general health advice.  

  • To achieve this, calculate the area of the enclosed space (length multiplied by width in metres) and divide by 4. This will provide you with the maximum number of people you should have in the space at any one time.  
  • Where the nature of work means you are not able to provide 4 square metres of space per person, you need to implement other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  

To help you achieve 4 square metres of space per person (or where not reasonable, to achieve the maximum space per person) limit the number of people in the areas of your cinema by: 

  • limiting the number of tickets sold for each movie showing
  • reducing the number of sessions, and allowing time between sessions to minimise interactions between patrons arriving and leaving
  • placing signage which advises customers of the requirements and the number of people allowed in the particular space
  • implementing separate entrances and exits for customers where possible, as well as separate walkways (with one-way flow) in lobby areas
  • using multiple exits, where possible to manage large numbers of customers exiting after a screening
  • promote the use of pre-purchased and electronic ticketing and encourage customers to only enter or arrive just before session start times and to leave immediately afterwards to avoid crowds forming
  • introducing new roles to monitor and support physical distancing measures, for example in the lobby, to reduce the number of workers in the one space 
  • staggering workers’ shifts to reduce the number of workers in one staff area at any given and scheduling time between shifts so that there is no overlap of staff arriving at and leaving the workplace. and
  • limiting the number of back of house staff in small areas to only those necessary to do the job. 

Direct workers and customers to keep 1.5 metres of distance between them in accordance with general health advice. To achieve the best outcomes for physical distancing: 

  • implement measures in combination with measures for 4 square metres spacing, as set out above 
  • isolate/restrict work stations at service counters to enable the 1.5 metres distancing between counter staff
  • allocate seating in your cinema to ensure physical distancing of 1.5 metres such as only allocating every third seat and staggering spacing between rows, or providing spacing between household groups. Advise customers that they must sit in their allocated seats – you should consider allocating a staff member to monitor seating for compliance where possible. 
  • put signs around the areas of the cinema where customers normally gather such as lobbies, bar areas, and service counters and queues, and create wall or floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance. Your staff could wear a badge as a visual reminder to each other of physical distancing requirements.
  • limit physical interactions between workers and customers, where possible – e.g. putting Perspex barriers up at service counters, if possible 
  • for drive-in cinemas, request patrons stay in their vehicles
  • where available, promote the use of pre-purchased and electronic ticketing with allocated online seating to reduce standing in queues and face to face worker interactions with customers, and  
  • require workers to use other methods such as mobile phone or radio to communicate rather than face to face interaction.  

Where it is practical and safe to do so, review tasks and processes that usually require close interaction and identify ways to modify these to increase physical distancing between workers. Where not possible, reduce the amount of time workers spend in close contact. See also our information on what to do if your workers cannot maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres 

Layout of the workplace

  • You may need to redesign the layout of the workplace and your workflows to enable workers and customers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart to continue performing their duties and attend your cinema. This can be achieved by, where possible: 
    • restricting workers and customers to certain pathways or areas, and 
    • spreading out furniture, such as seats in lobby or waiting areas to increase distancing.  
  • Consider floor and/or wall markings and signage to identify 1.5 metres distancing requirements. 

If changing the physical layout of the workplace, your layout must allow for workers to enter, exit and move about the workplace both under normal working conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable.  Ensure that any fire authority regulations continue to be met to ensure safe customers can safely exit in case of fire. 

Staff gatherings and training

  • Postpone or cancel non-essential gatherings, meetings or training. 
  • If gatherings, meetings or training are essential: 
    • use non face-to-face options to conduct – e.g. electronic communication such as tele and video conferencing 
    • if a non face-to-face option is not possible, ensure face-to-face time is limited, that is make sure the gathering, meeting or training goes for no longer than it needs to 
    • hold the gathering, meeting or training it in spaces that enable workers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart and with 4 square metres of space per person – e.g. outdoors or in large conference rooms 
    • limit the number of attendees in a gathering, meeting or training. This may require, for example, multiple training sessions to be held, and 
    • ensure adequate ventilation if held indoors. 

