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 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. 

You must take care of the health and safety of workers and other people such as customers and visitors at the workplace by eliminating the risk of exposure to COVID-19, if reasonably practicable. If eliminating the risk is not reasonably practicable, then the risk must be minimised so far as is reasonably practicable. A key factor in minimising the risk of COVID-19 is maintaining physical distancing.

Below are measures to help ensure physical distancing is achieved in retail workplaces, supermarkets and shopping centres.  

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.  

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.  

Some ideas on how you can provide 4 square metres of space per person in retail stores, supermarkets and shopping centres are provided below.

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 and other people such as customers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart. For example, this could be achieved by spreading out furniture to increase distancing, or using floor and/or wall markings and signage to identify 1.5 metre spacing. 

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.

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 for example limiting 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 
  • consider separating workers into dedicated teams with each team working the same shift or in a particular area and having 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. For example, using Perspex screens where two workers work back to back at a check-out.

The current Australian Government advice is that it is not necessary to install a screen between workers and the public (customers) as the interaction time between them is shorter. However, many supermarkets have chosen to protect workers by installing these screens. See also our information on PPE.

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

Below are some examples of control measures you can implement to achieve appropriate physical distancing in shopping centres, retail stores and supermarkets.  

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 identifying risks and what control measures to put in place in your workplace.  

Worker interactions and work tasks

4 square metres of space per person

Where possible, within a shopping centre, retail store or supermarket provide each person with 4 square metres of space in enclosed areas in accordance with general health advice.  

  • To achieve this, calculate the area of the enclosed space (length multiplied by width in metres) and divide by 4. This will provide you with the maximum number of people (workers and customers) 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.  
  • When calculating the maximum number of people in a shopping centre, retail store or supermarket, this needs to be based on the net floor space that people can freely move around in, taking out divisions such as fixtures, fittings and displays that occupy floor space and areas that are closed off or not being used.

To help you achieve 4 square metres of space per person (or where this is not reasonable, to achieve the maximum space per person) consider the following.

Retail stores and supermarkets 

  • For office/administrative workers, facilitate working from home, where you can. 
  • If you are set-up for online trade, take extra steps to promote this offering over face to face service. 
  • Have signs that clearly display how many people can be inside the store or supermarket. Many supermarkets have adopted a voluntary, nationally consistent, industry-led approach to limiting the number of customers in stores to keep their staff and customers safe.  
  • If necessary, monitor customer counts at entries, for example using a phone clicker app and ‘one in one out’ policy.
  • Provide appropriate space for queuing outside the store with floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distancing.
  • Use separate doors for customers to enter and exit, if practicable, to avoid contact between people.  
  • Split or stagger workers’ shifts to reduce the number of workers in staff areas 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. 

Shopping centres

Physical distancing measures to help stop the spread of COVID-19 will be different at each shopping centre, taking into account the shopping centre’s size, customer visits, open-air/enclosed spaces and customer entry/exits.

Consider the following:

  • Monitor the total number of people within the shopping centre to ensure it does not exceed maximum occupancy limits. 
  • If entry or exit points are limited to manage customer numbers, ensure fire and emergency egress are maintained and entries/exits are accessible.
  • Encourage retailers to promote click and collect options. Some shopping centres offer a contactless click and collect service that enables customers to order online from multiple retailers in one transaction and pick-up via contactless drive-through from the local shopping centre.
  • Cancel or postpone large shopping centre events.
  • Consider extending opening hours where local laws allow so that customers can shop outside of peak times. 
  • Communicate frequently with tenants to identify possible congestion points and to ensure their approaches complement other strategies across the centre. 
  • If retailers have both internal and external entries/exists, encourage customers to use external entries/exits (where safe to do so) to reduce foot traffic within the shopping centre. 

