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

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

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

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

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

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

Do I need to implement physical distancing measures in my workplace?

Yes. It is your duty under work health and safety laws to manage the risk of a person in your workplace spreading and contracting COVID-19, including the risk that persons with COVID-19 enter the workplace. Physical distancing is one of the key ways to lower the risk of COVID-19 being spread or contracted at your workplace.  

The risk of COVID-19 should be treated in the same way as any other workplace hazard – by applying a risk management approach. 

In consultation with your workers, including volunteers, and their representatives (e.g. health and safety representatives (HSRs)), you will need to assess the likelihood and degree of harm people may experience if exposed to COVID-19 and then implement the most effective control measures that are reasonably practicable to manage the risk. The control measures you implement should include outcomes that support physical distancing and operate alongside measures encouraging good hygiene amongst workers and others as well as regular and thorough cleaning of the workplace.

To meet your WHS duty you should be continually monitoring and reviewing the risks to the health and safety of workers and others, as well as the effectiveness of control measures put in place to eliminate or minimise these risks. You must also assess any new or changed risks arising from COVID-19, for example customer aggression, high work demand or working in isolation.

Further guidance on the risk management process is available in the Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks.

You may also need to comply with physical distancing measures issued under public health directions in your state or territory. Each state and territory has directions that reflect local circumstances. For more information about physical distancing requirements, go to your relevant state or territory government website. You can also go to our public health directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to government health directions. 

How do the public health directions in my state or territory interact with my WHS duty?

You must comply with your state or territory’s public health directions that apply to your business. 

Your WHS duty is to do all that you reasonably can to manage the risks of a person contracting and/or spreading COVID-19 in your workplace. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to implement control measures in order to meet your WHS duty that go beyond the minimum requirements stated in public health directions or advised by public health authorities. For example, public health directions may state you can have up to 10 customers in your shop at any one time. However, in undertaking your risk assessment you may determine that due to the layout of the workplace and your work processes, having 10 customers in the store would not effectively support physical distancing outcomes. Instead, limiting your store to 8 customers at a time would ensure everyone can maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres from each other.

How do I determine which physical distancing measures to implement to minimise the risk of COVID 19 spreading in my workplace?

To determine which physical distancing measures will be most effective in your workplace, you will need to undertake a risk assessment.

A risk assessment is part of the risk management process which involves identifying where the risk arises in your workplace, assessing the risks (including the likelihood of them happening), controlling the risks and reviewing these controls regularly. These steps remain the same whether you are conducting a risk assessment in relation to work health and safety generally, or specifically in relation to COVID-19.

In order to determine the most effective physical distancing measures you will need to: 

  • identify all activities or situations where people in your workplace may be in close proximity to each other,
  • assess the level of risk that people in these activities or situations may contract and/or spread COVID-19 in your workplace, and
  • determine what control measures are reasonably practicable to implement based on the assessed level of risk. 

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

See also our information on key considerations for undertaking a risk assessment – COVID-19

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

Below are suggested measures to ensure physical distancing is achieved in your industry. Certain activities may not be permissible or there may be specific requirements in your state or territory at this time and therefore some of the proposed measures may not be relevant to your workplace. For more information about physical distancing requirements, go to your relevant state or territory government website. You can also go to our public health directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to government health directions. 

Remember, you must do all that is reasonably practicable to manage the risk of people contracting and/or spreading COVID-19. See also our guidance on determining what is reasonably practicable for more information.

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

Worker and student interactions and work tasks

Where possible, provide each person (workers and students) with 4 square metres of space in a room when indoors in accordance with general health advice.   

  • To achieve this, calculate the area of the room (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 pers 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 practical, to achieve the maximum space per person) limit the number of people on campus by:  

  • facilitating workers, particularly office/administrative workers and those in shared offices, to work from home, where they can 
  • continuing to make lectures and tutorials available online where possible and appropriate, to provide alternative options for students, particularly those who may be unwell or in a vulnerable group
  • holding classes, workshops, lectures and tutorials in larger theatres and rooms and monitoring the number of people in the space to ensure compliance with the 4 square metre rule
  • calculating the number of people allowed in rooms and placing signs at the entrance communicating the maximum number of people permitted at one time
  • limiting the number of students that can use labs, animal houses or studios at any one time – e.g. staggering access times
  • reducing the number of lectures/tutorials held each day to allow extra time between classes to minimise interactions between students arriving and leaving rooms
  • implementing separate entrances and exits into lecture theatres and classrooms where possible or staggering entry and exit times
  • advising students to arrive just before their class start time so they can enter the classroom immediately and to leave immediately afterwards to avoid crowding outside rooms and in passageways
  • reducing the number of staff and/or students utilising science or computer labs at any one time by utilising every second computer or work area within the lab
  • implementing electronic or virtual methods for delivering student administrative and support services where possible and appropriate, and 
  • postponing non-essential work and activities on campus including sporting and social activities.

