Case Study – Duties under WHS Laws
Alex runs a small domestic cleaning business. The business is getting busier again with new bookings and regulars who paused their service are now wanting to have their homes cleaned again. Alex has been keeping up to date with the latest COVID-19 public health advice but she is unsure about what this means for her work health and safety duties.
Alex locates and reviews Safe Work Australia’s resource kit for COVID-19, including the guidance for providing in house services. She reviews the example scripts and it starts her thinking about the ways she interacts with clients.
Alex has great regulars who she’s worked with for years, but she is still worried that some people might be hesitant or forget to tell her if they’re unwell before her cleaning teams arrive. Alex decides to get on the front foot and put systems in place to keep her workers and clients as safe as possible. Knowing lots of her regulars are actually working from home, she asks all clients to leave a key for the cleaning team so they can enter the home without needing to interact with her workers (even if they’re home). She also suggests owners consider going for a walk while cleaning is underway and gets her workers to text the owners when they’re on their way to the job.
She tells her workers that if they arrive at a home and they believe people there may be unwell or are self-isolating, to not enter the home and to call her straight away. She will then call the client to discuss the situation before any work is done.
To smooth the way for the new arrangements, Alex updates her social media pages, and takes time to discuss health and hygiene protocols with her new clients over the phone when they make a booking. She also sets arrangements out in an email to her existing customer base. She includes headshots of her workers in the material with a banner reading “Let’s keep each other safe” and also takes the opportunity to pass on her bank details for direct deposit so her workers don’t have to handle cash.
Taxi and ride share
Case Study – Hygiene
Duong owns a taxi business with two taxis and he employs 6 drivers. As an essential service in the COVID-19 response, the taxi business can continue to operate and Duong wants to make sure he does everything he can to minimise the risk of his workers and other people being exposed to COVID-19 from his business.
Duong thinks about the ways his drivers and passengers could be exposed to COVID-19. While he is confident about ensuring frequent hand washing for drivers and regular, thorough cleaning and disinfecting of the taxis, he is concerned about the challenges in implementing the government’s directions for physical distancing of at least 1.5 metres between the driver and passengers.
He holds a meeting of his drivers to discuss how they can best meet physical distancing requirements. One of the drivers suggests installing a physical barrier between the front and back seats that includes a space to pass an EFTPOS machine through for contactless payment. Another driver suggests that passengers be required to handle their own luggage into and out of the boot and sit in the back seat of the taxi wherever possible. Duong thinks it would be a good idea if only drivers touched the door handles and boot of the taxi. The drivers also agree they should avoid physical contact with each other and maintain more than 1.5 metres distance from other drivers when they are at taxi stations.
Duong agrees these are all excellent suggestions and arranges to have a Perspex screen installed in both taxis. Duong also buys alcohol-based hand sanitiser and tissues for use by both drivers and passengers, and masks for any of his drivers who wish to use them. Drivers are asked to inform passengers that they should handle their own luggage if they are able to, sit in the back of the taxi where possible and use the hand sanitiser and tissues provided. Signs are placed in all taxis asking passengers to practice good hygiene, including not to open the doors from the outside themselves, and thanking them for their understanding. As some passengers may not speak English and there isn’t enough space for signs in multiple languages, Duong also creates a sign using 3 well-known emojis – the sneezing with tissue emoji, face mask emoji and smiley face. Duong also advises his drivers to set the air conditioning to external airflow rather than to recirculation, or have windows open where appropriate.
Duong emphasises to his drivers that they should immediately cease driving if they are feeling unwell or displaying symptoms of COVID-19, have been tested for COVID-19 and awaiting results or have been required by health authorities to self-isolate.
Case Study – Risk Assessments
Chandran manages a local mixed business selling specialty herbs and spices, grocery and fresh vegetables. He has been asked to do a risk assessment to make sure the business is addressing COVID-19 risks.
Chandran understands the business has duties under WHS laws to keep its workers and customers safe. He looks at the Safe Work Australia, state’s WHS regulator and health department websites for information on what the risks from COVID-19 might be and what they can do to manage those risks at the shop.
From this information he creates a list to carry out his risk assessment, which includes:
- identifying the risks—in this case, workers and customers contracting COVID-19 at the shop
- determining how severe the risk is—that is, what could happen if a person contracts COVID-19
- whether any existing control measures at the shop are effective—such as their usual cleaning routines and hygiene practices
- what action should be taken to control the risk—that is, what else should the shop do to ensure workers and customers are not exposed to COVID-19, so far as is reasonably practicable, and
- how urgently the action needs to be taken.
Chandran knows he must consult workers on health and safety matters and at the next staff meeting he asks the other workers for their ideas. Workers identify one new risk Chandran hadn’t thought of (the metal scoop customers use to self-serve dried lentils and pulses is currently touched by multiple customers in a day, and the staff member suggests during the pandemic they should actually pre-bag and price 500g and 1kg bags) and a more effective control measure for another (using gloves while handling produce and restocking, where possible).