Staff facilities 

  • Reduce the number of workers utilising common areas at a given time – e.g. by staggering meal breaks and start times. 
  • Spread out furniture in common areas. If changing the physical layout of the workplace, you must ensure the layout allows for workers to enter, exit and move about the workplace both under normal working conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable.  
  • Place signage about physical distancing around the workplace. Our website has links to a range of posters and resources to help remind workers and others of the risks of COVID-19 and the measures that are necessary to stop its spread. These posters can be placed around the workplace and in client-facing work environments (e.g. workplace entrances). Consideration needs to be given to how to communicate with workers and others for who English is not their first language.   
  • Consider providing separate amenities for workers and others in the workplace – for example separate bathroom facilities for workers and visitors/clients. 

Lifts 

  • Even if workers and customers only spend a short amount of time in a lift each day, they are still at risk of being exposed to COVID-19 when using a lift. 
  • There is no requirement to provide 4 square metres of space per person in lifts, however you must still ensure, as far as you reasonably can, that people maintain physical distancing in lifts and lift waiting areas.
  • Safe use of lifts is best achieved through a combination of measures, determined in consultation with workers, other employers in the building and the building owner/manager. This includes 
    • reducing the number of workers and customers who need to use the lift at the same time (e.g. stagger movie showing times)
    • implementing physical distancing measures in the lift waiting area including queueing systems and advising of passenger limits for each lift
    • ensuring that when in the lift people maintain physical distance to the extent possible and practice good hygiene including cough and sneezing etiquette and washing hands or using alcohol-based hand sanitiser after exiting the lift.
  • If workers and customers are to use the stairs or emergency exits as alternatives to using lifts, you must consider if any new risks may arise (e.g. increased risk of slip trips and falls) and consider how other existing WHS measures will be impacted (e.g. emergency plans and procedures See also our information on emergency plans)
  • See also our case study on lifts for further information

Deliveries, contractors and visitors attending the workplace

  • Non-essential visits to the workplace by contractors and visitors that are not customers should be cancelled or postponed.   
  • Minimise the number of workers attending to deliveries and contractors as much as possible. 
  • Delivery drivers and other contractors who need to attend the workplace, to provide maintenance or repair services or perform other essential activities, should be given clear instructions of your requirements while they are on site.  
  • Ensure handwashing facilities, or if not possible, alcohol-based hand sanitiser, is readily available for workers after physically handling deliveries. 
  • Direct visiting delivery drivers and contractors to remain in vehicles and use contactless methods such as mobile phones to communicate with your workers wherever possible.  
  • Direct visiting delivery drivers and contractors to use alcohol-based hand sanitiser before handling products being delivered. 
  • Use, and ask delivery drivers and contractors to use, electronic paper work where possible, to minimise physical interaction. Where possible, set up alternatives to requiring signatures. For instance, see whether a confirmation email or a photo of the loaded or unloaded goods can be accepted as proof of delivery or collection (as applicable). If a pen or other utensil is required for signature you can ask that the pen or utensil is cleaned or sanitised before use. For pens, you may wish to use your own. 

On-going review and monitoring 

  • Put processes in place to regularly monitor and review the implementation of physical distancing measures to ensure they are being followed and remain effective 
  • If physical distancing measures introduce new health and safety risks (e.g. because they impact communication or mean that less people are doing a task), you need to manage those risks too. 
    • The introduction of new processes to comply with physical distancing requirements may also result in increased customer frustration leading to work related violence. You must manage this risk including through measures such as erecting clear signage and posters setting out the new physical distancing and other measures and communicating with customers when they purchase a ticket in advance of attending the cinema to let them know there are different processes in place to ensure compliance with physical distancing requirements. You can find out more about managing the risk of work-related violence on our website.

My workers cannot maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres when performing work. Does this mean they cannot perform work?

It will not always be possible for workers and clients to keep 1.5 metres apart at all times at the workplace. For example, workers may have to work closely with each other or others because of the nature of the task and some tasks require workers to be in close proximity to be carried out safely. 

