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.

 

Why is physical distancing important?

Physical distancing is necessary because the most likely way of catching the virus is by breathing in micro-droplets from another person sneezing, coughing, or exhaling. By ensuring there is 4 square metres of space per person and maintaining a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres from others where possible, you will reduce the likelihood of exposure to micro-droplets of others. 

Current health advice is that everyone, including people at workplaces, must implement physical distancing measures wherever possible.  

How do I make sure there is 4 square metres of space per person?

To achieve the 4 square metre ‘rule’ you would: 

  • calculate the area of the room (e.g length of room in metres x width of room in metres = area of room in square metres), and 
  • divide the area of the room by 4. 

For example, if you had a room that was 160 square metres in size, you should only allow up to 40 people in the room, to allow each person to have 4 square metres of space.  

How do I make sure there is 1.5 metres between people?    

You should consider and make adjustments to the layout of the workplace and your workflows to enable workers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart to continue performing their duties. For example, this could be achieved by, spreading out furniture or plant to increase distancing, or considering floor and/or wall markings and signage to identify 1.5 metres distancing requirements. 

You should also review tasks and processes that usually require close interaction and identify ways to modify these to increase physical distancing between workers where it is practical and safe to do so.  

Do I need to do both? That is, make sure there is 4 square metres per person and physical distancing of 1.5 metres?   

Yes. You need to do what you can to make sure there is 4 square metres in your workplace per person and keep everyone apart at least 1.5 metres, where possible. 

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 others 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. For example, lifting heavy objects. 

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 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 only 
  • staggering start, finish and break times where appropriate 
  • moving work tasks to different areas of the workplace or off-site if possible 
  • if possible, separating workers into dedicated teams and have them work the same shift or work in a particular area and consider whether these dedicated teams can have access to their own meal areas or break facilities, and 
  • ensuring each worker has their own equipment or tools.  

Personal protective equipment (PPE) may also be appropriate in some circumstances. See also our information on PPE below.

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

Below are measures to ensure physical distancing is achieved in office workplaces.  

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

Worker interactions and work tasks

  • Where possible, provide each person with 4 square metres of space in the office in accordance with general health advice.  
    • To achieve this, calculate the area of the office space (length multiplied by width in metres) and divide by 4. This will provide you with the maximum number of people you should have in the space at any one time.  
    • Where the nature of work means you are not able to provide 4 square metres of space per person, you need to implement other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  
  • To help you achieve 4 square metres of space per person (or where not reasonable, to achieve the maximum space per person) limit the number of workers in your workplace by: 
    • facilitating working from home, where you can 
    • reducing the number of tasks to be completed each day, where possible 
    • postponing non-essential work, and 
    • splitting workers’ shifts to reduce the number of workers onsite at any given time. Schedule time between shifts so that there is no overlap of staff arriving at and leaving the workplace or have different entrances and exits to avoid interaction. 
  • Direct workers to keep 1.5 metres of distance between them in accordance with general health advice. To achieve the best outcomes for physical distancing: 
    • implement measures in combination with measures for 4 square metres spacing, as set out above 
    • put signs around the workplace and create wall or floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance, including in areas such as control rooms. Your staff could wear a badge as a visual reminder to each other of physical distancing requirements.    
    • for customer facing areas, create floor markings that provide a minimum 1.5 metre guide between clients queuing for service and use physical barriers, such as perspex, between workers and customers 
    • limit physical interactions between workers, workers and clients, and workers and other persons at the site – e.g. by using contactless deliveries and limiting non-essential visitors, and  
    • require workers to use other methods such as mobile phone or radio to communicate rather than face to face interaction.  
  • Where it is practical and safe to do so, review tasks and processes that usually require close interaction and identify ways to modify these to increase physical distancing between workers. Where not possible, reduce the amount of time workers spend in close contact. 

See also our information on what to do if your workers cannot maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres.  

Layout of the workplace

  • You may need to redesign the layout of the office space and your workflows to enable workers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart to continue performing their duties. This can be achieved by, where possible: 
    • restricting workers and others to certain pathways or areas, and 
    • spreading out furniture or plant to increase distancing.  
  • Consider floor and/or wall markings and signage to identify 1.5 metres distancing requirements. 

If changing the physical layout of the office space, your layout must allow for workers to enter, exit and move about the workplace both under normal working conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable.

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. 

See also our information on training. 