Chandran updates the risk assessment with their suggestions and hands a copy out to each worker so they can see what needs to be done, the new procedures at the store and what each worker is responsible for.
He prints out a copy of the risk assessment and sticks it on the microwave door. He also sets himself a reminder on his phone to do a weekly spot check at the shop to ensure the controls are working effectively and to review the risk assessment in two weeks’ time.
Case Study – Physical Distancing
Khalil owns a small clothing boutique that features up and coming local designers. He has been working with his retail staff to limit the physical proximity between his workers and customers. To comply with mandatory physical distancing requirements, Khalil has calculated the retail floor space and set an upper limit on the number of customers and others who may enter the boutique, taking into account his retail staff. He has repositioned the clothing racks to ensure his staff and customers can comfortably walk around the shop while remaining a minimum of 1.5 metres apart at all times.
During their daily catch-ups, one of his retail staff suggested they create a ‘red carpet’ queue outside the shop. Khalil readily adopted this idea, which is both on brand and ensures appropriate physical distancing. Everyone agrees it is appropriate to postpone private members’ showings of new designs to reduce staff contact with customers.
During this same catch-up, Khalil reminds staff that they must practice good hygiene, including washing their hands, using tissues and hand sanitiser. Khalil lets his staff know that the washroom facilities are properly stocked with supplies of soap, water and toilet paper.
Khalil has increased cleaning and disinfection in the boutique. For example, regular cleaning of frequently touched surfaces, including counters, handrails, doors, till, phones, keyboards and EFTPOS facilities using appropriate detergent solutions where possible. He has also implemented protocols to ensure workers’ personal items, such as glasses and phones, are cleaned and ideally disinfected frequently using isopropyl alcohol wipes.
Deliveries of new stock are important to Khalil’s business. Khalil provides clear instructions to his suppliers about new protocols, asking drivers to remain in vehicles and use contactless methods to communicate and pay for deliveries.
Khalil reminds staff that they must not come to work if they are unwell or display symptoms like fever, coughing, a sore throat and shortness of breath. He asks staff to call him if they are unwell and to seek medical advice. He also reminds staff they can discuss any concerns about their health and safety with him at any time and tells them about the support services they can access.
Trades and home maintenance
Case Study – Physical Distancing
Karen is an electrician who owns a small business specialising in domestic electrical work. She has recently taken on a new apprentice, Bob. Karen knows she has a duty of care to ensure the health and safety of Bob, herself and others at the workplace.
Because their work is continuing during COVID-19, Karen talked to Bob about the importance of minimising the risk of spreading the virus, particularly by regularly washing their hands, using the appropriate PPE for the task and maintaining physical distancing where possible.
Karen has also looked at Safe Work Australia’s guidance for in-home service providers. For each job, she speaks to her clients about the steps they are taking to prevent spreading COVID-19 while Karen and Bob are in the client’s home.
As a relatively new apprentice, Bob is concerned about how to maintain a distance of 1.5 metres from Karen while having her supervise his work in the roof cavity. To help with this, Karen developed a work plan with Bob to make sure they would have enough room to work and maintain a safe distance.
This workplan includes:
- Anchoring the ladder at the entrance to the roof cavity and entering separately, so Bob can move away from the entrance before Karen comes up.
- Bob and Karen take their own tools into the roof space and do not share.
- Bob does not undertake any work while Karen is not present, for example if she needs to get tools from the van. In these cases, Bob will exit the roof cavity and wait at the bottom of the ladder for Karen to return.
- After they finish their work, they wipe down all the surfaces they have touched with antibacterial wipes; including the equipment, door handles, ladders and other surfaces. They thoroughly wash their hands.
Karen knows that work might take a bit longer than usual because of the extra precautions, so she has allowed additional time in their work schedule.
Karen and Bob go over the plan before commencing each task to ensure they both understand their roles and to make sure the plan is working effectively.
As Karen and Bob will not be working as close to each other as they are used to, they also agree to regularly check-in about what they are each doing. This means Karen will know when to inspect Bob’s work and provide him with advice when he needs it.
Case Study – Hygiene
Julie is keen to ensure her four young employees in the Coffee Pod Café in a regional town maintain a high standard of personal hygiene through regular hand washing. Julie considers this is especially important at the moment as there are cases of COVID-19 in the area.
Julie knows she has a duty of care for the health and safety of her staff and her customers under WHS laws. In running a business preparing and serving food, Julie is very conscious of the need to ensure all her employees wash their hands thoroughly and regularly to avoid contaminating any food products, surfaces, workers or customers.
Julie discusses worker hygiene and handwashing with her staff regularly and has put posters up at both sinks in the café that set out good hand washing practices, including washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. However, she’s noticed some of her employees are not washing their hands thoroughly and for much less than 20 seconds.