Working in close contact increases the risk of workers being exposed to COVID-19. You must consider whether the work task must be completed or could be rescheduled to a later date. If the task must be completed and your workers or workers and customers will be in close contact, you must undertake a risk assessment to determine what control measures are reasonably practicable in the circumstances to eliminate or minimise health and safety risks from COVID-19. For example, if close contact with others is unavoidable, you must implement other control measures such as: 

  • minimising the number of people within an area at any time. Limit access to the workplace or parts of the workplace to essential workers and customers only 
  • staggering session times to minimise number of workers and patrons in particular areas at any one time
  • moving work tasks to different areas of the workplace if possible 
  • considering separating workers into dedicated teams and have them work the same shift or work in a particular area 
  • ensuring each worker has their own equipment or tools 

Do I need to provide personal protective equipment to workers who are in close contact with each other? 

You must ensure workers comply with physical distancing requirements where possible. In circumstances where the nature of the task requires workers and customers or workers to be in close contact, you must put control measures in place that minimise the time workers spend with each other or with customers in the workplace. You must also ensure workers and clients are practicing good hygiene.  

If you have a situation where, despite other control measures, workers will be in close contact with each other or with clients for longer than the recommended time (i.e. more than 15 minutes face to face cumulative over the course of a week or more than 2 hours in a shared closed space), consider the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and a mask.  

Workers must be trained in the proper use of PPE. Be aware of WHS risks that may arise as a result of workers using and wearing PPE. 

Do workers need to practice physical distancing when on a lunch break or when travelling to and from work?

Yes. Workers must always comply with any state or territory public health directions or orders. This includes maintaining a physical distance of 1.5 metres between people.  

In some states and territories there are strict limitations on gatherings in public places. This means that in some circumstances, workers cannot eat lunch together in a park or travel together in a vehicle to and from work.  

You should refer to your state or territory health authority for further information on specific restrictions in place under public health directions or orders in your state or territory. 
 

The information below provides guidance on physical distancing during step 2 of the 3-step framework for a COVIDSafe Australia. Some states and territories have updated public health directions to adjust physical distancing rules in line with local circumstances, for example, revising the one person per 4 square metres rule to one person per 2 square metres in some circumstances. 

For more information about physical distancing requirements, go to your relevant state and territory government website. You can also go to our Public health directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to enforceable government directions.

Watch our video for information on physical distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in your small business. 

Watch video on YouTube Download Transcript

Note: Restrictions have been in place for cinemas. These restrictions are being relaxed in different jurisdictions at different times. Cinemas must only operate to the extent permissible in each state or territory. The information below outlines measures which cover all aspects of the services offered by cinemas - depending on what is permissible in your jurisdiction, some or all sections may not be currently relevant to your business.

What is physical distancing and how does it prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Physical distancing (also referred to as ‘social distancing’) refers to the requirement that people distance themselves from others.  

COVID-19 spreads from person to person through contact with droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets may fall directly into the person’s eyes, nose or mouth if they are in close contact with the infected person. A person may also be infected if they touch a surface contaminated with the droplets and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes before washing their hands.

Current health advice states that in order to reduce the risk of contact and droplet spread from a person, directly or indirectly, and from contaminated surfaces, people should maintain physical distance of at least 1.5 metres, practice good hand hygiene and engage in routine cleaning and disinfection of surfaces. 

Physical distancing can also include requirements for there to be 4 square metres of space per person in a room or enclosed space, as well as limits on gathering sizes. These requirements differ between industries and between states and territories. For example, some states and territories have updated public health directions to adjust physical distancing rules in line with local circumstances, such as revising the one person per 4 square metres rule to one person per 2 square metres in some circumstances. 

For more information about physical distancing requirements applicable to your business, go to your relevant state and territory government website. You can also go to our Public health directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to enforceable government directions.

Do I need to implement physical distancing measures in my workplace?

Yes. It is your duty under work health and safety laws to manage the risk of a person in your workplace spreading and contracting COVID-19, including the risk that persons with COVID-19 enter the workplace. Physical distancing is one of the key ways to lower the risk of COVID-19 being spread or contracted at your workplace.  

The risk of COVID-19 should be treated in the same way as any other workplace hazard – by applying a risk management approach. 

