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.  

Libraries

In the library - worker and library user interactions

Provide each person with 4 square metres of space in enclosed areas in accordance with general health advice or where required by public health directions in your state or territory.  

  • 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.  
  • Depending on the layout of the library you may have multiple enclosed areas – a library may include staff kitchens and breakrooms and study/quiet rooms or parents’ rooms. You will need to apply the 4 square metre rule to each of these areas separately. 

To help you achieve 4 square metres of space per person limit the number of users and workers in the library at any one time. To limit the number of users in the library: 

  • place signs outside entrances stating the number of people allowed inside the library at the one time
  • count in and count out library users where it is practical to do so. Some areas may need to be cordoned off if the numbers in that space cannot be monitored or controlled.
  • restrict or limit access to facilities such as photocopiers, printers and computers. consider creating a booking system for using specific library facilities, particularly smaller areas such as study or computer rooms. If this system is implemented, you will need to provide adequate time between groups entering and leaving to comply with the 4 square metre requirement and to clean high touch point areas. inform library users of the booking system before they arrive at the library on your website, via social media platforms or email. This may help minimise the risk of frustrated library users which may increase the likelihood of workplace violence. See also our information on work-related violence.
  • suspend or extend loan times and/or enable library users to return their items using after hour chutes so they do not need to enter the library
  • consider whether the library can promote the use of digital formats such as e books, audio-books, virtual library story-times and book clubs 
  • consider whether the library can provide a ‘reserve and collect’ service for library members who wish to borrow items, and
  • consider restricting or limiting access to play areas.

To reduce the number of workers in the workplace at the one time you could:

  • facilitate working from home for office/administrative and research workers, where you can
  • reduce the number of tasks to be completed each day, where possible 
  • postpone or delay work tasks to times when it is quiet or at times when there are no users in the library (e.g. putting books away, re-arranging shelves), and 
  • split workers’ shifts to reduce the number of workers onsite at any given time, where possible. Schedule time between shifts so that there is no overlap of staff arriving at and leaving the workplace or have different entrances and exits to avoid interaction. 

Direct workers and library users 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
  • put signs around the library in high traffic areas including outside and near the entrance to remind library users to keep their distance. Your workers could wear a badge as a visual reminder to themselves and library users of physical distancing requirements
  • create floor markings that provide minimum guide distances between library users where queues may form such as outside the library entrance, near self-serve facilities, near the front counter or computer and photocopying facilities. Where possible, consider the provision of a worker to manage queues during busier times
  • use separate doors for library users to enter and exit if practicable, to avoid contact between people
  • set up self-serve counters at the appropriate distance apart
  • put up physical barriers between workers at the counter and library users where appropriate (e.g. perspex screens) or ask library users to place their books on the counter then take a step back whilst the worker scans them through. Workers should not handle visitor’s bags. If workers do handle a library user’s bag the worker must wash their hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser after doing so.
  • limit physical interactions between workers and library users where possible (e.g. informing library users that workers cannot assist with computer tasks and rotating workers who are at the front desk)
  • limit physical interactions between workers and other persons at the workplace – e.g. by using contactless deliveries and limiting non-essential visitors (e.g. contractors who conduct pop-up displays), and 
  • encourage workers to use other methods such as electronic communication, mobile phone or radio to communicate rather than face to face interaction. 

You may need to redesign the layout of the library to enable people to keep at least 1.5 metres apart. This can be achieved by 

  • creating specific pathways for people to use 
  • limiting access to equipment (e.g. shutting down every second computer and communicating this with adequate signage)
  • establishing one-way aisles if possible and clearly mark these with adequate signage, and
  • consider limiting the number of seats and tables available to library users to use and ensure these are spread out to increase distancing.

If changing the physical layout of the workplace, your layout must allow for workers and library users 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. 

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. 

Library programs (including children’s activities)/events and meeting rooms/facilities for hire

Provide each person with 4 square metres of space in enclosed areas in accordance with general health advice or where required by public health directions in your state or territory.  

  • 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.  
  • Depending on the layout of the library you may have multiple enclosed areas where library programs may take place or which can be hired out, such as study/quiet rooms or multipurpose rooms. You will need to apply the 4 square metre rule to each of these areas separately. 