Direct workers and students 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 
  • for outdoor activities ensure the space selected allows for physical distancing of 1.5 meters
  • where possible ensure seating in theatres, classrooms, workshops and laboratories is spaced out to allow for physical distancing of 1.5 metres such as only allowing every third seat in theatre style settings to be used and staggering that between rows. Other seats should be clearly marked (e.g. with signage or tape) that they are not to be used
  • put signs around the areas where workers and students normally gather such as outside lecture theatres/classrooms, libraries, study spaces, cafes and dining areas and create wall or floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance. University staff could wear a badge as a visual reminder to each other and students of physical distancing requirements
  • limit physical interactions between staff and students, where possible, such as undertaking student consultation electronically instead of students visiting lecturers’ or tutors’ offices
  • minimise the number of people who travel in campus-provided transport at any one time. Refer to our public transport webpage for further guidance, and
  • require staff to use other methods such as mobile phone, radio or teleconference to communicate with each other 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 and students. Where not possible, reduce the amount of time workers and students spend in close contact. 

Where students are required to undertake a clinical placement, vocational placement, or work experience as a component of their studies or training, you must engage with the students and host organisation and assess the risk to these students. Depending on the level of risk, you may need to consider postponing or adjusting the placement and training to ensure health and safety.

Layout of the teaching and common areas

  • You may need to redesign the layout of the lecture theatres, classrooms, workshops, study rooms and common areas to enable workers and students to keep at least 1.5 metres apart.
  • This can be achieved by, where possible:  
    • restricting workers and students to certain pathways or areas, and 
    • removing or spreading out furniture in offices, libraries, study spaces and other common areas to allow for physical distancing. Put signs on walls and tables requiring that furniture not be moved around. 
  • Consider floor and/or wall markings and signage to identify 1.5 metres distancing requirements. 

If changing the physical layout of the workplace, 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.  

Campus facilities

  • Reduce the number of workers and students utilising common areas at a given time – e.g. by staggering lecture/tutorial times and meal breaks. 
  • Reduce the number of computers available for use in computer labs or libraries at any one time – e.g. by only allowing every second computer to be used
  • Spread out furniture in common areas. If changing the physical layout of common areas, you must ensure the layout allows for workers and students to enter, exit and move about the campus 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 campus. Our website has links to a range of posters and resources to help remind workers, students and others of the risks of COVID-19 and the measures that are necessary to stop its spread. Consideration needs to be given to how to communicate with workers and students for who English is not their first language.   
  • If you have on campus cafes and dining facilities, ensure they are complying with restrictions and requirements set out by the Australian Government or the relevant state or territory authorities, including physical distancing requirements. See specific information on physical distancing control measures in the hospitality industry
  • For other campus services such as retail, early childhood education, libraries or fitness facilities ensure they also are complying with restrictions and requirements set out by the Australian Government or the relevant state of territory authorities, including physical distancing requirements. See also our information on retail, early childhood education, libraries and gyms and fitness centres.

Campus accommodation and residential colleges

Ensure student accommodation facilities are operated in line with public health requirements in your state or territory. Undertake consultation with student residents and provide them with clear information on measures that are being implemented, as well as what actions they should take. This should include information on practicing physical distancing, good hygiene and cleaning. Consideration needs to be given to how to communicate with students for who English is not their first language.

Implement measures to maximise physical distancing in common areas of accommodation facilities and residential colleges. 

  • Reduce the number of students utilising common areas at a given time – e.g. by implementing a roster for the use of facilities such as dining halls. Consider allowing students to take their meals away to consume in their rooms
  • Spread out furniture in common areas. If changing the physical layout of the workplace, you must ensure the layout allows for workers, students and others to enter, exit and move about the area 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 accommodation facilities, including in common areas and bathrooms/shower rooms. Signage should include an indication of maximum occupancy numbers for specific rooms.  
  • Consider restricting on-site group recreational activities or where undertaken, ensure they are carried out in accordance with public health directions in your state or territory. 
  • Restrict access to communal facilities and spaces, such as gyms, consistent with current public health directions. Some communal spaces may be able to be modified to enable staff and students to comply with social distancing requirements when using these. 