In consultation with your workers, including volunteers, and their representatives (e.g. health and safety representatives (HSRs)), you will need to assess the likelihood and degree of harm people may experience if exposed to COVID-19 and then implement the most effective control measures that are reasonably practicable to manage the risk. The control measures you implement should include outcomes that support physical distancing and operate alongside measures encouraging good hygiene amongst workers and others as well as regular and thorough cleaning of the workplace.

To meet your WHS duty you should be continually monitoring and reviewing the risks to the health and safety of workers and others, as well as the effectiveness of control measures put in place to eliminate or minimise these risks. You must also assess any new or changed risks arising from COVID-19, for example customer aggression, high work demand or working in isolation.

Further guidance on the risk management process is available in the Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks.

You may also need to comply with physical distancing measures issued under public health directions in your state or territory. Each state and territory has directions that reflect local circumstances. For more information about physical distancing requirements, go to your relevant state or territory government website. You can also go to our public health directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to government health directions. 

How do the public health directions in my state or territory interact with my WHS duty?

You must comply with your state or territory’s public health directions that apply to your business. 

Your WHS duty is to do all that you reasonably can to manage the risks of a person contracting and/or spreading COVID-19 in your workplace. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to implement control measures in order to meet your WHS duty that go beyond the minimum requirements stated in public health directions or advised by public health authorities. For example, public health directions may state you can have up to 10 customers in your shop at any one time. However, in undertaking your risk assessment you may determine that due to the layout of the workplace and your work processes, having 10 customers in the store would not effectively support physical distancing outcomes. Instead, limiting your store to 8 customers at a time would ensure everyone can maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres from each other.

How do I determine which physical distancing measures to implement to minimise the risk of COVID 19 spreading in my workplace?

To determine which physical distancing measures will be most effective in your workplace, you will need to undertake a risk assessment.

A risk assessment is part of the risk management process which involves identifying where the risk arises in your workplace, assessing the risks (including the likelihood of them happening), controlling the risks and reviewing these controls regularly. These steps remain the same whether you are conducting a risk assessment in relation to work health and safety generally, or specifically in relation to COVID-19.

In order to determine the most effective physical distancing measures you will need to: 

  • identify all activities or situations where people in your workplace may be in close proximity to each other,
  • assess the level of risk that people in these activities or situations may contract and/or spread COVID-19 in your workplace, and
  • determine what control measures are reasonably practicable to implement based on the assessed level of risk. 

Remember, you must consult with workers, including volunteers, and their representatives (e.g. health and safety representatives) on health and safety matters relating to COVID-19, including what control measures to put in place in your workplace. See also our information on consultation.   

See also our information on key considerations for undertaking a risk assessment – COVID-19

What physical distancing measures do I need to implement in my workplace?

Below are suggested measures to ensure physical distancing is achieved in your industry. Certain activities may not be permissible or there may be specific requirements in your state or territory at this time and therefore some of the proposed measures may not be relevant to your workplace. For more information about physical distancing requirements, go to your relevant state or territory government website. You can also go to our public health directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to government health directions. 

Remember, you must do all that is reasonably practicable to manage the risk of people contracting and/or spreading COVID-19. See also our guidance on determining what is reasonably practicable for more information.

Also remember, you must consult with workers and their representatives (e.g. health and safety representatives (HSRs)) on health and safety matters relating to COVID-19, including what control measures to put in place in your workplace.  

Worker interactions and work tasks 

Where possible, provide each person (workers and customers) with 4 square metres of space in enclosed areas in accordance with general health advice.  