Workplace facilities

  • Reduce the number of workers utilising common areas at a given time – e.g by staggering meal breaks and start times. 
  • Spread out furniture in common areas. If changing the physical layout of the workplace, you must ensure the layout allows for workers to enter, exit and move about the workplace both under normal working conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable.  
  • Implement measures at waiting areas for lifts, such as floor markings, or queuing systems to ensure workers maintain 1.5 metres distance – where relevant you may need to engage with your building manager to implement this. 
  • Place signage about physical distancing around the workplace. Our website has links to a range of posters and resources to help remind workers and others of the risks of COVID-19 and the measures that are necessary to stop its spread. These posters can be placed around the workplace and in client-facing work environments (e.g. workplace entrances). Consideration needs to be given to how to communicate with workers and others for who English is not their first language.   
  • Consider providing separate amenities for workers and others in the workplace – for example separate bathroom facilities for workers and visitors/clients. 

Deliveries, contractors and visitors attending the workplace

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

On-going review and monitoring

  • If physical distancing measures introduce new health and safety risks (e.g. because they impact communication or mean that less people are doing a task), you need to manage those risks too. 
  • Put processes in place to regularly monitor and review the implementation of physical distancing measures to ensure they are being followed and remain effective 

Lifts

  • Even if workers and others only spend a short amount of time in a lift each day, there is still a risk of exposure to COVID-19 that you must eliminate or minimise so far as reasonably practicable. 
  • There is no requirement to provide 4 square metres of space per person in lifts, however you must still ensure, as far as you reasonably can, that people maintain physical distancing in lifts and lift waiting areas.
  • 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.  This includes consulting workers and their representatives on what control measures to put in place to minimise their risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, including when using lifts.
  • You must also consult with the building owner/manager and other employers in the building about the control measures to be implemented to address the risk of COVID-19. You may not be able to implement all of the control measures yourself but must work with others to ensure those measures are put in place.

What can I do to manage the risk of COVID-19 transmission in lifts? 

  • Safe use of lifts is best achieved through a combination of measures, determined in consultation with workers, including those that control the number of people needing to use a lift at any one time. This includes:
    • reducing the number of workers arriving and leaving buildings and using lifts in peak periods, where possible (e.g. stagger start and finish times for workers by 10-15 minutes per team or group)
    • maintaining working from home arrangements for some staff (where this works for both you and your workers). This could include splitting the workforce into teams with alternating days in the workplace (e.g rotate teams so they are one week in the office and the other week at home), and 
    • changing lift programming to facilitate more efficient flow of users – e.g. decrease the time that doors stay open on each floor (where safe to do so) or where there are multiple lifts, assign specific lifts to certain floors based on demand (e.g. lift A to service floors 1-5, lift B to service floors 6-8 etc). 
  • Where workers and others use lifts it is still important that they physically distance themselves to the extent possible when waiting for a lift and when in the lift. You must do what you reasonably can to ensure crowding in and around lifts does not occur.  
  • In the lift lobby or waiting area:
    • ensure workers and others maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres, to the extent possible 
    • implement measures at waiting areas for lifts, such as floor markings or queuing systems. Also create specific pathways and movement flows for those exiting the lifts where possible (you may need to consult with your building manager or other employers in the building to ensure this occurs). You could consider engaging someone to monitor compliance with physical distancing measures where appropriate
    • place signage around lift waiting areas reminding users to practice physical distancing and good hygiene while waiting for and using lifts, including to wait for another lift if the lift is full
    • display an advisory passenger limit for each lift – these limits could be temporarily adjusted up by one or two during peak periods where additional demand is unavoidable (subject to it not leading to overcrowding in lifts) to facilitate extra movement of workers and to prevent overcrowding in waiting areas. This may result in fewer persons travelling in a lift at any one time to ensure workers and others maximise physical distance from each other, to the extent possible
  • Within lifts:
    • users of lifts must maintain physical distancing, to the extent possible. Lifts must not be overcrowded and users should avoid touching other users.
    • workers must practice good hygiene in lifts. If they do need to cough or sneeze during a journey they must do so into their arm or a clean tissue. 
    • place signage in the lift reminding workers and others to practice good hygiene by washing their hands, or where this is not possible, using appropriate hand sanitiser, after exiting the lift, particularly if they touched lift buttons, rails or doors – see also our information on hygiene
    • implement regular cleaning of high touchpoints such as lift buttons and railings – see also our information on cleaning.
  • Staff must not to come into work, including using lifts, if they are unwell. 

New risks

  • In some cases, depending on the design of a building, stairs may be an option to reduce demand on lifts. If workers and others are to use stairwells or emergency exits as an alternative to using lifts, you must identify and address any new risks that may arise. For example:
    • the increased risk of slips, trips and falls particularly if the stairs are narrow and dimly lit
    • the risk that arises when opening and closing heavy fire doors, and 
    • the risk that a person may become trapped in the stairwell.
  • You must also consider workers’ compensation arrangements and whether your contract of tenancy allows for workers to use stairs, other than in an emergency.
  • You must also consider how other existing WHS measures will be impacted if you allow workers and others to use stairwells or emergency exits. For example 
    • does increased usage of emergency exits and stairwells impact your emergency plans and procedures? See also our information on emergency plans
    • will stairwell usage increase the risk of fire doors being left open? 
       