If students are living together and sharing facilities. How do I ensure they maintain physical distancing?

Consider whether it is possible to limit students sharing campus accommodation and facilities, for example by moving students in shared rooms to vacant rooms and minimising the number of students using shared bathrooms. 

Where students have to share accommodation and facilities such as kitchens, bathrooms and common rooms, it may not always be reasonably practicable to require these students to maintain a space of 1.5m from each other. To minimise the risks to these students, it would be preferable to treat these students as a unit.

In deciding to treat a group of students as a unit, the unit size should be kept as small as possible, taking into account increased risks of contracting COVID-19 as the number of people in the unit increases. 

When you treat students as a unit, they can study and stay together without having to practice physical distancing, although they must practice physical distancing when they can. However, to limit the risk of exposure, they must be isolated as a unit as far as possible from other students and staff. So, for example, they must practice physical distancing when interacting with others not in their unit. The students must also practice good hygiene to reduce the chance of spreading the virus amongst themselves and should not share facilities with other units. Distancing the unit from others on campus will reduce cross-contamination, should one of the students in that unit contract the virus.

As with all students, a student in a unit must inform you if they are unwell. The symptoms of COVID-19 include shortness of breath, fever, sore throat, fatigue and coughing. See also our information on what to do if a person in your workplace is confirmed or is suspected of having COVID-19.

If one student displays symptoms of COVID-19, you must isolate the entire unit. You will not necessarily need to isolate students that are not part of the unit, assuming they have maintained the required physical distancing and practiced good hygiene. Of course, this will depend on how well you have been able to separate the unit from other students on your campus.

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 according to physical distancing requirements. This may require, for example, multiple training sessions to be held, and 
  • ensure adequate ventilation if held indoors. 

Deliveries, contractors and visitors attending the campus

  • 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.
     

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

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

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

Watch video on YouTube Download Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do I need to implement physical distancing measures in my workplace?

Yes. It is your duty under work health and safety laws to manage the risk of a person in your workplace spreading and contracting COVID-19, including the risk that persons with COVID-19 enter the workplace. Physical distancing is one of the key ways to lower the risk of COVID-19 being spread or contracted at your workplace.  

The risk of COVID-19 should be treated in the same way as any other workplace hazard – by applying a risk management approach. 

In consultation with your workers, including volunteers, and their representatives (e.g. health and safety representatives (HSRs)), you will need to assess the likelihood and degree of harm people may experience if exposed to COVID-19 and then implement the most effective control measures that are reasonably practicable to manage the risk. The control measures you implement should include outcomes that support physical distancing and operate alongside measures encouraging good hygiene amongst workers and others as well as regular and thorough cleaning of the workplace.

To meet your WHS duty you should be continually monitoring and reviewing the risks to the health and safety of workers and others, as well as the effectiveness of control measures put in place to eliminate or minimise these risks. You must also assess any new or changed risks arising from COVID-19, for example customer aggression, high work demand or working in isolation.

Further guidance on the risk management process is available in the Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks.

You may also need to comply with physical distancing measures issued under public health directions in your state or territory. Each state and territory has directions that reflect local circumstances. For more information about physical distancing requirements, go to your relevant state or territory government website. You can also go to our public health directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to government health directions. 

How do the public health directions in my state or territory interact with my WHS duty?

You must comply with your state or territory’s public health directions that apply to your business. 

Your WHS duty is to do all that you reasonably can to manage the risks of a person contracting and/or spreading COVID-19 in your workplace. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to implement control measures in order to meet your WHS duty that go beyond the minimum requirements stated in public health directions or advised by public health authorities. For example, public health directions may state you can have up to 10 customers in your shop at any one time. However, in undertaking your risk assessment you may determine that due to the layout of the workplace and your work processes, having 10 customers in the store would not effectively support physical distancing outcomes. Instead, limiting your store to 8 customers at a time would ensure everyone can maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres from each other.

How do I determine which physical distancing measures to implement to minimise the risk of COVID 19 spreading in my workplace?