Knowing her young employees love their music, Julie introduces a daily ‘tiktok’ challenge. She nominates one employee every day to choose a song that all the employees have to wash their hands to for 20 seconds regularly through the day. It’s a hit! Julie notices an immediate improvement in her employees’ handwashing practices.
Food processing and manufacturing
Case Study – Cleaning
Colin runs a small window manufacturing business and employs 6 people. His business premises consists of a workshop and warehouse space for manufacturing windows, an office for taking phone calls and doing paperwork, and a retail display area for customers to inspect their product range.
Colin is contacted by a pest control company who is offering a new weekly service to clean and disinfect premises, which includes a new and innovative fogging solution. Colin is told a machine will pump a chlorine-based disinfectant into the air in all parts of the workplace which will kill 99.99 % of all virus and bacteria, also getting into all those hard to reach spaces that you can’t clean manually. Colin is told that while it’s expensive at $4000, because it is so effective it would only need to be done at the initial clean and then once per month and would ensure he is meeting his work health and safety duties.
Colin knows he has a duty of care to his workers and customers and is aware that cleaning is an important part of ensuring COVID-19 is not transmitted. However, he has not heard of fogging before, and at $4000 per fogging treatment it seems very expensive, especially as business has slowed down. Colin jumps online, and searches for information on cleaning and fogging in particular. Colin reads information from the Department of Health and Safe Work Australia and learns that regular cleaning with detergent is suitable for the vast majority of situations, and that fogging is not a recommended method of disinfection. Colin also learns that chlorine based fogging solutions can be corrosive and may damage his products and equipment.
Colin decides that he and his staff are able to undertake the necessary cleaning themselves by following the advice from government agencies. This includes daily cleaning of all door handles, benchtops and other frequently touched surfaces in the retail space, office, workshop and warehouse. The promotional material from the pest control company was persuasive and it leaves Colin with a nagging doubt. He decides to check in with the WHS regulator just to be sure his plan is sound. He receives an email back the next day confirming there is no requirement for fogging and reassurance his approach is sound.
Case Study – PPE
Han works for a small parcel delivery company. His role involves handling many parcels each day, including loading them into his delivery van and delivering them to people’s homes and some business premises.
Han has raised concerns with his supervisor, Rita, that the surface of the parcels may be contaminated with COVID-19 and he is sometimes in close contact with other people when delivering the parcels. Pat wonders if he needs to wear gloves or a face mask.
Rita has also heard that it is possible for the COVID-19 virus to remain on different surfaces for different periods of time and this could lead to transmission. Rita wants to make sure that Han is not at risk of contracting COVID-19 because of his work. After reviewing public health advice, Rita learns that the chances of catching COVID-19 from packages is very low, so gloves may not be necessary, and physical distancing from customers is a better option than using a mask.
Rita tells Han about what she’s learned and they talk about what the company can do to reduce the risk to his health and safety. They put a procedure in place for ‘contactless delivery’, so Han can leave the parcel on the doorstep, knock on the door or call the receiver and then step back to the appropriate distance. They also ask clients to use their own pens to sign for the delivery, where this is necessary. Han agrees that this is a better option than wearing a mask, and as parcels are unlikely to transmit the virus he understands that he does not need to wear gloves either.
After speaking with Rita, Han is confident that if he maintains physical distancing and practices good hand hygiene, he can continue in his delivery role safely. As they get talking about work, Han opens up about the hours he’d been working to keep up. He hadn’t been taking scheduled breaks and was working later each night even after he should have signed off for the night. Rita thanks him for letting her know and assures Han he does not have to skip breaks and work late. In fact, it could put him at risk of serious injury if fatigue takes over. In her weekly email to drivers, Rita reiterates this safety message to everyone and invites drivers to contact her to discuss workloads and any safety concerns. That evening Rita also explores her options to recruit extra drivers to better manage the increased demand in the business.
Case Study – Cleaning
Marcus is an owner driver who has been continuing to haul freight as an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Marcus knows that he must take care of his own health and safety, as well as the health and safety of others at his workplace under the WHS laws.
To protect himself from COVID-19 on the road, Marcus washes his hands whenever he stops on long haul trips or uses alcohol-based hand sanitiser when he finds facilities at a pit stop are inadequate. When working with others to unload freight Marcus is diligent about practising physical distancing, unless he has no choice but to work in close contact with others (e.g. during loading and unloading the rig).
Marcus sometimes subcontracts to another driver to be able to spend more time with family. Before handing over the truck, Marcus does a more thorough all over clean before the change over. He changes all linen in the sleeper and disinfects the high touch surfaces. His co-driver Josh asked about the cloth seats in the cab and since it’s not possible to easily disinfect, Marcus turns to the internet and finds throwover protective seat covers. It’s an easy fix and Josh feels relieved, particularly since his wife has a chronic illness putting her in a higher risk category for the virus.
