COVID-19 for Workplaces Pack
For the Worker in the Tertiary education industry

Total supporting material in this pack: 21

Date of print/download 26 November 2020

About COVID-19

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease that is caused by a newly discovered form of coronavirus.  

COVID-19 is a respiratory infection that was unknown before the outbreak that started in Hubei Province, China, in December 2019. Other known forms of coronaviruses include Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). 

What are the symptoms of COVID-19? 

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever and cough. 

Other symptoms include headache, sore throat, fatigue, shortness of breath, aches and pains, loss of smell, altered sense of taste, runny nose, chills and vomiting. 

Most people infected with COVID-19 will have a mild to moderate illness and will recover without special medical treatment. Some people, such as those with underlying medical problems or disease and older people, are more likely to suffer from more serious symptoms of the diseases. See also our content on vulnerable workers. 

How is COVID-19 spread? 

  • The most likely way someone will catch the virus is by breathing in micro-droplets a person close to them has released by sneezing, coughing –or just breathing out 
  • A person can, however, also catch it via the hand-to-face pathway: touching a surface where live virus material is present, then touching their mouth, nose or eyes 
  • Spread of COVID-19 is highest from people with symptoms 
  • Spread of COVID-19 before symptoms appear is less common 

More information 

For more information about COVID-19 please see the resources available from the Australian Government Department of Health.  

You can also call the National Coronavirus Help Line on 1800 020 080 if you have questions about COVID-19. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  

If you require translating or interpreting services, please call 131 450. 

Cleaning

The main way COVID-19 spreads from person to person is through contact with respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets may fall directly onto the person’s eyes, nose or mouth if they are in close contact with the infected person. Airborne transmission of COVID-19 can also occur, with the greatest risk in indoor, crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces. A person may also be infected if they touch a surface contaminated with the COVID-19 virus and then touch their own mouth, nose or eyes before washing their hands. Research shows that the COVID-19 virus can survive on some surfaces for prolonged periods of time.

A key way you can protect workers and others from the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is by implementing appropriate cleaning and disinfecting measures for your workplace.

A combination of cleaning and disinfection will be most effective in removing the COVID-19 virus.

Workplaces must be cleaned at least daily. Cleaning with detergent and water is usually sufficient.  Once clean, surfaces can be disinfected. When and how often your workplace should be disinfected will depend on the likelihood of contaminated material being present. You should prioritise cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that many people touch.

Alternatively, you may be able to do a 2-in-1 clean and disinfection by using a combined detergent and disinfectant.

How to clean and disinfect

Cleaning means to physically remove germs (bacteria and viruses), dirt and grime from surfaces using a detergent and water solution. A detergent is a surfactant that is designed to break up oil and grease with the use of water. Anything labelled as a detergent will work.

Disinfecting means using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. It’s important to clean before disinfecting because dirt and grime can reduce the ability of disinfectants to kill germs. Disinfectants containing greater than equal to 70% alcohol, quaternary ammonium compounds, chlorine bleach or oxygen bleach are suitable for use on hard surfaces (that is, surfaces where any spilt liquid pools, and does not soak in): alcohol in a concentration of at least 70%, chlorine bleach in a concentration of 1000 parts per million, oxygen bleach, or wipes and sprays that contain quaternary ammonium compounds. These will be labelled as ‘disinfectant’ on the packaging.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has published a list of disinfectant products that are permitted to claim they are effective against COVID-19.

As long as you use a disinfectant of the types described above, in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions, they will be effective. They do not need to be on the TGA list.

Cleaning should start with the cleanest surface first, progressively moving towards the dirtiest surface. When surfaces are cleaned, they should be left as dry as possible to reduce the risk of slips and falls, as well as spreading of viruses and bacteria through droplets.

Before a surface is disinfected, it is important it is cleaned first because dirt and grime can reduce the ability of disinfectants to kill germs. Disinfectant may not kill the virus if the surface has not been cleaned with a detergent first. 

The packaging or manufacturer’s instructions will outline the correct way to use disinfectant. Disinfectants require time to be effective at killing viruses. If no time is specified, the disinfectant should be left for ten minutes before removing.

Your employer should provide you with suitable cleaning and disinfecting products and personal protective equipment, and ensure you are trained on how to use them.

After cleaning, put any single-use personal protective equipment (PPE), disposable cloths and covers in a plastic bag and dispose of in general waste. Launder any reusable cleaning equipment, including mop heads and reusable cloths, and completely dry before re-use.

Our cleaning guide provides more information on cleaning and disinfecting, including for specific surfaces.

What is the difference between cleaning and disinfecting?

Cleaning means to physically remove germs (bacteria and viruses), dirt and grime from surfaces using a detergent and water solution. A detergent is a surfactant that is designed to break up oil and grease with the use of water. 

Disinfecting means using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. It’s important to clean before disinfecting because dirt and grime can reduce the ability of disinfectants to kill germs. Disinfectants containing ≥ 70% alcohol, quaternary ammonium compounds, chlorine bleach or oxygen bleach are suitable for use on hard surfaces (that is, surfaces where any spilt liquid pools, and does not soak in). 

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has published a list of disinfectant products that are permitted to claim they are effective against COVID-19.

As long as you use a disinfectant of the types described above, in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions, they will be effective. They do not need to be on the TGA list.

How do I use cleaning and disinfecting chemicals safely?

Always be aware what chemicals you are handling. Read the product label and safety data sheet (SDS) before use, and make sure you understand the instructions and follow all recommendations. For information on how to read labels and SDS, see the Safe Work Australia SDS webpage.

Make sure you only use chemicals in well ventilated areas, as many release fumes that can irritate your eyes and lungs and cause nausea or headaches. Be especially careful when diluting concentrated cleaners. Use eye protection and gloves, preferably elbow-length. The SDS will tell you more information about how to use the product safely.

Never mix different chemicals together, unless the product label explicitly tells you to do so. Some common cleaning chemicals react when combined to create toxic gas that can be fatal if inhaled.

More information can be found on the Department of Health’s website.

Which areas should be cleaned and disinfected, and how often?