End of trip facilities

To minimise risks to health and safety from COVID-19, it is important to consider physical distancing and hygiene for all parts of your workplace, not just where people perform tasks or congregate for meetings. If your office building includes ‘end of trip’ facilities such as showers, bicycle cages, change rooms and lockers, you should conduct a risk assessment to determine how these facilities can operate safely during the pandemic. 

You must consult with your workers about the control measures you implement in relation to end of trip facilities. Depending on the location of these facilities at your workplace (e.g. whether showers are located within your premises or located within a larger tenanted building) you may also need to undertake this risk assessment in consultation with the building owner/manager and other employers in the building. 

It may be useful to document the agreed controls and outcomes of your consultation so all WHS duty holders, including the building owner/manager and other employers, are clear about their responsibilities.

Keep in mind that demand for end of trip facilities may increase as office buildings reopen, due to worker concerns about hygiene and physical distancing issues on public transport. Risk assessments and implementation of control measures should factor in this potential increased demand.

It is important to understand that the extra precautions people need to take may also require extra time using the facilities. The availability of facilities may need to reflect these changed circumstances.

Safe use of end of trip facilities is best achieved through a combination of measures, including those that control the number of people needing to use end of trip facilities at any one time.

To achieve appropriate physical distancing at end of trip facilities:

  • Where a control access system, such as swipe card entry, is not already in place for your building, consider implementing a registration system and restrict access to workers who have registered to use these facilities where possible. This system will enable workers to indicate a window of time that they are intending to use the facilities (e.g. arriving between 8am and 9am) and enable employers/building managers to monitor and manage demand 
    • Reduce the number of workers arriving, leaving and using facilities in peak periods where possible (e.g. stagger start and finish times for workers by 10-15 minutes) 
    • Place floor markings indicating 1.5 metres distance outside of the facilities for people who may need to temporarily wait to use facilities in higher demand periods.
  • Where a control access system, such as swipe card entry, is not already in place for your building keep records of those who use the facilities to assist with contact tracing where required. 
  • Determine how many people are able to use particular areas at a time based on physical distancing requirements and place signage on maximum occupancy and physical distancing measures at the entry of and throughout these areas. 
    • Our website has links to a range of posters and resources to help remind workers and others of the risks of COVID-19 and the measures that are necessary to stop its spread. 
  • Where there are lockers consider: 
    • allowing the use of only every second locker to limit the number of people congregating at lockers at one time and make it easier to comply with physical distancing requirements. Where this is not possible (e.g. due to heavy demand), ask users to wait in an appropriate place away from their locker where physical distancing can be observed, when a locker next to theirs is currently being used.
    • encouraging users to minimise the time spent at their locker to the extent possible – for example users could be asked to have everything ready to put straight in the locker or you could request that when getting changed, they take their clothes from the locker and get changed in another area of the changeroom.
  • If the end of trip facilities in your building have multiple hand-washing basins and/or showers in close proximity, encourage users to minimise the time they spend at these common areas to limit physical interactions and allow for physical distancing between people. Use appropriate signage to inform people of the requirements for use of the facilities.
  • Consider using only every second basin and/or shower if possible. (This is unnecessary if showers are in individual cubicles, each with a separate door.)
  • Spread out any furniture in areas such as change rooms and locker rooms.  
    • If changing the physical layout of the workplace you must ensure the layout allows for workers to enter, exit and move about the  workplace both under normal working conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable.
    • Work with the building owner/manager to ensure safety requirements are still met after making changes to the physical layout of the workplace. 

You must also ensure common areas such as showers, change rooms, hand washing areas, bicycle cages and lockers are cleaned and disinfected frequently – see our cleaning section on our website and our cleaning guide for more information. It may not be possible to clean all facilities after each use, but frequency of cleaning and disinfection should be increased. 

You must also continue to require workers and visitors to practice good hygiene when using your facilities.

Our model Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks and our guidance on COVID-19 risk assessments may be of further assistance. 

Hot desking and activity-based work arrangements

The term hot desking refers to working arrangements where workers move between workspaces (desks, chairs, computers, keyboards etc.) and do not have an allocated workspace. Activity-based work arrangements refer to workers being able to flexibly use a range of different spaces, such as meeting rooms, to carry out their work.

My workplace has arrangements in place for ‘hot desking’ and/or activity-based working. Does this practice have to stop?

Not necessarily, however you should stop or limit arrangements for hot desking or activity-based working if you are able to. 