To help you achieve 4 square metres of space per person:

  • limit the number of organised activities or events held in the library at the same time and reconsider the size of these organised activities or events. For example, if you have a ‘parents and bubs’ session in the morning consider splitting the group into separate sessions to limit numbers or suspend access to the library by other users whilst the group is in session
  • where possible organise activities to be online. For example, virtual library story-times and book clubs 
  • where the program or event will be in an enclosed area, restrict the number of persons allowed in that area based on the size of the area and the nature of the activities performed. Place signs outside of entrances that states the number of people allowed inside at the one time
  • request that people participating in the program or event leave the library once the session is finished
  • provide at least 15 minutes in between one group ending and another one commencing to allow enough time for visitors to leave and appropriate cleaning and disinfecting of the space to occur, and
  • consider limiting the number of meeting rooms available for hire. Block out or stagger hire times to reduce the total number of people in the library and the number arriving and leaving at the same time. Place signs outside of entrances that states the number of people allowed inside at the one time. Ask people who were in the meeting room to leave the library once they have finished.

Direct library users 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
  • put signs around the library in high traffic areas and in meeting rooms to remind library users to keep their distance. Put up wall or floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance. Remember, consideration also needs to be given to how to communicate with workers and others for whom English is a second language, and  
  • where possible hold children’s programs or events outdoors and choose activities that limit close contact and don’t require the reuse or sharing of ‘props’ such as dress-up clothing and toys.

You may need to redesign the layout of meeting rooms and areas where people gather for programs or events to enable people to keep at least 1.5 metres apart. This can be achieved by:

  • creating specific pathways for people to use
  • limiting access to equipment (e.g. shutting down every second computer and placing a sign on it stating that it is not to be used, and 
  • spreading out furniture, such as chairs to increase distancing.

If changing the physical layout of the workplace, your layout must allow for workers and library users, including those with a disability to enter, exit and move about the workplace both under normal conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable. 

Mobile library services and home library services

  • Consider suspending mobile library and home services where possible. 
  • If you are considering providing these services implement the above measures for mobile libraries and see our information on in-home services for home library services.

Museums, galleries and other cultural institutions

Visitor activities and visitor and worker interactions

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

  • To achieve this, calculate the area of the room (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.  
  • Depending on the layout of the institution you may have multiple enclosed areas such as exhibition areas separated by temporary walls. You will need to apply the 4 square metre rule to each of these areas separately. 

To help you achieve 4 square metres of space per person limit the number of visitors and workers in the library at any one time. To limit the number of users in the institution: 

  • place signs outside entrances stating the number of people allowed inside at the one time
  • consider pre-payment or online sale of tickets to avoid queuing. If queuing is necessary, implement visitor queuing outside the institution with floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance
  • count in and count out the visitors in the venue (in total), and per enclosed area where it is practical to do so. Some areas may need to be cordoned off if the numbers in that enclosed area cannot be monitored or controlled, and
  • consider setting up a booking system to enable a certain number of visitors to enter the institution for a set period of time, particularly for a high-profile exhibit or artist. Provide at least 15 minutes in between one group ending and another one commencing to allow enough time for visitors to leave and appropriate cleaning and disinfecting of high touch point items to occur. If setting up this system communicate this to visitors on relevant social media platforms and on your website as this may help minimise the risk of workplace violence. See also our information on work-related violence. 

Limit the number of workers in the cultural institution at one time by:

  • facilitating working from home for office/administrative and research workers, where you can
  • reducing the number of tasks to be completed each day, where possible
  • postpone or delay work tasks to times where it is quiet or at times where there are no users in the institution (e.g. rearranging exhibitions), and 
  • splitting workers’ shifts to reduce the number of workers onsite at any given time
    • schedule time between shifts so that there is no overlap of staff arriving at and leaving the workplace or have different entrances and exits to avoid interaction
    • limit or stagger access of staff and volunteers in onsite research laboratories and workshops e.g. Museums (Taxidermy, Archaeology, Palaeontology etc) and Art Galleries (conservation, restoration etc.).