  • To achieve this, calculate the area of the enclosed space (length multiplied by width in metres) and divide by 4. This will provide you with the maximum number of people you should have in the space at any one time.  
  • Where the nature of work means you are not able to provide 4 square metres of space per person, you need to implement other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  

To help you achieve 4 square metres of space per person (or where not reasonable, to achieve the maximum space per person) limit the number of people in the areas of your cinema by: 

  • limiting the number of tickets sold for each movie showing
  • reducing the number of sessions, and allowing time between sessions to minimise interactions between patrons arriving and leaving
  • placing signage which advises customers of the requirements and the number of people allowed in the particular space
  • implementing separate entrances and exits for customers where possible, as well as separate walkways (with one-way flow) in lobby areas
  • using multiple exits, where possible to manage large numbers of customers exiting after a screening
  • promote the use of pre-purchased and electronic ticketing and encourage customers to only enter or arrive just before session start times and to leave immediately afterwards to avoid crowds forming
  • introducing new roles to monitor and support physical distancing measures, for example in the lobby, to reduce the number of workers in the one space 
  • staggering workers’ shifts to reduce the number of workers in one staff area at any given and scheduling time between shifts so that there is no overlap of staff arriving at and leaving the workplace. and
  • limiting the number of back of house staff in small areas to only those necessary to do the job. 

Direct workers and customers to keep 1.5 metres of distance between them in accordance with general health advice. To achieve the best outcomes for physical distancing: 

  • implement measures in combination with measures for 4 square metres spacing, as set out above 
  • isolate/restrict work stations at service counters to enable the 1.5 metres distancing between counter staff
  • allocate seating in your cinema to ensure physical distancing of 1.5 metres such as only allocating every third seat and staggering spacing between rows, or providing spacing between household groups. Advise customers that they must sit in their allocated seats – you should consider allocating a staff member to monitor seating for compliance where possible. 
  • put signs around the areas of the cinema where customers normally gather such as lobbies, bar areas, and service counters and queues, and create wall or floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance. Your staff could wear a badge as a visual reminder to each other of physical distancing requirements.
  • limit physical interactions between workers and customers, where possible – e.g. putting Perspex barriers up at service counters, if possible 
  • for drive-in cinemas, request patrons stay in their vehicles
  • where available, promote the use of pre-purchased and electronic ticketing with allocated online seating to reduce standing in queues and face to face worker interactions with customers, and  
  • require workers to use other methods such as mobile phone or radio to communicate rather than face to face interaction.  

Where it is practical and safe to do so, review tasks and processes that usually require close interaction and identify ways to modify these to increase physical distancing between workers. Where not possible, reduce the amount of time workers spend in close contact. See also our information on what to do if your workers cannot maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres 

Layout of the workplace

  • You may need to redesign the layout of the workplace and your workflows to enable workers and customers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart to continue performing their duties and attend your cinema. This can be achieved by, where possible: 
    • restricting workers and customers to certain pathways or areas, and 
    • spreading out furniture, such as seats in lobby or waiting areas to increase distancing.  
  • Consider floor and/or wall markings and signage to identify 1.5 metres distancing requirements. 

If changing the physical layout of the workplace, your layout must allow for workers to enter, exit and move about the workplace both under normal working conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable.  Ensure that any fire authority regulations continue to be met to ensure safe customers can safely exit in case of fire. 

Staff gatherings and training

  • Postpone or cancel non-essential gatherings, meetings or training. 
  • If gatherings, meetings or training are essential: 
    • use non face-to-face options to conduct – e.g. electronic communication such as tele and video conferencing 
    • if a non face-to-face option is not possible, ensure face-to-face time is limited, that is make sure the gathering, meeting or training goes for no longer than it needs to 
    • hold the gathering, meeting or training it in spaces that enable workers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart and with 4 square metres of space per person – e.g. outdoors or in large conference rooms 
    • limit the number of attendees in a gathering, meeting or training. This may require, for example, multiple training sessions to be held, and 
    • ensure adequate ventilation if held indoors. 

Staff facilities 

  • Reduce the number of workers utilising common areas at a given time – e.g. by staggering meal breaks and start times. 
  • Spread out furniture in common areas. If changing the physical layout of the workplace, you must ensure the layout allows for workers to enter, exit and move about the workplace both under normal working conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable.  
  • Place signage about physical distancing around the workplace. Our website has links to a range of posters and resources to help remind workers and others of the risks of COVID-19 and the measures that are necessary to stop its spread. These posters can be placed around the workplace and in client-facing work environments (e.g. workplace entrances). Consideration needs to be given to how to communicate with workers and others for who English is not their first language.   
  • Consider providing separate amenities for workers and others in the workplace – for example separate bathroom facilities for workers and visitors/clients. 