Physical distancing, including between workspaces, and good hygiene practices are key controls for stopping the spread of COVID-19. If your workplace uses a hot desking arrangement, or has any arrangement such as activity-based working, where multiple users may use a workstation or other areas (such as meeting rooms), you must, in consultation with workers and their representative, consider these arrangements for the duration of the pandemic, including whether they should be stopped. You can refer to our information about COVID-19 Risk Assessments for guidance about weighing up what is reasonably practicable in the current circumstances.

If it is not reasonably practicable to cease hot desking or activity-based working arrangements, you must implement measures to minimise the risk of the spread of infection through these arrangements. For example:

  • Minimise the number of workers in the office and therefore hot desking at any one time. For example, you could consider allowing workers to work from home if possible, and stagger shift times or allow workers to work flexible hours.
  • Consider whether you can use only a limited number of desks within the workplace for hot desking and allow workers to "opt out" if they wish and use a workspace on an ongoing basis if possible, or work from home. Vulnerable persons should be provided with alternative work arrangements so they do not have to participate in hot desking.
  • Ensure workspaces (desks, chairs, landline telephones, shelves etc.) are cleaned and disinfected regularly – either at the end of the day where only one worker has used the workspace, or after each use by a worker where multiple workers are using the workspace throughout the day. You should require workers to leave workspaces free of clutter to allow cleaning to easily take place. 
  • Where possible, provide each worker with their own equipment such as keyboards and mice, so they are not shared between workers. Some equipment, such as headsets, should never be shared and should be cleaned and stored safely at the end of the worker’s shift. You can most easily avoid sharing equipment by using Bluetooth equipment, which only requires the insertion and removal of a USB connector.  
  • To enable cleaning and disinfecting of workspaces and equipment, ensure that workers have ready access to cleaning/disinfecting wipes as a minimum, as well as any other appropriate cleaning supplies. Workers should be trained in how to properly use cleaning products to ensure workspaces, equipment and common storage areas for equipment to be effectively cleaned. 
  • Place cleaning supplies in several locations throughout the workplace so workers do not congregate in one location to use them and are not deterred from looking for and using them. Require workers to wash their hands before and after using the supplies.
  • Ensure sufficient time between workspace handover to allow for cleaning and disinfecting to take place.
  • Continue to require workers to practice good hygiene, stay home if they are unwell, and comply with physical distancing. Remember, if a worker that has participated in hot desking arrangements is a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, they must not attend the workplace. Refer to our infographic to find out what else you need to do.

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 to be in close contact, you must put control measures in place that minimise the time workers spend with each other or with other people in the workplace. You must also ensure workers 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 other people 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).  

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. See also our information on PPE.

My workers need to travel in a vehicle together for work purposes. How do they practice physical distancing?

You must reduce the number of workers travelling together in a vehicle for work purposes. You should ensure that only two people are in a 5 seat vehicle – the driver and a worker behind the front passenger seat. Only one worker should be in a single cab vehicle. 

These measures may mean: 

  • more of your vehicles are on the road at one time  
  • more workers are driving and for longer periods than usual (if driving by themselves).  

Because of this, you should review your procedures and policies for vehicle maintenance and driver safety to ensure they are effective and address all possible WHS risks that arise when workers drive for work purposes.  

If workers are required to travel together for work purposes and the trip is longer than 15 minutes, air conditioning must be set to external airflow rather than to recirculation or windows should be opened for the duration of the trip.  

You must also clean vehicles more frequently, no matter the length of the trip, but at least following each use by workers.  See also our information on cleaning

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.

 

Why is physical distancing important?

Physical distancing is necessary because the most likely way of catching the virus is by breathing in micro-droplets from another person sneezing, coughing, or exhaling. By ensuring there is 4 square metres of space per person and maintaining a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres from others where possible, you will reduce the likelihood of exposure to micro-droplets of others. 

Current health advice is that everyone, including people at workplaces, must implement physical distancing measures wherever possible.  

How do I make sure there is 4 square metres of space per person?

To achieve the 4 square metre ‘rule’ you would: 

  • calculate the area of the room (e.g length of room in metres x width of room in metres = area of room in square metres), and 
  • divide the area of the room by 4. 

For example, if you had a room that was 160 square metres in size, you should only allow up to 40 people in the room, to allow each person to have 4 square metres of space.  

How do I make sure there is 1.5 metres between people?    

You should consider and make adjustments to the layout of the workplace and your workflows to enable workers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart to continue performing their duties. For example, this could be achieved by, spreading out furniture or plant to increase distancing, or considering floor and/or wall markings and signage to identify 1.5 metres distancing requirements. 

You should also review tasks and processes that usually require close interaction and identify ways to modify these to increase physical distancing between workers where it is practical and safe to do so.  

Do I need to do both? That is, make sure there is 4 square metres per person and physical distancing of 1.5 metres?   