Marcus notices some of the other drivers have started to wear face masks and disposable gloves, so he decides to check the latest government advice. He learns that his current hygiene, cleaning and physical distancing measures are effective in minimising the transmission of COVID-19. Marcus decides that he and his subcontractors do not need to wear any additional personal protective equipment (PPE).
Building and construction
Case Study – Gloves
Jon works for an electrical company performing maintenance on LV switch gear. The work is hazardous and standard procedure requires the use of a range of PPE, including specialised high voltage gloves.
Jon knows it is essential that all PPE is maintained in good working order and is clean and hygienic. During a daily condition check of his equipment and PPE, Jon notices that his gloves are damaged and may no longer be fit for use.
Company guidelines state that where possible, workers are to have their own dedicated set of PPE rather than share equipment. However if this is not possible, then PPE needs to be properly and regularly laundered and disinfected.
Jon’s colleague, Trent, is currently on site and has a pair of specialised high voltage gloves that he is not using and would be happy to lend to Jon. Trent’s equipment maintenance log shows the gloves have been disinfected and laundered since they were last used.
Jon and Trent consult their manager and decide that in line with Department of Health advice on COVID-19, additional hygiene steps should be taken. After confirming that manufacturers’ guidelines would not be breached, it was decided that in the interim, Jon would wear a pair of disposable gloves under Trent’s specialised high voltage gloves. Trent’s gloves would be laundered and disinfected when they are returned to him. Jon’s manager agrees to supply disposable gloves for him to use and reminds Jon about good hand washing practices and not to touch his face while he has the gloves on. Jon is provided with information about how to put on and remove the disposable gloves to ensure the risk of transmitting COVID-19 is minimised, and provided a special sealed bin to dispose of the used gloves.
Food processing and manufactuirng
Case Study – PPE
Roger is responsible for a food processing facility that manufactures canned and bottled goods. With the COVID-19 pandemic, Roger’s staff have raised concerns with him about whether the PPE they currently wear will protect them from COVID-19 at the workplace.
Roger knows he has a duty of care for the health and safety of his staff under WHS laws. Roger has always ensured his staff wear appropriate PPE that meets food industry standards. The PPE worn by his staff includes hand protection (nitrile, latex and non-latex gloves), protective eye wear (goggles) and protective clothing (gowns, hairnets and coverall boots).
Roger investigates the current government advice about the best ways to protect against COVID-19. He already has in place physical distancing between workers, hand washing procedures and a cleaning and disinfection schedule. Roger explains to his staff that the PPE they are wearing is still appropriate and in combination with physical distancing, good hand hygiene and cleaning at the workplace, no additional or different PPE are necessary.
He reminds staff that as a food preparation facility, strict personal health and hygiene measures and cleaning are already of most importance and that staff should continue to implement these practices. Staff were also reminded to always practice physical distancing within the facility. Roger also puts up posters around the workplace that show how the practices that are in place work to protect staff from COVID-19.
Road freight, In-home services, Delivery drivers
Case Study – PPE
Matt and Cherie own and manage a removalist business. Following the latest government advice from the Department of Health, they have put in place a number of measures to protect their staff from the risks of COVID-19. This includes regular cleaning of vehicles, surfaces and equipment that come in contact with customers and their homes, practising good hand hygiene and physical distancing with staff and customers. Matt and Cherie also ask their customers to inform them if any resident is infected or is suspected to have COVID-19 as part of their quoting process prior to taking on the job.
Cherie checked the Australian government’s current health advice on PPE and noted that PPE such as disposable gloves and face masks are not required for in house service workers, provided other measures like physical distancing, cleaning and good hand hygiene measures are in place.
One of their workers asked if she could wear disposable gloves and a face mask that she had purchased during her shift. Cherie and Matt spoke with the worker about her concerns to better understand why she wants to wear this PPE. The workers said she is worried about handling objects which might be contaminated with COVID-19 and close contact with clients. They then considered whether PPE measures are appropriate to minimise the risk of workers being exposed to the COVID-19 virus. After reviewing government advice, they decided that wearing gloves and a mask is unlikely to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 during removal work as workers are asked to practice physical distancing, good hand hygiene and the risk of contracting COVID-19 through the surface of moving boxes is very low. However, they understood the worker was anxious and agreed to her using the additional PPE as she could still carry out her work.
Matt and Cherie talked to their workers about using additional PPE while working and encouraged them to talk to them if they have any questions or concerns about their health and safety. They made it clear that workers must familiarise themselves with how to correctly use and dispose of the PPE. They also provided special, sealed bins so that workers could dispose of used PPE and put up posters in the staffroom showing workers how to use the PPE correctly.
Early childhood education and care
Case Study – Gloves
Nijah is the Director of an Early Learning Centre and has responsibility for 10 early childhood educators and up to 30 children ranging between 6 weeks and 5 years old.
