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.  

Takeaway services

Where possible, create a separate area within your premises to service takeaway customers. In this area, to the extent possible seek to provide 4 square metres of space per person (or where not reasonable, to achieve the maximum space per person), and implement measures to keep workers and customers 1.5 metres apart.

To achieve the best outcomes for physical distancing:

  • Implement measures to restrict customer numbers within the store in accordance with 4 square metres per person, including implementing customer queuing outside the store with floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance. Where possible, consider the provision of a staff member to manage queues and customer access and egress during busier times. 
  • Where practical, limit the number of workers in drive-through windows to comply with the 4 square metre rule.
  • Place signs around customer ordering and waiting areas and create wall or floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance. 
  • Publish menus online and display easy to read menus on the wall or windows outside the venue, at least 1.5 metres apart, so customers can decide their orders before entering to order. 
  • Consider using physical barriers where possible, such as at the counter where a plexiglass barrier could be installed to separate customers and service staff. Also ensure physical distancing between customers where multiple customers are queuing to order at a counter.
  • Remove waiting area seating, and encourage customers to wait outside with physical distancing, if safe to do so, for takeaway collection.
  • If you are set-up for online or phone ordering and payment, take extra steps to promote this option to reduce face to face interaction at the premises. Provide accurate pick-up times (as much as possible) and request customers do not arrive prior to that time. If you are not set-up for online ordering and payment, encourage contactless payment where possible.
  • Set up different areas for ordering and collection – e.g. consider installing a takeaway order and pick-up window to prevent customers from entering the venue where possible.
  • Use separate doors for customer entry and exit, if practicable, to avoid contact between people. If this is not possible, use markings on the ground to direct the movement/flow of customers.
  • If changing the physical layout of the takeaway service areas is part of your measures, your layout must allow for staff and customers 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.  

Dine-in/sit-down services

In the dining or sit-down area within the premises implement measures to provide 4 square metres of space per person (or where not reasonable, to achieve the maximum space per person and maximise the physical distancing of patrons and staff), with at least 1.5 metres between tables to keep groups of patrons apart from each other. 

To achieve the best outcomes for physical distancing:

  • Reduce the number of tables and the seating capacity of your premises to enable tables to be adequately spaced out and allowing for clear walkways for patrons and staff. If this is not possible, identify and label tables that cannot be used to maintain physical distancing.
  • Remove magazines and newspapers to reduce the risk of transmission and to ensure that customers do not congregate in these areas.
  • Where practical, restrict service to table service only to reduce the movement of patrons and the number of surfaces touched. This includes:
    • closing or restricting bar services where practical
    • removing buffet style or ‘serve yourself’ style food services, and
    • removing communal water stations. 
  • Where bar services are offered, these services should be minimised to the extent possible, and queuing arrangements and floor markings implemented to ensure 1.5 metre distancing between patrons while waiting for service.
  • Where possible, consider the use of electronic/app-based ordering systems to reduce interaction between patrons and staff.
  • Place limits on the size of patron groups, in line with what activities are permissible in your state or territory. 
  • Limit the number of workers and patrons that can use the washroom at any one time.
  • Where larger communal type tables are used, consider changing to smaller tables where possible or implement measures to ensure each group of patrons are spaced at least 1.5 metres from other groups. Alternatively, use markings to show that individuals are unable to sit down in certain spots.
  • Consider using physical barriers where practical, for example using plexiglass barriers to separate communal tables into specified zones, or booth style seating.
  • Promote the use of reservation systems with staggered seating times to better manage the flow of patrons. Advise patrons to only arrive at their allocated reservation time.
  • If walk-in services are offered, where patrons can not be immediately seated, implement a system to take the patron’s details and advise them that they will be contacted once a table is ready. Advise them to either wait outside or elsewhere in the general area.
  • Place floor makings outside the premises to indicate 1.5 metre distancing for patrons waiting outside. 
  • Use contactless and mobile payment to allow customers to pay from their seat to minimise movement. 
  • Place signage about physical distancing around the workplace. See our 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. Clear signage will also assist in communicating physical distancing requirements to patrons for whom English is a second language.
  • Ensure the signage indicates that work-related violence in response to new physical distancing measures (or for other reasons) will not be tolerated (See also our information on work-related violence). 
  • Where possible provide separate bathroom amenities for workers and patrons.