Yes. You need to do what you can to make sure there is 4 square metres in your workplace per person and keep everyone apart at least 1.5 metres, where possible. 

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 others 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. For example, lifting heavy objects. 

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 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 only 
  • staggering start, finish and break times where appropriate 
  • moving work tasks to different areas of the workplace or off-site if possible 
  • if possible, separating workers into dedicated teams and have them work the same shift or work in a particular area and consider whether these dedicated teams can have access to their own meal areas or break facilities, and 
  • ensuring each worker has their own equipment or tools.  

Personal protective equipment (PPE) may also be appropriate in some circumstances. See also our information on PPE below.

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

Below are measures to ensure physical distancing is achieved in office workplaces.  

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

Worker interactions and work tasks

  • Where possible, provide each person with 4 square metres of space in the office in accordance with general health advice.  
    • To achieve this, calculate the area of the office space (length multiplied by width in metres) and divide by 4. This will provide you with the maximum number of people you should have in the space at any one time.  
    • Where the nature of work means you are not able to provide 4 square metres of space per person, you need to implement other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  
  • To help you achieve 4 square metres of space per person (or where not reasonable, to achieve the maximum space per person) limit the number of workers in your workplace by: 
    • facilitating working from home, where you can 
    • reducing the number of tasks to be completed each day, where possible 
    • postponing non-essential work, and 
    • splitting workers’ shifts to reduce the number of workers onsite at any given time. Schedule time between shifts so that there is no overlap of staff arriving at and leaving the workplace or have different entrances and exits to avoid interaction. 
  • Direct workers to keep 1.5 metres of distance between them in accordance with general health advice. To achieve the best outcomes for physical distancing: 
    • implement measures in combination with measures for 4 square metres spacing, as set out above 
    • put signs around the workplace and create wall or floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance, including in areas such as control rooms. Your staff could wear a badge as a visual reminder to each other of physical distancing requirements.    
    • for customer facing areas, create floor markings that provide a minimum 1.5 metre guide between clients queuing for service and use physical barriers, such as perspex, between workers and customers 
    • limit physical interactions between workers, workers and clients, and workers and other persons at the site – e.g. by using contactless deliveries and limiting non-essential visitors, and  
    • require workers to use other methods such as mobile phone or radio to communicate rather than face to face interaction.  
  • Where it is practical and safe to do so, review tasks and processes that usually require close interaction and identify ways to modify these to increase physical distancing between workers. Where not possible, reduce the amount of time workers spend in close contact. 

See also our information on what to do if your workers cannot maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres.  

Layout of the workplace

  • You may need to redesign the layout of the office space and your workflows to enable workers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart to continue performing their duties. This can be achieved by, where possible: 
    • restricting workers and others to certain pathways or areas, and 
    • spreading out furniture or plant to increase distancing.  
  • Consider floor and/or wall markings and signage to identify 1.5 metres distancing requirements. 

If changing the physical layout of the office space, your layout must allow for workers to enter, exit and move about the workplace both under normal working conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable.

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. 

See also our information on training. 

Workplace facilities

  • Reduce the number of workers utilising common areas at a given time – e.g by staggering meal breaks and start times. 
  • Spread out furniture in common areas. If changing the physical layout of the workplace, you must ensure the layout allows for workers to enter, exit and move about the workplace both under normal working conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable.  
  • Implement measures at waiting areas for lifts, such as floor markings, or queuing systems to ensure workers maintain 1.5 metres distance – where relevant you may need to engage with your building manager to implement this. 
  • Place signage about physical distancing around the workplace. Our website has links to a range of posters and resources to help remind workers and others of the risks of COVID-19 and the measures that are necessary to stop its spread. These posters can be placed around the workplace and in client-facing work environments (e.g. workplace entrances). Consideration needs to be given to how to communicate with workers and others for who English is not their first language.   
  • Consider providing separate amenities for workers and others in the workplace – for example separate bathroom facilities for workers and visitors/clients. 

Deliveries, contractors and visitors attending the workplace

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

On-going review and monitoring

  • If physical distancing measures introduce new health and safety risks (e.g. because they impact communication or mean that less people are doing a task), you need to manage those risks too. 
  • Put processes in place to regularly monitor and review the implementation of physical distancing measures to ensure they are being followed and remain effective. 

Lifts

  • Even if workers and others only spend a short amount of time in a lift each day, there is still a risk of exposure to COVID-19 that you must eliminate or minimise so far as reasonably practicable. 
  • There is no requirement to provide 4 square metres of space per person in lifts, however you must still ensure, as far as you reasonably can, that people maintain physical distancing in lifts and lift waiting areas.
  • 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.  This includes consulting workers and their representatives on what control measures to put in place to minimise their risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, including when using lifts.
  • You must also consult with the building owner/manager and other employers in the building about the control measures to be implemented to address the risk of COVID-19. You may not be able to implement all of the control measures yourself but must work with others to ensure those measures are put in place.