Direct workers and visitors 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
  • put signs around the workplace and create wall or floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance, including: 
    • in the areas within and immediately outside the cultural institution where queueing may take place
    • in high-traffic areas within the building such as popular exhibits, and 
    • if ticket sales are online, provide the information prior to purchase on the website. This may help minimise the risk of workplace violence. See also our information on work-related violence. Remember, consideration also needs to be given to how to communicate with workers and others for whom English is a second language. Your staff could also wear a badge as a visual reminder to each other of physical distancing requirements. 
  • consider using physical barriers where possible, such as at the counter where a Perspex barrier or other appropriate screen could be installed to separate customers and service staff 
  • consider whether you can implement measures to limit the number of visitors gathering around and accessing lockers, cloakrooms or pigeon holes at the same time. Where possible, workers should not handle a visitor’s personal items. If workers do handle these items, they must wash their hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser after doing so
  • where possible, put in place a time limit for visitors, at least around popular exhibits, to avoid crowding. You may need to allocate a staff member to manage crowding and erect signage informing visitors of the time limit to help implement this
  • consider closing or limiting access to any interactive exhibits, such as those where visitors touch any part of the exhibit as part of their experience. For example, access to interactive exhibits could be limited by sectioning off the exhibit and erecting signage informing visitors the exhibit is currently available to view only
  • limit physical interactions between workers, workers and clients, and workers and other persons at the site – e.g. by using contactless deliveries and limiting non-essential visitors, and
  • require workers to use other methods such as electronic communication, mobile phone or radio to communicate where possible, rather than face to face interaction. 
    • For example, staff in one area of the cultural institution should use electronic communication, radio or phone to communicate with staff in another area instead of walking to the area to talk to the staff member/s.

You may need to redesign the layout of the workplace and the flow of visitors to enable workers and visitors to keep at least 1.5 metres apart. This can be achieved by: 

  • restricting workers and visitors to certain pathways or areas
  • establishing one-way systems if possible and clearly mark these with adequate signage
  • using separate doors for entry to and exit from the cultural institution
  • spreading out furniture, such as chairs for visitors to rest, to increase distancing, and
  • limiting exhibition items or the number of items on display.

If changing the physical layout of the workplace, your layout must allow for workers and visitors 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.  

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. 

Childrens’ activities 

Consider closing or having online sign up with limited places for group/children’s activities, such as group craft activities and other sessions run at the cultural institution. 
Where possible hold events outdoors and choose activities that limit close contact and don’t require the reuse or sharing of ‘props’ such as dress-up clothing and toys.

Gift shops and restaurants

If the cultural institution has a gift shop or café encourage customers through the use a signage to only touch items – such as cans or bottles of drink in an accessible fridge – that they intend to purchase. 
See also our information on hospitality and retail for physical distancing measures 

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 or online training. 

  • 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 necessary.
  • 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

Workplace 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, including lift entry points. 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, visitors or library users 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/library users who need to use the lift at the same time (e.g. stagger session 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/library users 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. cleaning procedures and emergency plans and procedures See also our information on emergency plans)

Deliveries, contractors and visitors attending the workplace

  • Non-essential deliveries and entrance to the building by contractors, maintenance staff etc 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

  • 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. 
  • Put processes in place to regularly monitor and review the implementation of physical distancing measures to ensure they are being followed and remain effective. 

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 customers 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, such as lifting heavy art pieces or exhibits. 

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 customers in 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, and 
  • 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 clients 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. 

Do workers have to maintain physical distancing if visiting a library user’s home as part of a mobile library or home service program?

Yes. The model Work Health and Safety laws apply even when the workplace is a private home or dwelling. The client’s home is a workplace when you or your worker is there to perform work. 

You or your worker should talk to the client to ensure they understand the risks of COVID-19 and about the control measures you must implement – including physical distancing - to minimise the risk of exposing them and your worker to the virus.  
 

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 cultural institutions. These restrictions are being relaxed in different jurisdictions at different times. Cultural institutions 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 cultural institutions - depending on what is permissible in your jurisdiction, some 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.  

Libraries

In the library - worker and library user interactions

Provide each person with 4 square metres of space in enclosed areas in accordance with general health advice or where required by public health directions in your state or territory.  