Nijah knows she has a duty of care under WHS laws for the health and safety of her workers, the children in care at the centre and the families of those children when they visit the centre. With the additional risk of COVID-19 there are many things to consider, as they prepare food for children, small children do not understand physical distancing and they change nappies and help with the toileting of older children.
Nijah is keen to maintain a high standard of hygiene at the centre and wants to make sure that her workers are reminded of the appropriate use of gloves in the workplace. Nijah considers that this is especially important at the moment as there are confirmed cases of COVID-19 in her local suburbs.
Nijah thinks about how she can highlight to workers the importance of using gloves correctly, when to change them and how to dispose of them.
Nijah decides to put up educational posters in all wet areas, food preparation areas and in each room. Nijah has made these posters bright and happy by having the children colour them in as one of their activities.
During each catch-up with her workers, Nijah reminds them they should continue to wear gloves when preparing or serving food, changing nappies, assisting a child with toileting or assisting a child to blow their nose. Nijah also asks her workers to wear gloves when disposing of any waste or rubbish. Nijah has installed and labelled sealed bins for used gloves and placed them near all hand washing facilities.
Nijah also lets her staff know that they must wash their hands or use hand sanitiser before wearing gloves and after removing the gloves and they must change their gloves after each individual task is completed. Nijah also advises her workers to avoid touching their face when wearing gloves.
Case Study – Masks
Renata runs an independent supermarket and has already introduced a number of measures to help protect her staff from COVID-19, including regular hand washing and physical distancing between workers and customers.
One of the workers asks that Renata provide masks for them to wear. Renata talks to the worker about their concerns to understand why they want to wear a mask and asks other workers for their feedback as well. Workers say they are worried about contracting COVID-19 from customers, particularly as customers don’t usually adhere to physical distancing when they ask workers for help in the store.
Renata considers whether masks are appropriate to minimise the risk of her staff being exposed to COVID-19 from customers and what she can do to address her workers’ concerns. Renata checks the government’s current health advice and learns that masks are helpful for people who have COVID-19 (so they do not infect others) or those who work in close contact with sick people (such as healthcare workers), but it is not necessary for everyone to wear a mask. In discussions with her workers, Renata reviews the control measures already in place to protect her workers and decides that masks are unlikely to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 at her supermarket. However, Renata believes she can do more by putting signs around the store asking customers to see the staff behind the counters (who are behind Perspex screens) if they need any assistance and to not approach workers in the aisles. Workers are also given badges to wear which say “thank you for staying 1.5m away”. Some posters also show a picture of a trolley and say “Please keep one trolley's length between each other to help maintain the 1.5 metre rule”.
Renata also understands that her workers are anxious and some have their own masks that they wish to wear. She agrees to workers wearing their own masks if they choose to, as they will still able to carry out their work while wearing a mask.
Renata sends an email to all of her workers explaining her decision. In this email she reminds staff of the steps they should be taking to reduce the risk of COVID-19. She lets them know that she has provided special bins to dispose of used masks and has put up a poster next to the hand washing station showing her workers how to best put on and remove a mask. She also reminds her workers that they can come and talk to her if they have any questions or concerns about their health and safety at work.
Case Study – Mental Health
Fatima runs a small real estate business. In response to COVID-19 she allows most of her staff to work from home with a roster for staffing the office as needed. Stephen, who is one of Fatima’s agents, mentions he feels like he can’t ask for her help when struggling with a tricky problem.
Fatima wants to encourage her staff to contact her if they have any issues and to not feel like they can’t because they are not working together in the office. She decides to create a Whatsapp group for all of her workers and each morning sends a funny piece of trivia so that staff feel more connected. She also starts doing a daily catch-up with each of her workers and a weekly team meeting over the phone or videoconference.
She makes sure that her staff know they can call her with any problems and encourages them to contact each other to test or share ideas. If she notices she hasn’t heard from one of her staff, she checks in with them to make sure they’re ok.
Case Study – COVID-19 in your WorkplaceSuspected case of COVID-19 while at work
Patrice and Dale farm hydroponic spinach and other greens for the restaurant industry. Their workers are a mix of permanent employees and temporary labour hire. Some of the labour hire workers share a group house on the property. During the day one of the permanent staff, Eddie, tells Patrice that he suspects he could have COVID-19. He assumed he just had a cold but had now received a call to learn that a friend he regularly sees has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Eddie wants to go and get tested and Patrice agrees that this is a good idea. She checks that he has his own transport to get him to a testing clinic in the next town and requests other staff to keep their distance while he collects his things and leaves.
Patrice calls her state’s health helpline for their advice.
Patrice decides to suspend picking for the rest of the afternoon and after a staff briefing sends the labour workers back to the share house. Although the business is not required to suspend operations, Patrice is conscious that Eddie worked in many different parts of the greenhouse that day, and due to his close contact with other workers, she’ll need to thoroughly clean and seek expert advice about how she should handle those living in close quarters.