Any surfaces that are frequently touched should be prioritised for cleaning. These include tabletops, counters, door handles, light switches, elevator buttons, desks, toilets, taps, TV remotes, kitchen surfaces and cupboard handles, phones, EFTPOS machines and workplace amenities. Any surfaces that are visibly dirty, or have a spill, should be cleaned as soon as they are identified, regardless of when they were last cleaned.

You should regularly clean and disinfect surfaces that many people touch. At a minimum, frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected at least once daily. If your workplace has many customers or others entering each day, more frequent cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces is recommended. If your workplace is only attended by the same small work crew each day and involves little interaction with other people, routine disinfection in addition to daily cleaning may not be needed.

Which areas should I prioritise for cleaning?

Any surfaces that are frequently touched should be prioritised for cleaning and disinfection. These include tabletops, counters, door handles, light switches, elevator buttons, desks, toilets, taps, TV remotes, kitchen surfaces and cupboard handles, phones, EFTPOS machines and workplace amenities. You should also prioritise cleaning and disinfecting surfaces which are visibly soiled (dirty) and which are used by multiple people (e.g. trolleys, checkouts, EFTPOS machines).

How often should I do a routine clean?

Regular cleaning is key to minimising the build-up of dust and dirt and allows for effective disinfecting when required.

Cleaning of frequently touched surfaces must be undertaken at least once per day. Cleaning should be more frequent if surfaces become visibly dirty, there is a spill, or if they are touched by a different people (for example, if your workplace has a high volume of workers, customers or visitors that are likely to touch surfaces such as tabletops, counters, door handles, light switches, elevator buttons, desks, toilets, taps, TV remotes, kitchen surfaces and cupboard handles, phones, EFTPOS machines and workplace amenities.). If your workplace operates in shifts, it should be cleaned between shifts. If equipment is shared between workers, it may also be cleaned between uses, where practicable.

For more information, refer to our cleaning guide.

Cleaning and disinfecting should also be done after a person with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID 19 has recently been at the workplace, in line with advice from your state or territory’s health authority. For more information, including thecontact details for your local health authority please see What to do if a worker has COVID-19.

How often should I do a routine disinfection?

You should regularly clean and disinfect surfaces that many people touch. You should consider disinfecting frequently touched surfaces at least once daily. 

All surfaces should be cleaned with detergent prior to disinfection. Alternatively, you may be able to do a 2-in-1 clean and disinfection by using a combined detergent and disinfectant. 

What’s the difference between frequently touched and infrequently touched surfaces?

A frequently touched surface is a surface that is touched multiple times each day, regardless of whether it is touched by the same person or different people. Door handles and taps are examples of frequently touched surfaces.

An infrequently  touched surface is any surface that is not touched more than once each day. If you are unsure, you should treat your surface as if it is frequently touched.

Does every surface need to be cleaned and disinfected?

You don’t need to clean and disinfect every surface. The virus is transmitted by breathing in droplets produced by an infected person coughing or sneezing, or contact with contaminated surfaces, so you only need to clean surfaces that are touched. This is true whether the touching is deliberate (e.g. a door knob) or incidental (e.g. brushing a door when reaching for the door knob). There are some surfaces that are never touched (e.g. ceilings and cracks and crevices in machinery) and these do not need to be cleaned and disinfected.

Do I need to clean and disinfect areas or equipment daily if no one has entered the area or used the equipment recently?

Not necessarily. If a surface has not had human contact for several days, it is less likely to be a potential source of infection. You may wish to consider how frequently a particular surface is touched or otherwise comes into human contact when deciding how often an area or equipment needs to be cleaned and disinfected. However care should be taken, as research shows that the COVID-19 virus can survive on some surfaces for prolonged periods of time. If there is any doubt, it is better to clean and disinfect an area rather than risk infection.

You can refer to our cleaning guide for more detailed information on how to clean a range of different surfaces and items, as well as for assistance on how to clean if there is a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 in your workplace.

What about personal items I bring into work?

Personal items used in the workplace, such as glasses and phones, should be cleaned and disinfected regularly using disinfectant wipes or spray.

Do I need to wear protective equipment when cleaning?

In most circumstances, it will not be necessary to wear protective clothing to clean your workplace. If personal protective equipment (PPE) is required, your employer should provide the PPE and train you on how to use it safely. 

For routine cleaning (when there has not been a known or suspected case of COVID-19), you should wear appropriate gloves and any other protective equipment recommended when using your cleaning product.

More information about selecting and using PPE can be found on the COVID-19 and Personal Protective Equipment Webpage.

Additional PPE may be required if cleaning and disinfecting an area where someone with COVID-19 is present. At a minimum surgical masks should be worn. Your state or territory health should contact your employer and provide them with more advice about what needs to be done.  

What if there is a case of COVID-19 in my workplace?

If you have a case of COVID-19 in the workplace, your state or territory health authority should provide your employer with advice on what they need to do in your workplace. Follow their instructions. 

Your workplace will need to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before people can return to the workplace.  

  • Using an ISO accredited cleaner is not required. 
  • Fogging is not required and is not recommended by the Australian Government Department of Health for routine cleaning against COVID-19 
  • Swabbing surfaces following disinfection is not required. 

For more information on what to do if there is a case of COVID-19 see our infographic What to do if a worker has COVID-19

What are the best products for cleaning and disinfecting?

When cleaning it is best to use detergent and warm water. This will break down grease and grime so that the surface can be wiped clean. Anything labelled as a detergent will work. Disinfectants should only be used once the surface is fully cleaned.

Disinfectants that are suitable for use on hard surfaces (that is, surfaces where any spilt liquid pools, and does not soak in) include: alcohol in a concentration of at least 70%, chlorine bleach in a concentration of 1000 parts per million, oxygen bleach, or wipes and sprays that contain quaternary ammonium compounds. These chemicals will be labelled as ‘disinfectant’ on the packaging and must be diluted or used following the instructions on the packaging to be effective.