What can I do to manage the risk of COVID-19 transmission in lifts? 

  • Safe use of lifts is best achieved through a combination of measures, determined in consultation with workers, including those that control the number of people needing to use a lift at any one time. This includes:
    • reducing the number of workers arriving and leaving buildings and using lifts in peak periods, where possible (e.g. stagger start and finish times for workers by 10-15 minutes per team or group)
    • maintaining working from home arrangements for some staff (where this works for both you and your workers). This could include splitting the workforce into teams with alternating days in the workplace (e.g rotate teams so they are one week in the office and the other week at home), and 
    • changing lift programming to facilitate more efficient flow of users – e.g. decrease the time that doors stay open on each floor (where safe to do so) or where there are multiple lifts, assign specific lifts to certain floors based on demand (e.g. lift A to service floors 1-5, lift B to service floors 6-8 etc). 
  • Where workers and others use lifts it is still important that they physically distance themselves to the extent possible when waiting for a lift and when in the lift. You must do what you reasonably can to ensure crowding in and around lifts does not occur.  
  • In the lift lobby or waiting area:
    • ensure workers and others maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres, to the extent possible 
    • implement measures at waiting areas for lifts, such as floor markings or queuing systems. Also create specific pathways and movement flows for those exiting the lifts where possible (you may need to consult with your building manager or other employers in the building to ensure this occurs). You could consider engaging someone to monitor compliance with physical distancing measures where appropriate
    • place signage around lift waiting areas reminding users to practice physical distancing and good hygiene while waiting for and using lifts, including to wait for another lift if the lift is full
    • display an advisory passenger limit for each lift – these limits could be temporarily adjusted up by one or two during peak periods where additional demand is unavoidable (subject to it not leading to overcrowding in lifts) to facilitate extra movement of workers and to prevent overcrowding in waiting areas. This may result in fewer persons travelling in a lift at any one time to ensure workers and others maximise physical distance from each other, to the extent possible
  • Within lifts:
    • users of lifts must maintain physical distancing, to the extent possible. Lifts must not be overcrowded and users should avoid touching other users.
    • workers must practice good hygiene in lifts. If they do need to cough or sneeze during a journey they must do so into their arm or a clean tissue. 
    • place signage in the lift reminding workers and others to practice good hygiene by washing their hands, or where this is not possible, using appropriate hand sanitiser, after exiting the lift, particularly if they touched lift buttons, rails or doors – see also our information on hygiene
    • implement regular cleaning of high touchpoints such as lift buttons and railings – see also our information on cleaning.
  • Staff must not to come into work, including using lifts, if they are unwell. 

New risks

  • In some cases, depending on the design of a building, stairs may be an option to reduce demand on lifts. If workers and others are to use stairwells or emergency exits as an alternative to using lifts, you must identify and address any new risks that may arise. For example:
    • the increased risk of slips, trips and falls particularly if the stairs are narrow and dimly lit
    • the risk that arises when opening and closing heavy fire doors, and 
    • the risk that a person may become trapped in the stairwell.
  • You must also consider workers’ compensation arrangements and whether your contract of tenancy allows for workers to use stairs, other than in an emergency.
  • You must also consider how other existing WHS measures will be impacted if you allow workers and others to use stairwells or emergency exits. For example 
    • does increased usage of emergency exits and stairwells impact your emergency plans and procedures? See also our information on emergency plans
    • will stairwell usage increase the risk of fire doors being left open? 
       

End of trip facilities

To minimise risks to health and safety from COVID-19, it is important to consider physical distancing and hygiene for all parts of your workplace, not just where people perform tasks or congregate for meetings. If your office building includes ‘end of trip’ facilities such as showers, bicycle cages, change rooms and lockers, you should conduct a risk assessment to determine how these facilities can operate safely during the pandemic. 

You must consult with your workers about the control measures you implement in relation to end of trip facilities. Depending on the location of these facilities at your workplace (e.g. whether showers are located within your premises or located within a larger tenanted building) you may also need to undertake this risk assessment in consultation with the building owner/manager and other employers in the building. 

It may be useful to document the agreed controls and outcomes of your consultation so all WHS duty holders, including the building owner/manager and other employers, are clear about their responsibilities.

Keep in mind that demand for end of trip facilities may increase as office buildings reopen, due to worker concerns about hygiene and physical distancing issues on public transport. Risk assessments and implementation of control measures should factor in this potential increased demand.

It is important to understand that the extra precautions people need to take may also require extra time using the facilities. The availability of facilities may need to reflect these changed circumstances.