To determine which physical distancing measures will be most effective in your workplace, you will need to undertake a risk assessment.

A risk assessment is part of the risk management process which involves identifying where the risk arises in your workplace, assessing the risks (including the likelihood of them happening), controlling the risks and reviewing these controls regularly. These steps remain the same whether you are conducting a risk assessment in relation to work health and safety generally, or specifically in relation to COVID-19.

In order to determine the most effective physical distancing measures you will need to: 

  • identify all activities or situations where people in your workplace may be in close proximity to each other,
  • assess the level of risk that people in these activities or situations may contract and/or spread COVID-19 in your workplace, and
  • determine what control measures are reasonably practicable to implement based on the assessed level of risk. 

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

See also our information on key considerations for undertaking a risk assessment – COVID-19

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

Below are suggested measures to ensure physical distancing is achieved in your industry. Certain activities may not be permissible or there may be specific requirements in your state or territory at this time and therefore some of the proposed measures may not be relevant to your workplace. For more information about physical distancing requirements, go to your relevant state or territory government website. You can also go to our public health directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to government health directions. 

Remember, you must do all that is reasonably practicable to manage the risk of people contracting and/or spreading COVID-19. See also our guidance on determining what is reasonably practicable for more information.

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

 

Worker and student interactions and work tasks

Where possible, provide each person (workers and students) with 4 square metres of space in a room when indoors in accordance with general health advice.   

  • To achieve this, calculate the area of the room (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 pers 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 practical, to achieve the maximum space per person) limit the number of people on campus by:  

  • facilitating workers, particularly office/administrative workers and those in shared offices, to work from home, where they can 
  • continuing to make lectures and tutorials available online where possible and appropriate, to provide alternative options for students, particularly those who may be unwell or in a vulnerable group
  • holding classes, workshops, lectures and tutorials in larger theatres and rooms and monitoring the number of people in the space to ensure compliance with the 4 square metre rule
  • calculating the number of people allowed in rooms and placing signs at the entrance communicating the maximum number of people permitted at one time
  • limiting the number of students that can use labs, animal houses or studios at any one time – e.g. staggering access times
  • reducing the number of lectures/tutorials held each day to allow extra time between classes to minimise interactions between students arriving and leaving rooms
  • implementing separate entrances and exits into lecture theatres and classrooms where possible or staggering entry and exit times
  • advising students to arrive just before their class start time so they can enter the classroom immediately and to leave immediately afterwards to avoid crowding outside rooms and in passageways
  • reducing the number of staff and/or students utilising science or computer labs at any one time by utilising every second computer or work area within the lab
  • implementing electronic or virtual methods for delivering student administrative and support services where possible and appropriate, and 
  • postponing non-essential work and activities on campus including sporting and social activities.

Direct workers and students 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 
  • for outdoor activities ensure the space selected allows for physical distancing of 1.5 meters
  • where possible ensure seating in theatres, classrooms, workshops and laboratories is spaced out to allow for physical distancing of 1.5 metres such as only allowing every third seat in theatre style settings to be used and staggering that between rows. Other seats should be clearly marked (e.g. with signage or tape) that they are not to be used
  • put signs around the areas where workers and students normally gather such as outside lecture theatres/classrooms, libraries, study spaces, cafes and dining areas and create wall or floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance. University staff could wear a badge as a visual reminder to each other and students of physical distancing requirements
  • limit physical interactions between staff and students, where possible, such as undertaking student consultation electronically instead of students visiting lecturers’ or tutors’ offices
  • minimise the number of people who travel in campus-provided transport at any one time. Refer to our public transport webpage for further guidance, and
  • require staff to use other methods such as mobile phone, radio or teleconference to communicate with each other 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 and students. Where not possible, reduce the amount of time workers and students spend in close contact. 

Where students are required to undertake a clinical placement, vocational placement, or work experience as a component of their studies or training, you must engage with the students and host organisation and assess the risk to these students. Depending on the level of risk, you may need to consider postponing or adjusting the placement and training to ensure health and safety.

Layout of the teaching and common areas

  • You may need to redesign the layout of the lecture theatres, classrooms, workshops, study rooms and common areas to enable workers and students to keep at least 1.5 metres apart.
  • This can be achieved by, where possible:  
    • restricting workers and students to certain pathways or areas, and 
    • removing or spreading out furniture in offices, libraries, study spaces and other common areas to allow for physical distancing. Put signs on walls and tables requiring that furniture not be moved around. 
  • Consider floor and/or wall markings and signage to identify 1.5 metres distancing requirements. 