  • 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.  
  • Depending on the layout of the library you may have multiple enclosed areas – a library may include staff kitchens and breakrooms and study/quiet rooms or parents’ rooms. You will need to apply the 4 square metre rule to each of these areas separately. 

To help you achieve 4 square metres of space per person limit the number of users and workers in the library at any one time. To limit the number of users in the library: 

  • place signs outside entrances stating the number of people allowed inside the library at the one time
  • count in and count out library users where it is practical to do so. Some areas may need to be cordoned off if the numbers in that space cannot be monitored or controlled.
  • restrict or limit access to facilities such as photocopiers, printers and computers. consider creating a booking system for using specific library facilities, particularly smaller areas such as study or computer rooms. If this system is implemented, you will need to provide adequate time between groups entering and leaving to comply with the 4 square metre requirement and to clean high touch point areas. inform library users of the booking system before they arrive at the library on your website, via social media platforms or email. This may help minimise the risk of frustrated library users which may increase the likelihood of workplace violence. See also our information on work-related violence.
  • suspend or extend loan times and/or enable library users to return their items using after hour chutes so they do not need to enter the library
  • consider whether the library can promote the use of digital formats such as e books, audio-books, virtual library story-times and book clubs 
  • consider whether the library can provide a ‘reserve and collect’ service for library members who wish to borrow items, and
  • consider restricting or limiting access to play areas.

To reduce the number of workers in the workplace at the one time you could:

  • facilitate working from home for office/administrative and research workers, where you can
  • reduce the number of tasks to be completed each day, where possible 
  • postpone or delay work tasks to times when it is quiet or at times when there are no users in the library (e.g. putting books away, re-arranging shelves), and 
  • split workers’ shifts to reduce the number of workers onsite at any given time, where possible. Schedule time between shifts so that there is no overlap of staff arriving at and leaving the workplace or have different entrances and exits to avoid interaction. 

Direct workers and library users 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
  • put signs around the library in high traffic areas including outside and near the entrance to remind library users to keep their distance. Your workers could wear a badge as a visual reminder to themselves and library users of physical distancing requirements
  • create floor markings that provide minimum guide distances between library users where queues may form such as outside the library entrance, near self-serve facilities, near the front counter or computer and photocopying facilities. Where possible, consider the provision of a worker to manage queues during busier times
  • use separate doors for library users to enter and exit if practicable, to avoid contact between people
  • set up self-serve counters at the appropriate distance apart
  • put up physical barriers between workers at the counter and library users where appropriate (e.g. perspex screens) or ask library users to place their books on the counter then take a step back whilst the worker scans them through. Workers should not handle visitor’s bags. If workers do handle a library user’s bag the worker must wash their hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser after doing so.
  • limit physical interactions between workers and library users where possible (e.g. informing library users that workers cannot assist with computer tasks and rotating workers who are at the front desk)
  • limit physical interactions between workers and other persons at the workplace – e.g. by using contactless deliveries and limiting non-essential visitors (e.g. contractors who conduct pop-up displays), and 
  • encourage workers to use other methods such as electronic communication, mobile phone or radio to communicate rather than face to face interaction. 

You may need to redesign the layout of the library to enable people to keep at least 1.5 metres apart. This can be achieved by 

  • creating specific pathways for people to use 
  • limiting access to equipment (e.g. shutting down every second computer and communicating this with adequate signage)
  • establishing one-way aisles if possible and clearly mark these with adequate signage, and
  • consider limiting the number of seats and tables available to library users to use and ensure these are spread out to increase distancing.

If changing the physical layout of the workplace, your layout must allow for workers and library users 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. 

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. 

Library programs (including children’s activities)/events and meeting rooms/facilities for hire

Provide each person with 4 square metres of space in enclosed areas in accordance with general health advice or where required by public health directions in your state or territory.  

  • 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.  
  • Depending on the layout of the library you may have multiple enclosed areas where library programs may take place or which can be hired out, such as study/quiet rooms or multipurpose rooms. You will need to apply the 4 square metre rule to each of these areas separately. 