Lifts 

  • Even if workers and customers only spend a short amount of time in a lift each day, they are still at risk of being exposed to COVID-19 when using a lift. 
  • There is no requirement to provide 4 square metres of space per person in lifts, however you must still ensure, as far as you reasonably can, that people maintain physical distancing in lifts and lift waiting areas.
  • Safe use of lifts is best achieved through a combination of measures, determined in consultation with workers, other employers in the building and the building owner/manager. This includes 
    • reducing the number of workers and customers who need to use the lift at the same time (e.g. stagger movie showing times)
    • implementing physical distancing measures in the lift waiting area including queueing systems and advising of passenger limits for each lift
    • ensuring that when in the lift people maintain physical distance to the extent possible and practice good hygiene including cough and sneezing etiquette and washing hands or using alcohol-based hand sanitiser after exiting the lift.
  • If workers and customers are to use the stairs or emergency exits as alternatives to using lifts, you must consider if any new risks may arise (e.g. increased risk of slip trips and falls) and consider how other existing WHS measures will be impacted (e.g. emergency plans and procedures See also our information on emergency plans)
  • See also our case study on lifts for further information

Deliveries, contractors and visitors attending the workplace

  • Non-essential visits to the workplace by contractors and visitors that are not customers should be cancelled or postponed.   
  • Minimise the number of workers attending to deliveries and contractors as much as possible. 
  • Delivery drivers and other contractors who need to attend the workplace, to provide maintenance or repair services or perform other essential activities, should be given clear instructions of your requirements while they are on site.  
  • Ensure handwashing facilities, or if not possible, alcohol-based hand sanitiser, is readily available for workers after physically handling deliveries. 
  • Direct visiting delivery drivers and contractors to remain in vehicles and use contactless methods such as mobile phones to communicate with your workers wherever possible.  
  • Direct visiting delivery drivers and contractors to use alcohol-based hand sanitiser before handling products being delivered. 
  • Use, and ask delivery drivers and contractors to use, electronic paper work where possible, to minimise physical interaction. Where possible, set up alternatives to requiring signatures. For instance, see whether a confirmation email or a photo of the loaded or unloaded goods can be accepted as proof of delivery or collection (as applicable). If a pen or other utensil is required for signature you can ask that the pen or utensil is cleaned or sanitised before use. For pens, you may wish to use your own. 

On-going review and monitoring 

  • Put processes in place to regularly monitor and review the implementation of physical distancing measures to ensure they are being followed and remain effective 
  • If physical distancing measures introduce new health and safety risks (e.g. because they impact communication or mean that less people are doing a task), you need to manage those risks too. 
    • The introduction of new processes to comply with physical distancing requirements may also result in increased customer frustration leading to work related violence. You must manage this risk including through measures such as erecting clear signage and posters setting out the new physical distancing and other measures and communicating with customers when they purchase a ticket in advance of attending the cinema to let them know there are different processes in place to ensure compliance with physical distancing requirements. You can find out more about managing the risk of work-related violence on our website.

My workers cannot maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres when performing work. Does this mean they cannot perform work?

It will not always be possible for workers and clients to keep 1.5 metres apart at all times at the workplace. For example, workers may have to work closely with each other or others because of the nature of the task and some tasks require workers to be in close proximity to be carried out safely. 

Working in close contact increases the risk of workers being exposed to COVID-19. You must consider whether the work task must be completed or could be rescheduled to a later date. If the task must be completed and your workers or workers and customers will be in close contact, you must undertake a risk assessment to determine what control measures are reasonably practicable in the circumstances to eliminate or minimise health and safety risks from COVID-19. For example, if close contact with others is unavoidable, you must implement other control measures such as: 

  • minimising the number of people within an area at any time. Limit access to the workplace or parts of the workplace to essential workers and customers only 
  • staggering session times to minimise number of workers and patrons in particular areas at any one time
  • moving work tasks to different areas of the workplace if possible 
  • considering separating workers into dedicated teams and have them work the same shift or work in a particular area 
  • ensuring each worker has their own equipment or tools 

Do I need to provide personal protective equipment to workers who are in close contact with each other? 

