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 client interactions

  • Request clients stay away from the area where workers are performing work.  
    • For example, residents of the house may stay in one room whilst a tradesperson performs their work in another room. Then the tradesperson and residents rotate so the tradesperson can perform work in the other area.  
    • If residents of the house must be in the same area as your worker, calculate the area where your worker is and set an upper limit on the number of people who may be in that area at any one time in order to ensure there is 4 square metres per person (or where that is not possible, the maximum space per person)
  • Where possible interact with the client outside.  
    • For example, a tradesperson consulting with a client about replacing their guttering does not have to enter the house and should avoid doing so.  
  • Request contactless payment where possible instead of cash and use electronic paper work where possible to minimise physical interaction. Where possible, set up alternatives to requiring signatures. 

Worker interactions and work tasks

  • Where possible direct workers to keep 1.5 metres of distance between them in accordance with general health advice.  
  • 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.  

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.

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? 
       

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, such as:  

  • a plumber and an apprentice working in a small bathroom, or
  • removalists moving furniture. 

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. Se also our information on PPE below.

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.

My workers are travelling and living together. How do I ensure they maintain physical distancing?

Workers may have to work closely together because of the nature of the task or for work health and safety reasons. They may also have to share accommodation and vehicles when performing tasks away from the primary workplace or in remote or rural locations.

It may not always be reasonable or practicable to require these workers to maintain a space of 1.5m from each other, particularly when sharing accommodation. To minimise the risks to these workers, it would be preferable to treat these workers as a unit or dedicated team.

When you treat workers as a unit or dedicated team, they can work, travel 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 workers. So, for example, they must practice physical distancing when interacting with workers and others not in their unit.

The workers 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 in the workplace will reduce cross-contamination, should one of the workers in that unit display COVID-19 symptoms.

As with all workers, a worker 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 worker in the unit is confirmed or is suspected of having COVID-19. 

If one worker displays symptoms of COVID-19, you must isolate the entire unit. You will not necessarily need to isolate workers 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 workers in your workplace.

Vulnerable workers

Working in units will potentially expose workers to a higher chance of exposure to COVID-19. This means you must also consider whether any of the workers in the unit may belong to the following groups, who have been identified as having a higher risk of serious illness if infected with the virus:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years and older with one or more chronic medical conditions
  • People 65 years and older with one or more chronic medical conditions
  • People 70 years and older, and
  • People with compromised immune systems

The Australian Government Department of Health advises that these workers should be supported to work from home where possible. If they cannot, a risk assessment should be undertaken to address the risks of exposure to COVID-19.

This may require re-assigning vulnerable employees to other roles outside of the unit where they don’t need to have contact with others. If the risk cannot be appropriately addressed, alternative arrangements such as leave should be considered. 

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.

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.  

Do I have to maintain physical distancing if I’m visiting a client’s home or premises?

Yes. The model Work Health and Safety laws apply even when the workplace is a private home or dwelling. The client’s home is a workplace when you or your worker is there to perform work. 

You or your worker should talk to the client to ensure they understand the risks of COVID-19 and about the control measures you must implement – including physical distancing - to minimise the risk of exposing them and your worker to the virus.  

We have prepared phone and email scripts that can be used to have a conversation with your clients about the measures you are putting in place to protect against exposure to COVID-19. 

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 8 square metres in size, you should only allow up to 2 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 workspace and your workflows to enable workers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart to continue performing their duties wherever possible. For example, this could be achieved by, working at different ends of a room or area. 

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 the workspace per person and keep everyone apart at least 1.5 metres, where possible. 

Worker and client interactions

  • Request clients stay away from the area where workers are performing work.  
    • For example, residents of the house may stay in one room whilst a tradesperson performs their work in another room. Then the tradesperson and residents rotate so the tradesperson can perform work in the other area.  
    • If residents of the house must be in the same area as your worker, calculate the area where your worker is and set an upper limit on the number of people who may be in that area at any one time in order to ensure there is 4 square metres per person (or where that is not possible, the maximum space per person)
  • Where possible interact with the client outside.  
    • For example, a tradesperson consulting with a client about replacing their guttering does not have to enter the house and should avoid doing so.  
  • Request contactless payment where possible instead of cash and use electronic paper work where possible to minimise physical interaction. Where possible, set up alternatives to requiring signatures. 

Worker interactions and work tasks

  • Where possible direct workers to keep 1.5 metres of distance between them in accordance with general health advice.  
  • 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.  

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.

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? 
       

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, such as:  

  • a plumber and an apprentice working in a small bathroom, or
  • removalists moving furniture. 

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. Se also our information on PPE below.

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.

My workers are travelling and living together. How do I ensure they maintain physical distancing?

Workers may have to work closely together because of the nature of the task or for work health and safety reasons. They may also have to share accommodation and vehicles when performing tasks away from the primary workplace or in remote or rural locations.

It may not always be reasonable or practicable to require these workers to maintain a space of 1.5m from each other, particularly when sharing accommodation. To minimise the risks to these workers, it would be preferable to treat these workers as a unit or dedicated team.

When you treat workers as a unit or dedicated team, they can work, travel 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 workers. So, for example, they must practice physical distancing when interacting with workers and others not in their unit.

The workers 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 in the workplace will reduce cross-contamination, should one of the workers in that unit display COVID-19 symptoms.

As with all workers, a worker 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 worker in the unit is confirmed or is suspected of having COVID-19. 

If one worker displays symptoms of COVID-19, you must isolate the entire unit. You will not necessarily need to isolate workers 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 workers in your workplace.

Vulnerable workers

Working in units will potentially expose workers to a higher chance of exposure to COVID-19. This means you must also consider whether any of the workers in the unit may belong to the following groups, who have been identified as having a higher risk of serious illness if infected with the virus:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years and older with one or more chronic medical conditions
  • People 65 years and older with one or more chronic medical conditions
  • People 70 years and older, and
  • People with compromised immune systems

The Australian Government Department of Health advises that these workers should be supported to work from home where possible. If they cannot, a risk assessment should be undertaken to address the risks of exposure to COVID-19.

This may require re-assigning vulnerable employees to other roles outside of the unit where they don’t need to have contact with others. If the risk cannot be appropriately addressed, alternative arrangements such as leave should be considered. 

 

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.

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
  • provideing 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 have to maintain physical distancing in a client’s home?

Yes. The model Work Health and Safety laws apply even when the workplace is a private home or dwelling. The client’s home is a workplace when you are there to perform work.

You or your employer should talk to the client to ensure they understand the risks of COVID-19 and about the control measures you must implement – including physical distancing - to minimise the risk of exposing them and your worker to the virus. 

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

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