If changing the physical layout of the dine-in/sit-down service areas as part of your measures, your layout must allow for staff and patrons 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.  

Behind the counter areas and staff interactions

Behind the counter it may be difficult for staff to maintain physical distancing. However, you must still implement measures to maximise the distance between staff to the extent it is safe and possible to do so. You must also minimise the time that staff are in close contact. 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 staff.

To achieve the best outcomes for physical distancing:

  • Modify processes behind the counter (including in the kitchen) to limit workers having to be in close contact, as much as possible. For example:
    • assign workers to specific work stations to minimise the need to go into other spaces
    • implement processes so front of house staff can collect food without needing to go into food preparation areas, and 
    • require workers in different areas and larger premises to use other methods such as mobile phone or radio to communicate rather than face to face interaction.  
  • Rotate tasks to ensure no one worker has all contact with customers, where practicable – e.g. rotate appropriately trained workers between taking orders and making coffees.
  • Identify small work areas such as cool rooms and determine how many people can enter at one time and communicate this requirement to workers.
  • Staggering workers’ shifts to reduce the number of workers in staff areas at any given and scheduling time between shifts where possible so that there is no overlap of staff arriving at and leaving the workplace.
  • Spread out furniture in staff 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.
  • Limit physical interactions between workers, workers and customers, and workers and other people at the site – e.g. by using contactless deliveries and limiting non-essential visitors. 

Staff gatherings and training

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

Deliveries, contractors and visitors attending the workplace

  • Non-essential visits to the workplace should be cancelled or postponed.   
  • Contact your delivery suppliers and understand what systems are in place for identifying if their employees are unwell and what actions are taken. 
  • Develop a plan for deliveries to minimise the interaction of delivery drivers with workers and patrons and communicate this to delivery suppliers, drivers and employees. 
  • 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 staff are delivering orders to waiting customers in vehicles outside the premises or 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 a chef is supporting an apprentice to safely perform a new skill. 
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 sitting times to minimise number of patrons in dine-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 customers in the workplace. You must also ensure workers and customers 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 customers for longer than the recommended time (i.e more than 15 minutes face to face cumulative over the course of a week or more than 2 hours in a shared closed space), consider the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and a mask.  

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

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

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

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

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


 

 

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

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

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

Watch video on YouTube Download Transcript

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.  

 

Takeaway services

Where possible, create a separate area within your premises to service takeaway customers. In this area, to the extent possible seek to provide 4 square metres of space per person (or where not reasonable, to achieve the maximum space per person), and implement measures to keep workers and customers 1.5 metres apart.

To achieve the best outcomes for physical distancing:

  • Implement measures to restrict customer numbers within the store in accordance with 4 square metres per person, including implementing customer queuing outside the store with floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance. Where possible, consider the provision of a staff member to manage queues and customer access and egress during busier times. 
  • Where practical, limit the number of workers in drive-through windows to comply with the 4 square metre rule.
  • Place signs around customer ordering and waiting areas and create wall or floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance. 
  • Publish menus online and display easy to read menus on the wall or windows outside the venue, at least 1.5 metres apart, so customers can decide their orders before entering to order. 
  • Consider using physical barriers where possible, such as at the counter where a plexiglass barrier could be installed to separate customers and service staff. Also ensure physical distancing between customers where multiple customers are queuing to order at a counter.
  • Remove waiting area seating, and encourage customers to wait outside with physical distancing, if safe to do so, for takeaway collection.
  • If you are set-up for online or phone ordering and payment, take extra steps to promote this option to reduce face to face interaction at the premises. Provide accurate pick-up times (as much as possible) and request customers do not arrive prior to that time. If you are not set-up for online ordering and payment, encourage contactless payment where possible.
  • Set up different areas for ordering and collection – e.g. consider installing a takeaway order and pick-up window to prevent customers from entering the venue where possible.
  • Use separate doors for customer entry and exit, if practicable, to avoid contact between people. If this is not possible, use markings on the ground to direct the movement/flow of customers.
  • If changing the physical layout of the takeaway service areas is part of your measures, your layout must allow for staff and customers 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.  

Dine-in/sit-down services

In the dining or sit-down area within the premises implement measures to provide 4 square metres of space per person (or where not reasonable, to achieve the maximum space per person and maximise the physical distancing of patrons and staff), with at least 1.5 metres between tables to keep groups of patrons apart from each other. 