Patrice reviews her staff rosters to identify who worked with Eddie in the last 48 hours. She contacts these workers and follows the advice given to her by the health helpline for quarantine.
Patrice cleans and disinfects all areas of the greenhouse that Eddie was likely in contact with, including tools, taps, door handles and the cupboard where staff keep their belongings. She wears gloves and practices good hand hygiene. It turned out Eddie didn’t contract the virus. There was some interruption to the business for a few hours, but taking time to reset the workplace gave staff greater confidence to return the next day, and Patrice time to review her existing WHS control measures and procedures.
Case Study – Consultation
Chan-hee has recently taken ownership of an accounting firm which employs three accountants and two reception staff. As a new company owner, Chan-hee has been checking relevant government advice about how best to implement protections against COVID-19 in the workplace, and how she should go about consulting with her new team about this.
Her two reception staff have already raised concerns about being exposed to COVID-19 from clients, with one saying he had read on the internet that the virus can stay alive in the air for some hours. One of the accountants has raised concerns about clients presenting with flu-like symptoms.
Chan-hee recognises she needs to provide an opportunity for all staff to voice their concerns and discuss the measures she is planning to take to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Being a new boss and having worked as a junior accountant in the past, she realises the importance of involving her workers in decision making to help build commitment to any changes.
Chan-hee holds a meeting with all of her employees and encourages an open discussion of all the COVID-19 issues related to the firm, and proposed ways to reduce the risk of exposure such as marking physical distance points. Workers also provide suggestions such as contacting clients before their appointment to ensure they are not sick before they come in and requiring cashless payment. Chan-hee thinks these are excellent ideas and following the meeting she emails everyone with the agreed new measures.
Chan-hee encourages her workers to discuss any ongoing concerns about their health and safety with her and reminds them they can access the company’s employee assistance program for further support.
Case Study – Work-related Violence
Ann is the pharmacist and owner of a small pharmacy in a suburban shopping centre which employs four workers.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ann has thought about what is reasonably able to be done to ensure the health and safety of her workers, customers and other people who visit the pharmacy. Ann knows that her business is providing an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic and it is not practical to temporarily close the business or ask her workers to work from home.
Ann was told by one of her workers that a customer became aggressive and verbally abusive in the store when they were told the medicine they wanted was out of stock, and the staff member did not know when more stock was expected to arrive. Ann determined that the likelihood of this behaviour happening again was high due to stock shortages across the country, and aggressive behaviour may escalate to violence causing harm to her workers.
Ann considered the control measures already in place to manage violence at the workplace, which included video surveillance and a duress alarm behind the counter. Ann then thought about what other control measures should be put in place to manage the greater likelihood of aggressive behaviour at the workplace and the risk of it escalating to violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also held discussions with her staff to better understand the risk and to get their input into ideas for dealing with that risk.
After assessing the risks and the available ways to manage those risks, she decided it was not reasonably practicable to significantly increase security measures such as hiring security personnel in store. As reported incidents of aggressive behaviour were very low and the pharmacy was closed at night when the risk of incidents occurring would be greater (as there are fewer people in the workplace), the cost of hiring a security guard was considered to be disproportionate to the risk. Instead, Ann implemented several other controls to support the control measures already in place to reduce the likelihood of incidents occurring and causing harm to her workers. Those other control measures included putting up screens at counters, ensuring workers did not work alone, using signage to inform customers about limitations on products and appropriate conduct in store, and providing staff training on dealing with aggressive behaviour.
Case Study – Risk Assessments
William owns a bicycle retail and repair shop which has seen an increase in business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With a busier store and higher demand for bikes and repairs, William considers the measures that he needs to put in place to meet public health requirements and how he can lower the risk of COVID-19 at the store.
William decides it is not reasonably practicable for his 10 employees to work from home as they are all involved in sales and repairs, which must be done at the premises. He looks through the COVID-19 resource kit on the Safe Work Australia website and identifies the control measures that are relevant to his business. This includes physical distancing, cleaning and hygiene practices and policies for employees who show symptoms of COVID-19.
The business regularly holds events to allow customers to test ride their range of bikes, with attendance of up to 20 people. William understands that these events pose a higher risk of spreading COVID-19 and do not meet the new rules for public gatherings, so immediately cancels these activities.
The business also allows customers to take bikes from the store for test rides. William is aware that it is possible for the COVID-19 virus to be on different surfaces for periods of time and this may result in transmission. It is difficult to disinfect bikes after each customer use due to cleaning products potentially contaminating and damaging parts of the bike.
William weighs up the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission from test rides and how to eliminate or minimise the risk of that happening, including measures like ceasing test rides or regularly disinfecting bikes. He then considers the suitability of those measures against their cost.
William decides the best way to minimise the risk is to temporarily limit the number of customer test rides. He clearly communicates this new practice to customers through his website and using signage at the store. William considers that this may result in a decline in sales but knows that this is necessary to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. William will still ensure that his employees disinfect bikes after each customer use but by limiting the number of test rides it will reduce the potential damage to his stock from disinfecting practices and save on cleaning costs and staff time.