If using a store-bought disinfectant, choose one that has antiviral activity, meaning it can kill viruses. This should be written on its label. Alternately, diluted bleach can be used. If using freshly made bleach solution, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for appropriate dilution and use. It will only be effective when diluted to the appropriate concentration. Note that prediluted bleach solutions lose effectiveness over time and on exposure to sunlight.

More information about disinfectant selection and preparing bleach solutions can be found on the Department of Health’s website.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has published a list of disinfectant products that are permitted to claim they are effective against COVID-19.

As long as you use a disinfectant of the types described above, in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions, they will be effective. They do not need to be on the TGA list.

Is a sanitiser a disinfectant?

A sanitiser is a chemical that is designed to kill some bacteria and some viruses that can cause disease in humans or animals. These chemicals are not as strong as disinfectants, which makes them safe to use on skin. If you’re disinfecting a hard surface or inanimate object, a disinfectant is the best option.

If everything is sold out, can I make my own disinfectant?

Store-bought disinfectants meet government standards, so you know they will work. However, if you don’t have store bought disinfectant available, you can prepare a disinfecting solution using bleach and water. Do not use products such as vinegar, baking soda (bicarbonate of soda), essential oil, mouthwash or saline solution – these will not kill COVID-19.

If preparing a disinfecting solution, make sure you handle chemicals carefully, as they can be dangerous. Always read and follow the instructions and safety directions on the label. If the solution is not prepared and used as described in the instructions, it is unlikely to be effective. More information about the preparation of chlorine (bleach) disinfectant solutions can be found on the Department of Health’s website.

Can I use a product that claims to clean and disinfect at the same time?

Yes, some products can be used for both cleaning and disinfecting, which can save time and effort. If using these products, make sure that you read and follow the instructions on the label to ensure they work effectively.

Does heating or freezing kill the virus?

Extreme heat will destroy COVID-19 but is not recommended as a general disinfection method. Steam and boiling water can easily burn workers and should only be used by trained personnel with specialised equipment.

Viruses are generally resistant to the cold and can survive longer if frozen than if left outside at room temperature.

Will an antibacterial product kill COVID-19?

Antibacterial products are designed to kill bacteria. However, COVID-19 is caused by a virus rather than by bacteria, so an antibacterial product may not be effective against COVID-19.

Detergent and warm water are suitable for cleaning surfaces and should be used prior to using a disinfectant.

For cleaning hands, regular soap and warm water is effective.

Can I use the same disinfecting wipe on multiple surfaces?

Disinfecting wipes are designed to be used on a single surface and then thrown out. If you use a disinfecting wipe on multiple surfaces it will lose its effectiveness and may even transfer the virus from one surface to another.

Ensure you read and follow the directions that come with the disinfecting wipes.

Should I be using hospital grade disinfectant for normal cleaning in the workplace?

The Department of Health only recommends the use of hospital grade disinfectant when cleaning in a hospital, beauty or allied health care setting where an infectious person has been present.

What is the difference between household grade disinfectant and hospital grade disinfectant?

Hospital grade disinfectants must meet government standards for use in health care, beauty and allied health settings. A household or commercial grade disinfectant must also meet government standards, but the testing is not as comprehensive as it is for hospital grade disinfectants and the standards to be met are lower.

Household or commercial grade disinfectant are suitable for use in workplaces that are not health care, beauty and allied health settings.

Are there any cleaning methods I shouldn’t use?

The best cleaning method is to use warm water and detergent. You should avoid any cleaning methods that may disperse the virus or create droplets, such as using pressurised water, pressurised air (including canned air cleaners), dry cloth and dusters.

Fumigation or wide-area spraying (known as ‘disinfectant fogging’) is not recommended as it does not clean surfaces and there is insufficient evidence that it is effective at killing COVID-19. Additionally, if not done correctly it can expose workers and others to hazardous chemicals.

My employer is making me do cleaning. This has never been my job until now, can they do that?

Yes. You must comply with any reasonable instruction from your employer to allow your employer to meet their health and safety duties, as long as you are reasonably able to do so. This includes an instruction from your employer to clean your work space, or to clean plant or equipment after you have used it, to manage the risk of spread of COVID-19.

The risk of catching COVID-19 when cleaning is substantially lower than any risk from close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

I prefer to use environmentally friendly or natural products, do I have to use detergent to clean?

Yes. Using only water and a cloth, or other forms of cleaning agents, such as vinegar and baking soda (bicarbonate of soda), will not be as effective as using detergent.

What is disinfectant fogging, and do I need to do it?

Disinfectant fogging (sometimes called disinfectant fumigation) is a chemical application method where very fine droplets of disinfectant are sprayed throughout a room in a fog. The disinfectant has to reach a certain concentration for a certain length of time to be effective.

Disinfectant fogging is not recommended for general use against COVID-19 and can introduce new work health and safety risks. Physically cleaning surfaces with detergent and warm water, followed by disinfecting with liquid disinfectant, is the best approach. If you are looking for a faster or easier method, consider a combined (2-in-1) cleaning and disinfecting agent.

Note that if you already use fogging as part of your normal business processes (such as in health care or food manufacturing) you should continue to do so.

The chemicals used in fogging solutions also introduce work health and safety risks which must be managed. Chlorine and hydrogen peroxide-based products are highly irritating to the skin and eyes. Alcohol based products are highly flammable, which may lead to fire or explosion if an ignition source is present.

In all cases, sufficient time must be allowed following fogging for the chemicals to disperse to ensure that workers returning to the area to ensure they are not exposed to hazardous chemicals. If fogging is undertaken, it must only be performed by trained persons and using appropriate controls in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions. It should not be undertaken as a response to, or element of a response to contamination of an area with COVID-19. 

How do I clean linen, crockery and cutlery?  

If items can be laundered, launder them in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions using the warmest setting possible. Dry items completely. Do not shake dirty laundry as this may disperse the virus through the air.

Wash crockery and cutlery in a dishwasher on the highest setting possible. If a dishwasher is not available, hand wash in hot soapy water.

More information about how to clean specific items refer to our cleaning guide.

What else can I do?

You can work with your employer to minimise the touching of surfaces at your workplace and practice good hygiene (for example, washing your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds). You should also ensure you properly dispose of used PPE and paper towel used in handwashing, following the instructions provided by your employer. 