To achieve the best outcomes for physical distancing:

  • Reduce the number of tables and the seating capacity of your premises to enable tables to be adequately spaced out and allowing for clear walkways for patrons and staff. If this is not possible, identify and label tables that cannot be used to maintain physical distancing.
  • Remove magazines and newspapers to reduce the risk of transmission and to ensure that customers do not congregate in these areas.
  • Where practical, restrict service to table service only to reduce the movement of patrons and the number of surfaces touched. This includes:
    • closing or restricting bar services where practical
    • removing buffet style or ‘serve yourself’ style food services, and
    • removing communal water stations. 
  • Where bar services are offered, these services should be minimised to the extent possible, and queuing arrangements and floor markings implemented to ensure 1.5 metre distancing between patrons while waiting for service.
  • Where possible, consider the use of electronic/app-based ordering systems to reduce interaction between patrons and staff.
  • Place limits on the size of patron groups, in line with what activities are permissible in your state or territory. 
  • Limit the number of workers and patrons that can use the washroom at any one time.
  • Where larger communal type tables are used, consider changing to smaller tables where possible or implement measures to ensure each group of patrons are spaced at least 1.5 metres from other groups. Alternatively, use markings to show that individuals are unable to sit down in certain spots.
  • Consider using physical barriers where practical, for example using plexiglass barriers to separate communal tables into specified zones, or booth style seating.
  • Promote the use of reservation systems with staggered seating times to better manage the flow of patrons. Advise patrons to only arrive at their allocated reservation time.
  • If walk-in services are offered, where patrons can not be immediately seated, implement a system to take the patron’s details and advise them that they will be contacted once a table is ready. Advise them to either wait outside or elsewhere in the general area.
  • Place floor makings outside the premises to indicate 1.5 metre distancing for patrons waiting outside. 
  • Use contactless and mobile payment to allow customers to pay from their seat to minimise movement. 
  • Place signage about physical distancing around the workplace. See our 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. Clear signage will also assist in communicating physical distancing requirements to patrons for whom English is a second language.
  • Ensure the signage indicates that work-related violence in response to new physical distancing measures (or for other reasons) will not be tolerated (See also our information on work-related violence). 
  • Where possible provide separate bathroom amenities for workers and patrons.

If changing the physical layout of the dine-in/sit-down service areas as part of your measures, your layout must allow for staff and patrons 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.  

Behind the counter areas and staff interactions

Behind the counter it may be difficult for staff to maintain physical distancing. However, you must still implement measures to maximise the distance between staff to the extent it is safe and possible to do so. You must also minimise the time that staff are in close contact. 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 staff.

To achieve the best outcomes for physical distancing:

  • Modify processes behind the counter (including in the kitchen) to limit workers having to be in close contact, as much as possible. For example:
    • assign workers to specific work stations to minimise the need to go into other spaces
    • implement processes so front of house staff can collect food without needing to go into food preparation areas, and 
    • require workers in different areas and larger premises to use other methods such as mobile phone or radio to communicate rather than face to face interaction.  
  • Rotate tasks to ensure no one worker has all contact with customers, where practicable – e.g. rotate appropriately trained workers between taking orders and making coffees.
  • Identify small work areas such as cool rooms and determine how many people can enter at one time and communicate this requirement to workers.
  • Staggering workers’ shifts to reduce the number of workers in staff areas at any given and scheduling time between shifts where possible so that there is no overlap of staff arriving at and leaving the workplace.
  • Spread out furniture in staff 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.
  • Limit physical interactions between workers, workers and customers, and workers and other people at the site – e.g. by using contactless deliveries and limiting non-essential visitors. 

Staff gatherings and training

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

Deliveries, contractors and visitors attending the workplace

  • Non-essential visits to the workplace should be cancelled or postponed.   
  • Contact your delivery suppliers and understand what systems are in place for identifying if their employees are unwell and what actions are taken. 
  • Develop a plan for deliveries to minimise the interaction of delivery drivers with workers and patrons and communicate this to delivery suppliers, drivers and employees. 
  • 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 staff are delivering orders to waiting customers in vehicles outside the premises or 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 a chef is supporting an apprentice to safely perform a new skill. 
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 sitting times to minimise number of patrons in dine-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 customers in the workplace. You must also ensure workers and customers 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 customers for longer than the recommended time (i.e more than 15 minutes face to face cumulative over the course of a week or more than 2 hours in a shared closed space), consider the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and a mask.  

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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