To help you achieve 4 square metres of space per person:

  • limit the number of organised activities or events held in the library at the same time and reconsider the size of these organised activities or events. For example, if you have a ‘parents and bubs’ session in the morning consider splitting the group into separate sessions to limit numbers or suspend access to the library by other users whilst the group is in session
  • where possible organise activities to be online. For example, virtual library story-times and book clubs 
  • where the program or event will be in an enclosed area, restrict the number of persons allowed in that area based on the size of the area and the nature of the activities performed. Place signs outside of entrances that states the number of people allowed inside at the one time
  • request that people participating in the program or event leave the library once the session is finished
  • provide at least 15 minutes in between one group ending and another one commencing to allow enough time for visitors to leave and appropriate cleaning and disinfecting of the space to occur, and
  • consider limiting the number of meeting rooms available for hire. Block out or stagger hire times to reduce the total number of people in the library and the number arriving and leaving at the same time. Place signs outside of entrances that states the number of people allowed inside at the one time. Ask people who were in the meeting room to leave the library once they have finished.

Direct library users 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
  • put signs around the library in high traffic areas and in meeting rooms to remind library users to keep their distance. Put up wall or floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance. Remember, consideration also needs to be given to how to communicate with workers and others for whom English is a second language, and  
  • where possible hold children’s programs or events outdoors and choose activities that limit close contact and don’t require the reuse or sharing of ‘props’ such as dress-up clothing and toys.

You may need to redesign the layout of meeting rooms and areas where people gather for programs or events to enable people to keep at least 1.5 metres apart. This can be achieved by:

  • creating specific pathways for people to use
  • limiting access to equipment (e.g. shutting down every second computer and placing a sign on it stating that it is not to be used, and 
  • spreading out furniture, such as chairs to increase distancing.

If changing the physical layout of the workplace, your layout must allow for workers and library users, including those with a disability to enter, exit and move about the workplace both under normal conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable. 

Mobile library services and home library services

  • Consider suspending mobile library and home services where possible. 
  • If you are considering providing these services implement the above measures for mobile libraries and see our information on in-home services for home library services.

Museums, galleries and other cultural institutions

Visitor activities and visitor and worker interactions

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

  • To achieve this, calculate the area of the room (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.  
  • Depending on the layout of the institution you may have multiple enclosed areas such as exhibition areas separated by temporary walls. You will need to apply the 4 square metre rule to each of these areas separately. 

To help you achieve 4 square metres of space per person limit the number of visitors and workers in the library at any one time. To limit the number of users in the institution: 

  • place signs outside entrances stating the number of people allowed inside at the one time
  • consider pre-payment or online sale of tickets to avoid queuing. If queuing is necessary, implement visitor queuing outside the institution with floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance
  • count in and count out the visitors in the venue (in total), and per enclosed area where it is practical to do so. Some areas may need to be cordoned off if the numbers in that enclosed area cannot be monitored or controlled, and
  • consider setting up a booking system to enable a certain number of visitors to enter the institution for a set period of time, particularly for a high-profile exhibit or artist. Provide at least 15 minutes in between one group ending and another one commencing to allow enough time for visitors to leave and appropriate cleaning and disinfecting of high touch point items to occur. If setting up this system communicate this to visitors on relevant social media platforms and on your website as this may help minimise the risk of workplace violence. See also our information on work-related violence. 

Limit the number of workers in the cultural institution at one time by:

  • facilitating working from home for office/administrative and research workers, where you can
  • reducing the number of tasks to be completed each day, where possible
  • postpone or delay work tasks to times where it is quiet or at times where there are no users in the institution (e.g. rearranging exhibitions), and 
  • splitting workers’ shifts to reduce the number of workers onsite at any given time
    • schedule time between shifts so that there is no overlap of staff arriving at and leaving the workplace or have different entrances and exits to avoid interaction
    • limit or stagger access of staff and volunteers in onsite research laboratories and workshops e.g. Museums (Taxidermy, Archaeology, Palaeontology etc) and Art Galleries (conservation, restoration etc.).