You must ensure workers comply with physical distancing requirements where possible. In circumstances where the nature of the task requires workers and customers or workers to be in close contact, you must put control measures in place that minimise the time workers spend with each other or with customers in the workplace. You must also ensure workers and clients are practicing good hygiene.  

If you have a situation where, despite other control measures, workers will be in close contact with each other or with clients for longer than the recommended time (i.e. more than 15 minutes face to face cumulative over the course of a week or more than 2 hours in a shared closed space), consider the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and a mask.  

Workers must be trained in the proper use of PPE. Be aware of WHS risks that may arise as a result of workers using and wearing PPE. 

Do workers need to practice physical distancing when on a lunch break or when travelling to and from work?

Yes. Workers must always comply with any state or territory public health directions or orders. This includes maintaining a physical distance of 1.5 metres between people.  

In some states and territories there are strict limitations on gatherings in public places. This means that in some circumstances, workers cannot eat lunch together in a park or travel together in a vehicle to and from work.  

You should refer to your state or territory health authority for further information on specific restrictions in place under public health directions or orders in your state or territory. 

 

What is physical distancing and how does it prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Physical distancing (also referred to as ‘social distancing’) refers to the requirement that people distance themselves from others.  

COVID-19 spreads from person to person through contact with droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets may fall directly into the person’s eyes, nose or mouth if they are in close contact with the infected person. A person may also be infected if they touch a surface contaminated with the droplets and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes before washing their hands.

Current health advice states that in order to reduce the risk of contact and droplet spread from a person, directly or indirectly, and from contaminated surfaces, people should maintain physical distance of at least 1.5 metres, practice good hand hygiene and engage in routine cleaning and disinfection of surfaces. 

Physical distancing can also include requirements for there to be 4 square metres of space per person in a room or enclosed space, as well as limits on gathering sizes. These requirements differ between industries and between states and territories. For example, some states and territories have updated public health directions to adjust physical distancing rules in line with local circumstances, such as revising the one person per 4 square metres rule to one person per 2 square metres in some circumstances. 

For more information about physical distancing requirements applicable to your business, go to your relevant state and territory government website. You can also go to our Public health directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to enforceable government directions.

What if I cannot always maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres?

It will not always be possible for you to keep 1.5 metres apart from customers at the workplace. Some tasks will also require you and other workers to be in close proximity in order to be carried out safely, such as lifting and moving heavy objects. 
Working in close contact with others increases your risk of being exposed to COVID-19. In these situations, your employer may consider delaying the task or seek to modify the task. Your employer must consult with you and relevant health and safety representatives on how to perform the work task safely, including where maintaining a physical distance of 1.5 metres is not possible.

For information on the measures your employer should be implementing see our employer information for your industry.

When working in close contact with others, you must practise good hygiene by washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or by using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser (with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol as the active ingredient).

Does my employer need to provide me with personal protective equipment if I am required to work in close contact with others?

You must comply with physical distancing requirements where possible. In circumstances where the nature of the task requires you to be in close contact with others, your employer must put control measures in place that minimise the time you spend with other people.

If the nature of your work task is such that even with additional control measures in place, you will either be:

  • face to face with a person for longer than 15 minutes over a course of a week, or
  • in a closed shared space with a person for more than 2 hours

You may need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), where it is available and safe to do so (e.g. disposable gloves, face protection).

Your employer must consult you and your relevant health and safety representative about the use of PPE and any WHS risks that may arise from using it.

Your employer must provide you with information and training on how to use and wear PPE.

Do I need to practice physical distancing when on a lunch break or when travelling to and from work?

Yes. You must always comply with any state or territory public health directions or orders. This includes maintaining a physical distance of 1.5 metres between people in public places and when travelling to and from work.

In some states and territories there are strict limitations on gatherings in public places. This means that in some circumstances, workers cannot eat lunch together in a park or travel together in a vehicle to and from work.

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