Case Study – Mental Health
Petra runs a charity delivering social work and other services to the local community.
As a result of COVID-19, the charity has made changes in the way they work to manage the physical risks and changing needs of their clients. Face-to-face contact is now limited and they can’t deliver all the services they used to. Demand for their services has increased dramatically, but they’re not getting the same level of donations for the food bank they run.
Petra talks to her staff regularly and asks about the challenges they’re facing and the things causing them stress. She knows the changes to their work, limitations in being able to help clients and the distress of their clients is causing her staff stress. One of her staff, Don, is also more vulnerable to serious complications from COVID-19 and finds the stress of coming to work difficult to manage.
Petra considers what action she could take to manage the risks to her workers’ mental health. She considers closing the business, but her services are essential to people in the community doing it really tough.
She considers it’s not reasonably practicable for all her staff to work from home as some services require contact with clients and others packing food parcels. But some work can be done at home. Given Don’s vulnerabilities, there is a greater likelihood that he could suffer a psychological injury if he is required to stay in the current work environment, so Petra reorganises work so Don does the administration work from home.
Petra considers whether it is reasonably practicable to deliver some services, such as counselling, by phone or video calls. She knows these services are less effective without face-to-face contact, and this may cause her workers stress. She balances those risks against the other risks to staff of continuing face-to-face services, particularly the risk of COVID-19 transmission and decides to temporarily suspend face-to-face services.
She talks to her staff about managing the changes at the workplace, acknowledges the limitations of delivering services over the phone or video and assures staff that they are doing their best while protecting the community from COVID-19 transmission. They don’t have an Employee Assistance Program, but Petra shares information about ways staff can seek help if they’re struggling and encourages staff to discuss concerns including the Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service.
Food processing and manufacturing
Case Study – Mental Health
Raul runs a small manufacturing business with 15 staff. They’ve been able to adapt to new markets in the COVID-19 pandemic and are doing well. They’ve changed what they produce and are working long hours trying to take advantage of the sudden demand. They’ve implemented shift arrangements to support physical distancing in the workshop and are renting space to split operations so they’re not so crammed.
Most of the team is thriving with the change. But Geoff seems withdrawn, not like himself and for the first time ever, he’s had a complaint about his behaviour. Raul has also noticed some of his workers, like Sam, are taking opportunities to slack off.
Raul is flat out, but he knows checking in with staff and making sure everything is ok makes for better workers. When he talks to staff he finds a few have been feeling really stressed about the shift arrangements (Geoff later confides that he’s not sleeping well because of the stress) and others are struggling to adapt to new procedures and products, especially workers in the new work space.
Raul considers whether it is reasonably practicable to cut back operations to a single shift and smaller staff numbers. But that would mean his new operation isn’t viable and staff would lose jobs. He looks for other control measures that are less costly and more proportionate to the risk of psychological injury to his workers.
He talks to staff about the shifts arrangements and they have good ideas to make it work and fit in with other commitments such as caring responsibilities. This significantly reduces their stress from shift arrangements.
Raul implements several other control measures to manage the risk to workers mental health. He redesigns some work processes to make sure junior staff are supported by experienced staff at both sites, and hires a few extra hands to reduce work pressure on experienced staff. He temporarily stops taking orders for the less profitable aspects of the business.
Raul realises that Sam’s slacking off was actually him being distracted due to the stress of having a sick relative which has exacerbated a pre-existing mental health condition. Dealing with this isn’t part of Raul’s WHS duties, but it’s good business sense and the right thing to try to help. Raul gives Sam some publicly available resources about support services and Sam responds well to the supportive approach and shows a renewed commitment to work.
Case Study – Mental Health
Greg owns a small printing company. His staff are responsible for the sales work, as well as printing the products ordered by his clients. They only have a small number of staff in the business and the shop has been busy with people ordering COVID-19 posters and other materials for their workplaces. One of his employees, Manuel, has been away with a confirmed case of COVID-19 contracted from a family member returning from overseas.
Manuel has recovered from COVID-19 and has been looking forward to returning to work. Manuel has provided medical certification from his general practitioner that he is fit for work but would benefit from reduced hours for the first two weeks so he can build his strength back up. Greg has checked the latest advice by contacting his State’s health helpline to ensure it is safe for Manuel to return to work.
Greg knows clear, timely and consistent communication is important in helping staff return to work. In the week before Manuel’s first day back, he called Manuel to discuss the changes to his working hours for the first two weeks, what is expected of him back at work and the new measures at the workplace for managing the risk of COVID-19 which all workers must follow. This puts Manuel at ease as he prepares to settle back in.
Greg is also conscious that there could be stigma because Manuel had COVID-19. As Manuel is happy for people at work to know he had COVID-19, Greg calls a staff meeting to let them know that Manuel is returning to work and it is safe for him to do so. Greg also invites workers to discuss, in private, any concerns they may have.