Is there someone I can talk to for more information about Coronavirus?

The Department of Health runs the National Coronavirus Hotline - 1800 020 080.

You can call this line if you are seeking information on coronavirus. The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

You can find more contact options for the Department of Health on their website.

What about information published by other organisations?

Consultation

Does my employer have to consult with me? What about?

Your employer must talk to you about things that affect you. They must tell you what they are proposing to do to identify and manage risks to worker health, safety and wellbeing at your workplace. They must give you an opportunity to share your ideas and express any concerns. You are most likely to know about the risks of your work. Your employer must allow you to raise any work health and safety issues or concerns.  

Your employer must consult with you or your representative on health and safety matters when: 

  • assessing the risk of COVID-19 to your health and safety 
  • deciding on control measures to eliminate or minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19 
  • deciding on facilities for your welfare (e.g. whether hand washing facilities are adequate), and 
  • proposing changes to the workplace which may affect your health and safety (e.g. if you are now working from home this may affect your health and safety in other ways). 

Your employer does not have to agree with you or take your suggestions on board, but they must give genuine consideration to everything you raise with them, and let you know what their final decisions are. 

Is there any other information my employer should be sharing with me during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Yes. Your employer must also clearly explain to you: 

  1. when you must stay away from the workplace  

  1. what to do if you become unwell, and 

  1. what symptoms to be concerned about. 

Your employer should also remind you about who to talk to if you are concerned, such as your HSR, and where you can go for support services, such as employee assistance programs.  

I spoke up about my concerns and my employer did nothing 

Your employer doesn’t always have to agree with you or implement a control measure you have suggested, but they must genuinely take your views into account when making decisions about worker health and safety. They must also tell you what they decided. 

If you and your employer have agreed to procedures for consultation, they must follow them. If you are represented by an HSR they must be involved in any consultation.  

If after raising a safety concern with your manager or supervisor, you are still concerned about a risk to your health and safety you should speak to your HSR or contact the relevant WHS regulator for assistance.  

Your employer mustn’t ignore you or discriminate against you for raising a safety concern. You may also have the right to stop or refuse to carry out unsafe work. See the section Workers’ rights for more information. 

The model Code of Practice: Work health and safety consultation, cooperation and coordination can provide more information about your employer’s duties to consult. 

I’m working from home, will I miss out on being consulted? 

No. This shouldn’t happen. When you or your employer are working from home they will no longer be able to consult with you face to face but they must find other ways of consulting with you such as via email, video conference or phone. 

I’ve heard my HSR might change, can that happen? 

Yes. If working arrangements have changed (e.g. you now work shifts, have changed work groups or are working from home) your employer may need to review their procedures for consultation to reflect this. This may mean electing new HSRs for different work groups or changing procedures to allow for consultation by electronic communications. 

Duties under WHS laws

The model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws require employers to take care of the health, safety and welfare of your workers, including yourself and other staff, contractors and volunteers, and others (clients, customers, visitors) at your workplace.

This includes:

  • providing and maintaining a work environment that is without risk to health and safety
  • providing adequate and accessible facilities for the welfare of workers to carry out their work, and
  • monitoring the health of workers and the conditions of the workplace for the purpose of preventing illness or injury.

The model WHS laws have been implemented in all jurisdictions except Victoria and Western Australia. 

For information on WHS duties in Victoria, refer to WorkSafe Victoria –  Occupational health and safety – your legal duties.

For information on WHS duties in Western Australia, refer to WorkSafe WA –  Employers – your responsibilities and Employees – your rights and responsibilities.

Your safety responsibilities as a worker

A worker is a person who carries out work in any capacity for a business or employer or ‘person conducting a business undertaking’.  Workers include: 

  • employees 
  • trainees, apprentices or work experience students 
  • volunteers 
  • outworkers 
  • contractors or sub-contractors 
  • employees of a contractor or sub-contractor 
  • employees of a labour hire company. 

While at work you must: 

  • take reasonable care for your own health and safety 
  • take reasonable care for the health and safety of others 
  • comply with any reasonable instructions, policies and procedure given by your employer at the workplace. 

As a worker, you must take reasonable care of yourself and not do anything that would affect the health and safety of others at work (e.g. coming to work when you are unwell). 

You must follow any reasonable health and safety instructions from your employer. 

To prevent the spread of COVID-19 it is important that you: 

  • work safely and observe any new requirements for physical distancing (even if it means performing tasks in a different way to what you are used to) 
  • follow instructions (e.g. about how to wash hands thoroughly) 
  • ask if you’re not sure how to safely perform the work 
  • use personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves in the way you were trained and instructed to use it, and 
  • report any unsafe or unhealthy situations (e.g. a lack of soap in the bathroom) to your supervisor or to your health and safety representative (HSR). 

Emergency plans

Your employer must have an emergency plan in place.  

You should see if the plan has changed because of COVID-19. It may now include information on how cases of COVID-19 are to be dealt with as well as updates to procedures where there have been changes to the way the business is operating.  

Check with your employer if you think the emergency plan needs updating. 

What is an emergency plan?

An emergency plan is a written plan that sets out requirements and instructions for workers and others in the case of an emergency.  

An emergency plan must include the following: 

  • emergency procedures, including: 
    • an effective response to an emergency  
    • evacuation procedures  
    • notifying emergency service organisations at the earliest opportunity  
    • medical treatment and assistance, and  
    • effective communication between the person authorised to coordinate the emergency response and all people at the workplace  
  • testing of the emergency procedures,—including the frequency of testing, and  
  • information, training and instructions to relevant workers in relation to implementing the emergency procedures.  

See the Emergency plans fact sheet for more information on emergency plans. 

What do I need to do? 

It’s important that you are familiar with the emergency plan for your workplace, because you must know what to do in the case of an emergency. Even if you are still working from your usual workplace, the plan and procedures may have changed as a result of COVID-19.  

You should check the emergency plan to see if anything has changed. Examples of things that may have changed include contact details of key staff and the process that you should follow if there is an emergency when you are working from home, including notifying your employer.  