Direct workers and visitors 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
  • put signs around the workplace and create wall or floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance, including: 
    • in the areas within and immediately outside the cultural institution where queueing may take place
    • in high-traffic areas within the building such as popular exhibits, and 
    • if ticket sales are online, provide the information prior to purchase on the website. This may help minimise the risk of workplace violence. See also our information on work-related violence. Remember, consideration also needs to be given to how to communicate with workers and others for whom English is a second language. Your staff could also wear a badge as a visual reminder to each other of physical distancing requirements. 
  • consider using physical barriers where possible, such as at the counter where a Perspex barrier or other appropriate screen could be installed to separate customers and service staff 
  • consider whether you can implement measures to limit the number of visitors gathering around and accessing lockers, cloakrooms or pigeon holes at the same time. Where possible, workers should not handle a visitor’s personal items. If workers do handle these items, they must wash their hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser after doing so
  • where possible, put in place a time limit for visitors, at least around popular exhibits, to avoid crowding. You may need to allocate a staff member to manage crowding and erect signage informing visitors of the time limit to help implement this
  • consider closing or limiting access to any interactive exhibits, such as those where visitors touch any part of the exhibit as part of their experience. For example, access to interactive exhibits could be limited by sectioning off the exhibit and erecting signage informing visitors the exhibit is currently available to view only
  • limit physical interactions between workers, workers and clients, and workers and other persons at the site – e.g. by using contactless deliveries and limiting non-essential visitors, and
  • require workers to use other methods such as electronic communication, mobile phone or radio to communicate where possible, rather than face to face interaction. 
    • For example, staff in one area of the cultural institution should use electronic communication, radio or phone to communicate with staff in another area instead of walking to the area to talk to the staff member/s.

You may need to redesign the layout of the workplace and the flow of visitors to enable workers and visitors to keep at least 1.5 metres apart. This can be achieved by: 

  • restricting workers and visitors to certain pathways or areas
  • establishing one-way systems if possible and clearly mark these with adequate signage
  • using separate doors for entry to and exit from the cultural institution
  • spreading out furniture, such as chairs for visitors to rest, to increase distancing, and
  • limiting exhibition items or the number of items on display.

If changing the physical layout of the workplace, your layout must allow for workers and visitors 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.  

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. 

Childrens’ activities 

Consider closing or having online sign up with limited places for group/children’s activities, such as group craft activities and other sessions run at the cultural institution. 
Where possible hold events outdoors and choose activities that limit close contact and don’t require the reuse or sharing of ‘props’ such as dress-up clothing and toys.

Gift shops and restaurants

If the cultural institution has a gift shop or café encourage customers through the use a signage to only touch items – such as cans or bottles of drink in an accessible fridge – that they intend to purchase. 
See also our information on hospitality and retail for physical distancing measures 

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 or online training. 

  • 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 necessary.
  • 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

Workplace 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, including lift entry points. 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, visitors or library users 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/library users who need to use the lift at the same time (e.g. stagger session 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/library users 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. cleaning procedures and emergency plans and procedures See also our information on emergency plans)

Deliveries, contractors and visitors attending the workplace

  • Non-essential deliveries and entrance to the building by contractors, maintenance staff etc 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

  • 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. 
  • Put processes in place to regularly monitor and review the implementation of physical distancing measures to ensure they are being followed and remain effective. 

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 customers 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, such as lifting heavy art pieces or exhibits. 

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 customers in 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, and 
  • 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 clients 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. 

Do workers have to maintain physical distancing if visiting a library user’s home as part of a mobile library or home service program?

Yes. The model Work Health and Safety laws apply even when the workplace is a private home or dwelling. The client’s home is a workplace when you or your worker is there to perform work. 

You or your worker should talk to the client to ensure they understand the risks of COVID-19 and about the control measures you must implement – including physical distancing - to minimise the risk of exposing them and your worker to the virus.  

 

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.

Do I have to maintain physical distancing in a client’s home?

Yes. The model Work Health and Safety laws apply even when the workplace is a private home or dwelling. The client’s home is a workplace when you are there to perform work.

You or your employer should talk to the client to ensure they understand the risks of COVID-19 and about the control measures you must implement – including physical distancing – to minimise the risk of exposing them and your worker to the virus. 

For information on the measures your employer should be implementing, see our employer information for cultural institutions.

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