After many warm greetings from all the staff on Monday morning to welcome Manuel back to the shop, Greg checks in with Manuel to see if he has any questions or concerns. Greg provides material to Manuel outlining the workplace policies and procedures that have been updated in response to COVID-19, including new cleaning and hygiene measures and physical distancing requirements. The material also includes contact details for the Employee Assistance Program and other support services to help Manuel transition back into the workplace.
This information helps Manuel adapt to the many changes in the shop and feel confident in returning to his daily tasks. They agree to check in again on Wednesday to see how Manuel is settling back in and whether any further adjustments to his working arrangements are needed.
Note: If a worker with a workers’ compensation claim for COVID-19 is returning to work, the employer should contact their relevant workers’ compensation authority for advice on their particular circumstances. Details of the relevant workers’ compensation authority are available on our website.
Case Study – Workers' Compensation
Marsha runs a small hairdressing salon and employs five staff. One morning she receives a phone call from one of her workers, James, who explains he is displaying symptoms of COVID-19. James thinks that he may have contracted COVID-19 while cutting Maria’s hair, a regular client who just tested positive for COVID-19.
Marsha contacts her State’s health helpline and Work Health and Safety regulator for advice on what she should do to reduce the risk of exposure to her workers and clients.
James is tested and confirmed to have COVID-19 and is receiving treatment. As it is possible that James contracted COVID-19 at work, he may be eligible for workers’ compensation. Marsha checks her workers’ compensation policy and workers’ compensation authority website to understand what actions she must take, notifies her insurer/authority and seeks further advice on her specific circumstances.
Marsha provides James with information on the workers’ compensation process and the Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service, and they work together to lodge his workers’ compensation claim. His claim is accepted, as it meets the eligibility criteria of their workers’ compensation scheme. James talks to his doctor about what he can do to ensure he returns to full health as quickly as possible and keeps Marsha updated on his progress.
Marsha keeps in touch with her insurer/authority as needed, to ensure James is being supported and that she is doing what she needs to do during the workers’ compensation process.
James makes a full recovery and has medical clearance to go back to work. Marsha checks in with James regularly to help him transition back into work and make sure he is doing OK.
Note: Workers’ compensation arrangements differ across jurisdictions, however generally to be eligible for compensation a worker would need to:
- be covered by your workers’ compensation scheme, either as an employee or a deemed worker,
- have contracted the COVID-19 virus out of or in the course of their employment.
Workers’ compensation authorities across the jurisdictions can provide additional information for employers and their workers, and advice on your particular circumstances.
Case Study – Lifts
ACME Financial (ACME) works is an employer of around 100 workers. They operate from a single level of an office building with three lifts servicing a total of 10 floors and around 1,000 workers. A number of different employers occupy leased space on other floors within the office complex.
As an employer with duties to workers under WHS laws ACME implements a range of measures to reduce exposure to COVID-19, including physical distancing.
Following consultation with workers and their representatives, ACME decide to allow 25% of their workers to work from home and expand the range of start and finish times for the other workers coming into the office. Some workers volunteer to start early and finish early (7:30am to 3:30pm) whilst other workers have volunteered to start and finish later (9:30am-5:30pm).
This significantly reduces the flow of workers entering and leaving the office building at peak periods.
ACME also consults and works cooperatively with other WHS duty holders, including the building manager and other employers, to manage the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the building:
- The building manager calculates recommended passenger limits for each lift to ensure that overcrowding does not occur and that lift users are able to maintain appropriate physical distancing and cough and sneeze etiquette while using the lift. Signage displaying these limits are displayed in and outside the lift.
- The building owner also establishes an email forum so that employers on each floor can consult each other and share strategies to keep workers and visitors safe when riding in lifts, and to pinpoint times of peak demand.
- The building manager puts in place a number of measures for the use of the building’s lifts. These include establishing a queuing system in the lift waiting area with floor markings, as well as placing signage around the waiting area to remind workers to physically distance and practice good hygiene. There is also increased cleaning of lifts, including touch touchpoints such as lift buttons, and alcohol-based sanitiser is readily available in lift waiting areas for workers to use when arriving and leaving.
Following consultation with the building owner and other tenants, it becomes clear that there will still be a peak period of demand over the hour 12:30-1:30pm when many workers leave the building to purchase lunch. The group agrees it is not reasonably practicable to direct workers when they may purchase their lunch and that lift capacity may temporarily increase at this time.
ACME and other tenants undertake to consult with workers and visitors, and to emphasise the importance of not entering a lift already at capacity. Each tenant also supplies clean tissues, hand sanitiser and signage about cough etiquette near the lifts on their floor to ensure the best hygiene and awareness possible.
The building manager also undertakes to consult with the two cafés on site to investigate whether they would consider deliveries of food items to address some of the demand over the lunchtime peak period.