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 – 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 – 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.
This case study was prepared by SafeWork NSW and provides practical examples of managing health and safety for COVID-19 in an office environment.
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.
I am a manager or worker in an office environment, what can I do?
Specific employer actions
- Manage worker numbers have plans and systems in place to monitor and control the numbers of workers and customers in the workplace at any given time.
- Utilise flexible arrangements where possible, such as working from home or other locations, start/finish times, compressed hours or working week, flexible rostering, bid rostering, or job share.
- Provide hand sanitiser at ample locations throughout workplace.
- Provide surface wipes to clean workstations, and workstation equipment such as monitors, phones, keyboards and mouses.
- Clean surfaces thoroughly all high contact areas such as doors, handles, kitchen surfaces, bathroom surfaces, printers, lifts, with appropriate cleaning agents.
- Place reminders and cues about precautions around the workplace, for social distances, hand hygiene, cough and sneeze behaviour. Use hard copy messages such as posters, as well as soft copy (such as email banners, Yammer, Teams) to provide the key messages.
- Consider physical, distance or other engineering controls to protect staff and customers at social interaction points such as counters / service desks to maintain social distancing or provide barrier controls.
General advice for workers, customers and others
- Consult, educate and support your workers and colleagues about infection control measures to prevent spreading the virus and their health and safety.
- Avoid touching your mouth, eyes, and nose with unwashed (or gloved) hands.
- Clean your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds using soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with a tissue or a flexed elbow. Put tissues in the bin.
- Avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms.
- Social distancing maintain a 1.5 metre distance to others (two arms length).
- Stay home if you are sick.
- Seek medical advice if you have a fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath (call your doctor or healthdirect on 1800 022 222).