You should know where to find a copy of the emergency plan so that you can quickly refer to it if necessary. Speak with your employer if you do not have access to the plan. 

Your employer has an obligation to ensure the emergency plan is maintained to continue to capture the business’s circumstances. If operations have changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, your employer must review and, if necessary, update the emergency plan. The plan must include information for workers who are now working from home or another location. 

If your plan has not been updated and you believe there should be new procedures in place, then you should speak with your employer or health and safety representative. 

Training

Your employer must ensure that you have been adequately informed about, and trained in, emergency procedures. These arrangements must also be set out in the emergency plan itself.  

If procedures change significantly to align with changed business practices due to COVID-19, then you may require new or additional information and training.  

Talk with your employer if you are unsure about anything in the emergency plan. 

Family & domestic violence

If you or someone you know is impacted by family and domestic violence, you can contact 1800 RESPECT, the national counselling service for family and domestic violence for advice.  

If a worker is in immediate danger, call 000. 

Family and domestic violence can become more frequent and severe during periods of emergency. Public health measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, such as self-isolation and work from home arrangements, may increase workers’ exposure to family and domestic violence. Financial pressures, increased stress and disconnection from support networks can also exacerbate the underlying conditions that lead to violence. 

What if I witness family and domestic violence at the workplace?

If a worker or anyone at your workplace is in immediate danger, call 000.  

If you witness or see signs of family and domestic violence while carrying out your work, you should contact 1800 RESPECT for advice.

Talk to your employer

Workplaces can play an important role in preventing and responding to family violence by providing a safe and supportive working environment for all workers. 

You should discuss with your employer any concerns that you have about your health and safety so your employer can manage those risks in the workplace. If you choose to disclose that you are experiencing family and domestic violence, your employer must treat this information confidentially.  

It is particularly important to talk to your employer about any concerns you have if you are being asked to work from home. If your home is not safe, you should tell your employer as they must provide alternative working arrangements so far as is reasonably practicable, such as working from a different location or allowing you to work from the office. 

Who else can I talk to?

If workers at your workplace are represented by Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) you may wish to talk to them about your concerns. In addition, if you are a member of a trade union or employee association, they may also be able to help you. 

Family and domestic violence leave 

Under national workplace laws, all workers dealing with the impact of family and domestic violence can: 

  • take unpaid family and domestic violence leave 
  • request flexible working arrangements 
  • take paid or unpaid sick or carer’s leave, in certain circumstances. 

Your employer may also offer paid leave if you are experiencing family and domestic violence. 

You should speak to your employer about your leave entitlements or contact the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94. 

WHS duties

Your employer has a duty to ensure that workers and others are not exposed to risks to their health and safety, including from family and domestic violence in the workplace.  

You also have a duty to take reasonable care of your own health and safety, and not adversely affect the health and safety of yourself or others. This includes following any reasonable instruction given by your employer to comply with a health and safety duty. 

Other resources

Gloves

Practising physical distancing and maintaining good hygiene is the best defence against the spread of COVID-19 and will usually be a better control measure than wearing gloves.

While gloves (such as disposable or multi-use) should still be used for some practices (such as food handling, cleaning, gardening and trades), washing hands with soap and water is one of the best defences to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Washing your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitiser with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol as the active ingredient can help to minimise the spread of germs.

If gloves are not used appropriately, they can pose a risk of spreading germs, putting yourself and others at risk. When you wear gloves, you may come into contact with germs which can then be transferred to other objects or your face. Gloves are not a substitute for frequent hand washing. 

Gloves should be replaced regularly. Multi-use gloves should be washed and stored according to the manufacturer’s instructions or workplace policy. Disposable gloves should not be re-used and multi-use gloves should not be shared between workers. 

Who should wear gloves to protect against COVID-19?

Your employer should consider whether using gloves or washing hands is the best measure for preventing the spread of germs in your workplace. This involves thinking about what you and other workers will touch, how long the task will take, who workers may come into contact with and the practicality of using gloves for a task. It may be more practical for workers to wash their hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser than to wear gloves. 

Your employer must undertake a risk assessment with appropriate consultation with you and other workers to help inform what gloves, if any, are appropriate for your workplace.

Your employer will also keep up to date with recommendations and directions about the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves, that apply nationally, and in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace. 

Medical gloves form part of the routine PPE for those who work in health care and patients to protect them from the spread of infection. Medical gloves protect the wearer and the patient and should be restricted to health care settings Not all gloves are medical grade. Disposable, non-sterile gloves that are not medical grade are also available. 

Information on wearing gloves in health care settings can be found at the Australian Government Department of Health website.

Do I need to wear gloves?

In most workplaces there will be no need for workers to wear gloves, unless they are already required for usual work practices and are part of the workplace’s normal gloves policy, for example, for handling food or in healthcare settings. 

Your employer must undertake a risk assessment with appropriate consultation with you and other workers to help inform what gloves, if any, are appropriate for your workplace. Your employer will also keep up to date with recommendations and directions about the wearing of PPE that apply nationally, and in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace. 

Washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, or where you cannot wash your hands, using alcohol-based hand sanitiser with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol as the active ingredient is the recommended way to minimise the spread of germs. 

How to put on and take off gloves

If you do wear gloves, either disposable or multi-use, you can follow the steps below to prevent the spread of germs: 

1. Before starting (and after finishing a task), wash your hands with soap and water or if not available, with alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

  • Wash your hands before touching a pair of gloves.  
  • When putting the gloves on try to only touch the top edge of the glove at the wrist.

2. During the task: maintain good hygiene by not touching your face and coughing or sneezing into your elbow. Monitor what you touch and replace your gloves frequently. 

  • Replace your gloves every time you would wash or sanitise your hands. 

3. After completing the task, think about what you’ve touched and consider whether there is a risk of spreading the germs from your gloves if you start a new task. Your work task may not vary much but could involve touching different objects or attending to different customers or people. Consider whether using a new pair of disposable gloves or hand washing or using hand sanitiser is the best measure for the next task.