Keeping 1.5 metres physical distance

Direct workers and customers to keep 1.5 metres of distance between them in accordance with general health advice. To achieve the best outcomes for physical distancing: 

  • use signs and floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance, particularly where customers queue such as at checkouts or service points. Your staff could wear a badge as a visual reminder to themselves and customers of physical distancing requirements 
  • limit physical interactions between workers and customers, where possible – e.g. rotating tasks to ensure no worker has all contact with customers 
  • limit physical interactions between workers, and workers and other persons at the workplace – e.g. by using contactless deliveries and limiting nonessential visitors.  
  • require workers to use other methods such as mobile phone or radio to communicate rather than face to face interaction.  
  • use signage, screen networks, information directories and public announcements to remind customers about physical distancing 
  • provide extra signage and monitor gathering points such as lifts, travelators, escalators and entries/exits to carparks to promote physical distancing in these areas, e.g. advising customers to keep 4 steps between them and other people on escalators
  • in food courts, provide signage or ground markings (e.g. stickers or tape) to ensure that people can practise physical distancing while queuing, ordering, or waiting for food and beverage purchases. Also consider signage or markings on tables or benches to encourage people to leave the area once they have finished consuming their food or beverage
  • train security guards and personnel to monitor and encourage customer adherence to physical distancing and move people on from congestion points. This may also include Police visits to shopping centres
  • encourage retailers to promote click and collect options. Some shopping centres offer a contactless click and collect service that enables customers to order online from multiple retailers in one transaction and pick-up via contactless drive-through from the local shopping centre.
  • 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 and implement other control measures, for example:
    • use physical barriers such as Perspex screens at checkouts, where appropriate. Ensure these are designed in a way the considers other risks, such as screens with edge markings that are clearly visible
    • consider whether customers should bag their items themselves

See below for further information where workers are performing tasks in close contact including vehicle use.  

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

Layout of the shopping centre, retail store or supermarket

You should consider the layout of the store or shopping centre and your workflows to enable workers and customers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart. This can be achieved by, where possible: 

  • spreading out furniture or store fittings to increase distancing.  
  • considering options to manage crowd flow and reduce bottlenecks or congestion, such as removing displays or objects that could hinder physical distancing
  • using floor and/or wall markings and signage to identify 1.5 metres distancing requirements. 
  • creating additional displays of frequently purchased and popular products around the store to disperse crowds in aisles
  • if aisles are narrow, consider making them one-way with clear waymarks on the ground showing the flow of traffic
  • restricting workers and/or customers and others to certain pathways or areas by using tape, barriers or signage
  • closing children’s play areas and closing, reducing or spacing out food court seating areas depending on what is permitted in your state or territory
  • in food courts, ensuring the food court layout, configuration and seating (whether fixed or loose) does not exceed the maximum ‘per person’ limit of the relevant state or territory, and steps are taken to enable physical distancing (e.g. removal of seating, marked-out-seating, spacing out of tables and benches)
  • assessing the need for general seating within the shopping centre and only keeping seating if a safe physical distance can be maintained. Consider prioritising seating, for example for the elderly and people with a disability
  • shopping centres should work with retailers to provide appropriate space for customer queues if they extend into a shopping centres’ common areas. 

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

Update emergency plans to reflect relevant changes.   

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 staff common areas at a given time – e.g by staggering meal breaks and start times. 
  • Spread out furniture in common areas. If changing the physical layout of the workplace, you must ensure the layout allows for workers to enter, exit and move about the workplace both under normal working conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable.  
  • Place signage about physical distancing around the workplace. 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 customers – for example separate bathroom facilities for workers and customers. 

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.  See our information on the meaning of 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. For example:

  • Change 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. 
  • Where workers and customers 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 waiting area:
    • ensure people maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres, to the extent possible, e.g. use floor markings or queuing systems 
    • create specific pathways and movement flows for those exiting the lifts where possible 
    • consider using personnel to monitor physical distancing and queueing 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. 
  • 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.
    • everyone 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 customers 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? 

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. 

Changerooms

For information about retail changerooms, go to the Hygiene page.

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. 

Other useful resources 

 

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

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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