If changing the physical layout of the workplace, 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.  

Campus facilities

  • Reduce the number of workers and students utilising common areas at a given time – e.g. by staggering lecture/tutorial times and meal breaks. 
  • Reduce the number of computers available for use in computer labs or libraries at any one time – e.g. by only allowing every second computer to be used
  • Spread out furniture in common areas. If changing the physical layout of common areas, you must ensure the layout allows for workers and students to enter, exit and move about the campus 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 campus. Our website has links to a range of posters and resources to help remind workers, students and others of the risks of COVID-19 and the measures that are necessary to stop its spread. Consideration needs to be given to how to communicate with workers and students for who English is not their first language.   
  • If you have on campus cafes and dining facilities, ensure they are complying with restrictions and requirements set out by the Australian Government or the relevant state or territory authorities, including physical distancing requirements. See specific information on physical distancing control measures in the hospitality industry
  • For other campus services such as retail, early childhood education, libraries or fitness facilities ensure they also are complying with restrictions and requirements set out by the Australian Government or the relevant state of territory authorities, including physical distancing requirements. See also our information on retail, early childhood education, libraries and gyms and fitness centres.

Campus accommodation and residential colleges

Ensure student accommodation facilities are operated in line with public health requirements in your state or territory. Undertake consultation with student residents and provide them with clear information on measures that are being implemented, as well as what actions they should take. This should include information on practicing physical distancing, good hygiene and cleaning. Consideration needs to be given to how to communicate with students for who English is not their first language.

Implement measures to maximise physical distancing in common areas of accommodation facilities and residential colleges. 

  • Reduce the number of students utilising common areas at a given time – e.g. by implementing a roster for the use of facilities such as dining halls. Consider allowing students to take their meals away to consume in their rooms
  • Spread out furniture in common areas. If changing the physical layout of the workplace, you must ensure the layout allows for workers, students and others to enter, exit and move about the area 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 accommodation facilities, including in common areas and bathrooms/shower rooms. Signage should include an indication of maximum occupancy numbers for specific rooms.  
  • Consider restricting on-site group recreational activities or where undertaken, ensure they are carried out in accordance with public health directions in your state or territory. 
  • Restrict access to communal facilities and spaces, such as gyms, consistent with current public health directions. Some communal spaces may be able to be modified to enable staff and students to comply with social distancing requirements when using these. 

If students are living together and sharing facilities. How do I ensure they maintain physical distancing?

Consider whether it is possible to limit students sharing campus accommodation and facilities, for example by moving students in shared rooms to vacant rooms and minimising the number of students using shared bathrooms. 

Where students have to share accommodation and facilities such as kitchens, bathrooms and common rooms, it may not always be reasonably practicable to require these students to maintain a space of 1.5m from each other. To minimise the risks to these students, it would be preferable to treat these students as a unit.

In deciding to treat a group of students as a unit, the unit size should be kept as small as possible, taking into account increased risks of contracting COVID-19 as the number of people in the unit increases. 

When you treat students as a unit, they can study and stay together without having to practice physical distancing, although they must practice physical distancing when they can. However, to limit the risk of exposure, they must be isolated as a unit as far as possible from other students and staff. So, for example, they must practice physical distancing when interacting with others not in their unit. The students must also practice good hygiene to reduce the chance of spreading the virus amongst themselves and should not share facilities with other units. Distancing the unit from others on campus will reduce cross-contamination, should one of the students in that unit contract the virus.

As with all students, a student in a unit must inform you if they are unwell. The symptoms of COVID-19 include shortness of breath, fever, sore throat, fatigue and coughing. See also our information on what to do if a person in your workplace is confirmed or is suspected of having COVID-19.

If one student displays symptoms of COVID-19, you must isolate the entire unit. You will not necessarily need to isolate students that are not part of the unit, assuming they have maintained the required physical distancing and practiced good hygiene. Of course, this will depend on how well you have been able to separate the unit from other students on your campus.

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 according to physical distancing requirements. This may require, for example, multiple training sessions to be held, and 
  • ensure adequate ventilation if held indoors. 

Deliveries, contractors and visitors attending the campus

  • 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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