4. Taking off gloves: 

  • Carefully remove the first glove by gripping at the wrist edge without touching the skin and pull downwards away from the wrist, turning the glove inside out.  
  • With the ungloved hand, slide your fingers into the glove and peel the glove downwards away from the wrist, turning the glove inside out.   
  • If you are wearing disposable gloves dispose of them in a closed bin (refer below for information on disposal).  
  • If you are wearing multi-use gloves clean and store them according to the manufacturer’s instructions or your workplace policy. 
  • Wash your hands with soap and water (for at least 20 seconds), or if not available, with alcohol-based hand sanitiser. 

There is an infographic for putting and removing gloves on the Australian Government Department of Health website. 

How to dispose of gloves

Unless contaminated, disposable gloves can be disposed of with the general waste, preferably a closed bin. A closed bin is a bin with a fitted lid. 

Where the gloves are contaminated, they should be disposed of in a closed bin, preferably one that does not need to be touched to place contaminated gloves inside. A bin with a foot pedal or other hands-free mechanism to open the lid would be appropriate. 

The bin for contaminated gloves should contain two bin liners to ensure the waste is double bagged. Double bagging minimises any exposure to the person disposing of the waste.

Gloves would be considered contaminated if:

  • they have been worn by a symptomatic worker or visitor to the workplace, or
  • they have been worn by a close contact of a confirmed COVID case, or 
  • the wearer has touched a potentially contaminated surface.

Where a closed bin is not available, the contaminated gloves should be placed in a sealed bag before disposal into the bin. The sealed bag and a single bin liner are considered equivalent to double bagging.

It is important to follow good hand hygiene after removing and disposing of your gloves. Hands should be cleaned thoroughly with soap and water (for a minimum of 20 seconds) or hand sanitiser. 

If you have a case of COVID-19 in the workplace, your state or territory health authority should provide you with advice on what you need to do in your workplace. Follow their instructions. 

For information about the disposal of gloves in health care settings, you will need to refer to the Australian Government Department of Health and state and territory health authorities.
 

 

Health monitoring

You must follow your employer’s policies and procedures relating to COVID-19, including directions about what you must do if you are diagnosed or suspect you may have COVID-19.  

You must report to your employer as soon as possible, even if you are working from home: 

  • if you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19  
  • if you have been, or have potentially been, exposed to a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is suspected to have COVID-19 (even if the person who is suspected to have COVID-19 has not yet been tested), or 
  • if you have undertaken, or are planning to undertake, any travel. 

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever and cough. 

Other symptoms include headache, sore throat, fatigue, shortness of breath, aches and pains, loss of smell, altered sense of taste, runny nose, chills and vomiting.

Your employer must consult with you and your relevant health and safety representative before implementing health monitoring measures. 

COVID-19 in the workplace

You will need to leave the workplace, if you are not working from home, if you are displaying symptoms of COVID-19. Follow the information in our Suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 at work infographic and see also our information on COVID-19 in your workplace. 

You are entitled to access available entitlements, including leave under relevant workplace laws, (e.g. Fair Work Act 2009 Cth), and a relevant industrial instrument such as an enterprise agreement, award, contract of employment or associated workplace policy.  

For information about workplace entitlements and obligations: 

If you have been isolated after having tested positive for COVID-19, you must not return to the workplace (that is not your home) until you are cleared of the virus and have received any necessary clearances from state or territory health authorities.   

If you have completed a specified quarantine period and did not develop symptoms during quarantine, you do not need a medical clearance to return to work. 

Can I work from home while in isolation?

Yes - if you are fit for work and this is consistent with advice from your treating clinician.  

Asymptomatic workers can work from home during the isolation period, with appropriate measures in place for household members, subject to the direction or advice of their treating clinician. 

If you are unfit for work you are entitled to access available entitlements, including leave according to relevant workplace laws (e.g. Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) or a relevant industrial instrument). For information about workplace entitlements and obligations: 

Can my employer conduct temperature checks on me?

Your employer may want to monitor the health of their workers through administering temperature checks, as a preventative measure in managing a COVID-19 outbreak in your workplace. There may be times where this is required or reasonable. For example, 

  • where workers live together in accommodation such as FIFO or agricultural workers
  • in workplaces where vulnerable people are present, such as hospitals and aged care facilities, or
  • if directed or recommended by a state or territory (e.g. under public health orders).

Some states and territories may issue directions for temperature checks to be conducted in specific industries based on the local situation. Your employer will need to keep up to date with recommendations and directions that apply nationally, and in your state and territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace. 

It is important to understand temperature checks alone will not tell your employer whether a person has COVID-19. It will only identify symptoms. It is possible that a person may be asymptomatic or be on medication that reduces their temperature. It is also possible that the person may have a temperature for another reason unrelated to COVID-19.  

Your employer must consult with you and your relevant health and safety representative if they are considering implementing temperature checks. 

How do I know I am cleared to return to the workplace after having COVID-19 or being subject to quarantine requirements?

If you have been isolated after having been tested positive for COVID-19, you can return to your workplace (when not working from home) when you have fully recovered and have met the criteria for clearance from isolation. The criteria may vary depending on circumstances of the workplace and states and territories may manage clearance from isolation differently. Clearance may need to be given by the state and territory public health authority or your treating clinician.  

If you have completed a specified quarantine period (either after returning from travel or because of close contact with a confirmed case) and did not develop symptoms during quarantine, you do not need a medical clearance to return to the workplace. Your employer should not ask you to be tested for COVID-19 in order to return to work. However, you should closely follow the instructions provided by the state or territory public health authority, which in some cases may include being tested for COVID-19.

Hygiene

The main way COVID-19 spreads from person to person is through contact with respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets may fall directly onto the person’s eyes, nose or mouth if they are in close contact with the infected person. Airborne transmission of COVID-19 can also occur, with the greatest risk in indoor, crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces. A person may also be infected if they touch a surface contaminated with the COVID-19 virus and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes before washing their hands. Research shows that the COVID-19 virus can survive on some surfaces for prolonged periods of time.