Safe use of end of trip facilities is best achieved through a combination of measures, including those that control the number of people needing to use end of trip facilities at any one time.

To achieve appropriate physical distancing at end of trip facilities:

  • Where a control access system, such as swipe card entry, is not already in place for your building, consider implementing a registration system and restrict access to workers who have registered to use these facilities where possible. This system will enable workers to indicate a window of time that they are intending to use the facilities (e.g. arriving between 8am and 9am) and enable employers/building managers to monitor and manage demand 
    • Reduce the number of workers arriving, leaving and using facilities in peak periods where possible (e.g. stagger start and finish times for workers by 10-15 minutes) 
    • Place floor markings indicating 1.5 metres distance outside of the facilities for people who may need to temporarily wait to use facilities in higher demand periods.
  • Where a control access system, such as swipe card entry, is not already in place for your building keep records of those who use the facilities to assist with contact tracing where required. 
  • Determine how many people are able to use particular areas at a time based on physical distancing requirements and place signage on maximum occupancy and physical distancing measures at the entry of and throughout these areas. 
    • Our website has links to a range of posters and resources to help remind workers and others of the risks of COVID-19 and the measures that are necessary to stop its spread. 
  • Where there are lockers consider: 
    • allowing the use of only every second locker to limit the number of people congregating at lockers at one time and make it easier to comply with physical distancing requirements. Where this is not possible (e.g. due to heavy demand), ask users to wait in an appropriate place away from their locker where physical distancing can be observed, when a locker next to theirs is currently being used.
    • encouraging users to minimise the time spent at their locker to the extent possible – for example users could be asked to have everything ready to put straight in the locker or you could request that when getting changed, they take their clothes from the locker and get changed in another area of the changeroom.
  • If the end of trip facilities in your building have multiple hand-washing basins and/or showers in close proximity, encourage users to minimise the time they spend at these common areas to limit physical interactions and allow for physical distancing between people. Use appropriate signage to inform people of the requirements for use of the facilities.
  • Consider using only every second basin and/or shower if possible. (This is unnecessary if showers are in individual cubicles, each with a separate door.)
  • Spread out any furniture in areas such as change rooms and locker rooms.  
    • If changing the physical layout of the workplace you must ensure the layout allows for workers to enter, exit and move about the  workplace both under normal working conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable.
    • Work with the building owner/manager to ensure safety requirements are still met after making changes to the physical layout of the workplace. 

You must also ensure common areas such as showers, change rooms, hand washing areas, bicycle cages and lockers are cleaned and disinfected frequently – see our cleaning section on our website and our cleaning guide for more information. It may not be possible to clean all facilities after each use, but frequency of cleaning and disinfection should be increased. 

You must also continue to require workers and visitors to practice good hygiene when using your facilities.

Our model Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks and our guidance on COVID-19 risk assessments may be of further assistance. 

Hot desking and activity-based work arrangements

The term hot desking refers to working arrangements where workers move between workspaces (desks, chairs, computers, keyboards etc.) and do not have an allocated workspace. Activity-based work arrangements refer to workers being able to flexibly use a range of different spaces, such as meeting rooms, to carry out their work.

My workplace has arrangements in place for ‘hot desking’ and/or activity-based working. Does this practice have to stop?

Not necessarily, however you should stop or limit arrangements for hot desking or activity-based working if you are able to. 

Physical distancing, including between workspaces, and good hygiene practices are key controls for stopping the spread of COVID-19. If your workplace uses a hot desking arrangement, or has any arrangement such as activity-based working, where multiple users may use a workstation or other areas (such as meeting rooms), you must, in consultation with workers and their representative, consider these arrangements for the duration of the pandemic, including whether they should be stopped. You can refer to our information about COVID-19 Risk Assessments for guidance about weighing up what is reasonably practicable in the current circumstances.

If it is not reasonably practicable to cease hot desking or activity-based working arrangements, you must implement measures to minimise the risk of the spread of infection through these arrangements. For example:

  • Minimise the number of workers in the office and therefore hot desking at any one time. For example, you could consider allowing workers to work from home if possible, and stagger shift times or allow workers to work flexible hours.
  • Consider whether you can use only a limited number of desks within the workplace for hot desking and allow workers to "opt out" if they wish and use a workspace on an ongoing basis if possible, or work from home. Vulnerable persons should be provided with alternative work arrangements so they do not have to participate in hot desking.
  • Ensure workspaces (desks, chairs, landline telephones, shelves etc.) are cleaned and disinfected regularly – either at the end of the day where only one worker has used the workspace, or after each use by a worker where multiple workers are using the workspace throughout the day. You should require workers to leave workspaces free of clutter to allow cleaning to easily take place. 
  • Where possible, provide each worker with their own equipment such as keyboards and mice, so they are not shared between workers. Some equipment, such as headsets, should never be shared and should be cleaned and stored safely at the end of the worker’s shift. You can most easily avoid sharing equipment by using Bluetooth equipment, which only requires the insertion and removal of a USB connector.  
  • To enable cleaning and disinfecting of workspaces and equipment, ensure that workers have ready access to cleaning/disinfecting wipes as a minimum, as well as any other appropriate cleaning supplies. Workers should be trained in how to properly use cleaning products to ensure workspaces, equipment and common storage areas for equipment to be effectively cleaned. 
  • Place cleaning supplies in several locations throughout the workplace so workers do not congregate in one location to use them and are not deterred from looking for and using them. Require workers to wash their hands before and after using the supplies.
  • Ensure sufficient time between workspace handover to allow for cleaning and disinfecting to take place.
  • Continue to require workers to practice good hygiene, stay home if they are unwell, and comply with physical distancing. Remember, if a worker that has participated in hot desking arrangements is a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, they must not attend the workplace. Refer to our infographic to find out what else you need to do.

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 to be in close contact, you must put control measures in place that minimise the time workers spend with each other or with other people in the workplace. You must also ensure workers 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 other people 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).  

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. See also our information on PPE.

My workers need to travel in a vehicle together for work purposes. How do they practice physical distancing?

You must reduce the number of workers travelling together in a vehicle for work purposes. You should ensure that only two people are in a 5 seat vehicle – the driver and a worker behind the front passenger seat. Only one worker should be in a single cab vehicle. 

These measures may mean: 

  • more of your vehicles are on the road at one time  
  • more workers are driving and for longer periods than usual (if driving by themselves).  

Because of this, you should review your procedures and policies for vehicle maintenance and driver safety to ensure they are effective and address all possible WHS risks that arise when workers drive for work purposes.  

If workers are required to travel together for work purposes and the trip is longer than 15 minutes, air conditioning must be set to external airflow rather than to recirculation or windows should be opened for the duration of the trip.  

You must also clean vehicles more frequently, no matter the length of the trip, but at least following each use by workers.  See also our information on cleaning

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.

Physical distancing (also referred to as ‘social distancing’) refers to the requirement that people distance themselves from others.  The current advice from the Department of Health is that everyone must keep at least 1.5 metres apart from others (outside of their family unit) where possible. In addition, in a given space, there must be a 4 square metres of space per person where possible.

Why is physical distancing important?

Physical distancing is necessary because the most likely way of catching the virus is by breathing in micro-droplets from another person sneezing, coughing, or exhaling. By ensuring there is 4 square metres of space per person and maintaining a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres from others where possible, you will reduce the likelihood of exposure to micro-droplets of others.

Current health advice is that everyone, including people at workplaces, must implement physical distancing measures wherever possible. For information on the measures your employer should be implementing, see our employer information for your industry.

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

You may have to work closer than 1.5 metres from co-workers or others (e.g. clients) because of the nature of the task or because it is required for health and safety reasons. For example, if you are a:

  • hairdresser
  • mechanic in a service pit
  • removalist moving furniture, or
  • a plumber and an apprentice working in a small bathroom.

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 example, if close contact with others is unavoidable, your employer may implement other control measures such as:

  • minimising the number of people within an area at any time
  • staggering start, finish and break times where appropriate
  • moving work tasks to different areas of the workplace or off-site if possible
  • if possible, separating workers into dedicated teams and have them work the same shift or work in a particular area
  • providing dedicated teams their own meal areas or break facilities where possible, and
  • ensuring each worker has their own equipment or tools.

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 persons.

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. This includes respirators with positive airflow and disposable gloves.

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.

I need to travel in a vehicle with co-workers for work purposes. How do I practice physical distancing?

If you have to travel in a vehicle with co-workers for work purposes, the number of workers travelling in the one vehicle may need to be reduced. People should sit in the most distant seats. Ideally only two people should be in a 5 seat vehicle – the driver and a worker behind the front passenger seat. One worker should be in a single cab vehicle.

These measures may mean more vehicles are required, and you may find yourself driving alone more than usual and for longer periods of time.

There are many WHS risks associated with driving for work including fatigue. Familiarise yourself with your employer’s driving policies and procedures. They should contain information on how to minimise risks to your health and safety when driving.

Other measures you can take when sharing a work vehicle with others include setting the air‑conditioning to external airflow rather than to recirculation, or having windows open where appropriate. It is also a good idea to buddy up with the same workers to limit your contact with others.

Vehicles will need to be cleaned and disinfected more frequently, no matter the length of the trip.

Whatever measures your employer puts in place regarding travelling in vehicles, they must consult with you and relevant health representatives before doing so.

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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