A key way you can protect workers yourself and others from the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is by practicing good hygiene. Below are measures to ensure good hygiene in your workplace.  

A combination of cleaning and disinfection will be most effective in removing the COVID-19 virus.

Workplaces must be cleaned at least daily. Cleaning with detergent and water is usually sufficient.  Once clean, surfaces can be disinfected. When and how often your workplace should be disinfected will depend on the likelihood of contaminated material being present. You should prioritise cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that many people touch.

Alternatively, you may be able to do a 2-in-1 clean and disinfection by using a combined detergent and disinfectant.

Good hygiene requires washing your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and drying them completely, preferably with clean, single-use paper towels. If paper towels are unavailable, other methods such as electric hand dryers can be used, however, hands will still need to be dried completely.

You must wash and dry your hands: 

  • before and after eating 
  • after coughing or sneezing 
  • after going to the toilet, and  
  • when changing tasks and after touching potentially contaminated surfaces.  

When it is not possible to wash hands, an alcohol-based hand sanitiser with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol as the active ingredient must be used as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Good hygiene also requires you to, at all times: 

  • cover coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a clean tissue (and no spitting) 
  • avoid touching your face, eyes, nose and mouth 
  • dispose of tissues and cigarette butts hygienically, e.g. in closed bins 
  • wash and dry your hands completely before and after smoking a cigarette  
  • clean and disinfect shared equipment and plant after use 
  • wash body, hair (including facial hair) and clothes thoroughly every day, and 
  • have no intentional physical contact, for example, shaking hands and patting backs. 

Masks

Can I be directed to wear a face mask?

Yes, you can be directed to wear a face mask when at work if your employer, following consultation with you, considers it necessary to minimise the risk of you being exposed to the COVID-19 virus.  

The Australian Government Department of Health does not generally recommend the wearing of face masks by healthy people in the community. However, there may be occasions when it is recommended that the general public wear face masks where there is community transmission and physical distancing is difficult to maintain. The main benefit of wearing a mask is to protect other people. If the person wearing the mask is unknowingly infected, wearing a mask will also reduce the chance of them passing the virus on to others.

You can find information about the recommendations and directions about face masks from the Australian Government Department of Health and health authorities in your state or territory.

Your employer must provide you with training and instruction on how to wear, remove and dispose of the mask you are required to wear, including performing good hand hygiene (washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds) before fitting the mask and after taking it off. You must complete and comply with the training and instruction provided as far as reasonably practicable.  

You should talk with your employer if you have ongoing concerns or questions about the need to wear a face mask, including any suggestions for how your concerns might be alleviated. You can also seek advice from your health and safety representative or employee organisation. 

If your employer considers it necessary for you to wear a mask at the workplace, this will still need to be accompanied by other important control measures including good hygiene, environmental cleaning and physical distancing – keeping everyone at the workplace at least 1.5 metres physically apart. 

Can I be directed not to wear a mask?

Sometimes you may want to wear a mask even if it is an unnecessary control measure for your workplace. The Australian Government Department of Health does not generally recommend the wearing of face masks in the community. In many cases providing face masks as a measure against COVID-19 is recommended only for health care settings. However, there may be occasions when it is recommended that the general public wear face masks where there is community transmission and physical distancing is difficult to maintain.

You can be directed not to wear a mask at a workplace if it is lawful and reasonable for your employer to do so. This is determined on a case by case basis depending on the circumstances. However, if you are working in your own home and using your own masks, it would be unlikely that a direction not to wear a mask would be reasonable. Similarly, you are a frontline health worker, a direction of this kind would usually not be reasonable. 

This is a stressful time for all Australians, and you may want to wear a mask because you feel unsure or anxious about your health. You should discuss your concerns with your employer, your health and safety representative or employee organisation. It may be helpful to discuss the reasons why you want to wear a mask and the other effective control measures that your employer has put in place to minimise the risk of you being exposed to COVID-19.  If you are feeling your mental health is being impacted, you should also seek further support. 

What if I don’t want to wear a face mask?

If your employer has directed you to use a face mask and you have been consulted appropriately and provided with training and instruction, generally you must wear the face mask. 

Your employer will closely monitor the information provided nationally, and in your state or territory and ensure that any recommendations or directions in relation to the wearing of face masks are followed appropriately in the workplace.  You should talk with your employer about why you don’t want to wear a face mask. You can also seek advice from your health and safety representative or employee organisation. 

How do I put on, remove and dispose of a face mask?

If a face mask is going to be used at the workplace, your employer must provide you with instruction and training on how to use them safely. 

Instructions for effective use of a face mask will be provided by the manufacturer. You should always follow the instructions for use and storage of face masks. Disposable face masks should only be used once and then disposed of appropriately. They should also be replaced if they become soiled or damp. 

The manufacturer will provide details on how to put on and take off your face mask. If you do not have these, you can follow the instructions below. If you are also wearing gloves, you need to put your mask on before your gloves. 

The Australian Government Department of Health and the Victorian Government have issued guidance on cloth masks, including instructions on removal and cleaning.

How to put on a face mask

  1. Clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water (for a minimum of 20 seconds) or hand sanitiser before touching the mask or removing it from its packaging. Dry your hands and make sure you do not touch any surfaces (like opening a door) before you handle your mask. 

  1. Remove the mask from its packaging and make sure the mask has no obvious tears, holes or faults. Avoid touching the front of the mask.

  1. Identify the top of the mask (generally it has a stiff bendable edge that will mould to the shape of your nose) and the front of the mask (normally a mask is coloured on the front with the white side towards your face. 

  1. If your mask has ear loops hold the mask by the ear loops and place a loop around each ear. 
    If your mask has ties bring the mask to nose level and place the ties over the crown of your head and tie with a bow (leave the bottom set of ties at this time). 

  2. If your mask has a band hold the mask in your hands with the nose piece or top of the mask at your fingertips, the headbands will hang loosely below your hands, then bring the mask to your nose level and pull the top strap over your head to rest on the crown of your head, then pull the bottom strap all the way over your head to rest at the nape of your neck. 

  3. Pinch the stiff nose piece to the shape of your nose. 

  4. If your face mask has ties take the bottom ties (one in each hand) and tie at the nape of your neck with a bow. 

  1. Adjust the bottom of the mask over your mouth and under your chin. 

How to remove a face mask

  1. Clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water (for a minimum of 20 seconds) or hand sanitiser before touching the mask. Dry your hands and avoid touching the front of the mask. 

  2. If you are wearing gloves you should remove your gloves and wash your hands before removing your mask (see our information on gloves for how to remove your gloves). 

  3. Only touch the ear loops, ties or bands. 

  4. If your mask has ear loops hold both of the ear loops and gently lift and pull the mask away from you and away from your face. 

  5. If your mask has ties untie the bottom bow first (at the nape of your neck), then untie the top bow and pull the mask away from your face as the ties are loosened. 

  6. If your mask has bands lift the bottom strap over your head first, then pull the top strap over your head and pull the mask away from you and away from your face. 

  7. Appropriately dispose of the face mask (refer below).

  8. Clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water (for a minimum of 20 seconds) or hand sanitiser. 

How to dispose of a face mask

Unless contaminated, masks can be disposed of with the general waste, preferably a closed bin. A closed bin is a bin with a fitted lid. 

Where the mask is contaminated it should be disposed of in a closed bin, preferably one that does not need to be touched to place a contaminated mask inside. A bin with a foot pedal or other hands-free mechanism to open the lid would be appropriate. 

The bin for contaminated masks should contain two bin liners to ensure the waste is double bagged. Double bagging minimises any exposure to the person disposing of the waste.

A mask would be considered contaminated if it:

  • has been worn by a symptomatic worker or visitor to the workplace, or
  • has been worn by a close contact of a confirmed COVID case, or 
  • is visibly soiled or damp.  

Where a closed bin is not available, the contaminated mask should be placed in a sealed bag (e.g. a zip lock bag) before disposal into the bin. The sealed bag and a single bin liner are considered equivalent to double bagging.

It is important to follow good hand hygiene after removing and disposing of your mask. 

If you have a case of COVID-19 in the workplace, your state or territory health authority should provide you with advice on what you need to do in your workplace. Follow their instructions. 

For information about the disposal of masks in health care settings, you will need to refer to the Australian Government Department of Health and state and territory health authorities.

Can face masks that are past their shelf life date be used?

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) provides advice on surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

They recommend not using face masks that are past their shelf life. However, if there is low supply and high demand, masks can be used by if they are past their shelf life if: 

  • the ear loops, ties or bands are intact 
  • there are no signs of visible damage, and 
  • they can be fit tested. 

Infographic - Types and uses of face masks

Download as a PDF or JPEG Version.

Mental health

WHS laws apply to managing risks to psychological (mental) health too. You have a duty to take reasonable care of your own health and safety, and to not adversely affect the health and safety of others.  

You need to follow any reasonable policies or directions your employer has put in place in response to COVID-19. This includes if you are working from another location, such as working from home. 

See also our mental health information for employers for details about their duties under WHS laws.  

What causes psychological injury? What are psychosocial hazards?

A psychosocial hazard is anything in the design or management of work that causes stress. Stress is the physical, mental and emotional reaction a person has when we perceive the demands of their work exceed their ability or resources to cope. Work-related stress if prolonged or severe can cause both psychological and physical injury. Stress itself is not an injury. 

For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced and increased a range of psychosocial hazards in the workplace, at a time when a range of other non-work related psychosocial risks are also occurring (uncertainty about future employment, social isolation etc.).  

Psychosocial hazards arising from COVID-19 include: 

  • Exposure to physical hazards and poor environmental conditions 
    • concern about exposure to COVID-19 at work 
    • poor management of WHS risks, lack of equipment and resources, such as insufficient appropriate PPE 
    • exposure to poor conditions such as heat, cold or noise in temporary workplaces 
  • Exposure to violence, aggression, traumatic events and discrimination 
    • increased work-related violence, aggression and incivility from patients, customers and members of the public  
    • serious illness or death of colleagues or clients e.g. nursing home deaths due to COVID-19 
    • racism, discrimination or stigma stemming from COVID-19 
    • self-isolation as a result of suspected workplace exposure
  • Increased work demand 
    • increased workloads e.g. supermarket home delivery drivers doing more deliveries and longer hours  
    • increased time at work e.g. additional shifts as production moves 24/7 to meet increased demands  
    • increased workload e.g. because of increased cleaning requirements or reduction of workers in workplace due to physical distancing requirements 
    • work required to adjust to rapid change e.g. buying new equipment or setting up new procedures 
  • Low support and isolated work 
    • working from home or isolation from others due to physical distancing or isolation requirements results in feelings of not being supported 
    • reduction in number of workers at workplace completing physical tasks to maintain physical distancing requirements 
    • failure (perceived or real) of employers not implementing new policies and procedure to address new working arrangements 
  • Poor workplace relationships 
    • increased risk of workplace bullying, aggression and harassment as pandemic continues 
    • workplace racism, discrimination, or stigma, including towards those that have had COVID-19 or are perceived to be a greater risk to others 
    • deterioration of workplace relationships as competing demands lead to less regular and effective two-way communication 
    • decreased opportunity for workplace social connections and interactions 
  • Poor organisational change management 
    • lack of planning as a result of the pace of the pandemic 
    • continual restructures to address the effects of COVID-19 and a corresponding failure to provide information and training, consulting and communicating with or supporting workers (e.g. manufacturing companies making different products or redeploying staff to meet changes in demand) 
    • insufficient consideration of the potential WHS and performance impacts due to COVID-19 
  • Increased emotional distress 
    • limitations on workers offering the same assistance to colleagues or clients they normally would or witnessing others’ distress in situations where they can’t access their normal services or support e.g. a cancer ward in a hospital has restricted visitors to reduce the risk to patients. The nurses see their patients and family struggle with this isolation.  

I feel very anxious and stressed going to work, what should I do?

WHS laws cover risks to physical and psychological (mental) health. This is a stressful time for all Australians, and employers must do what is reasonably practicable to eliminate and reduce risks to workers and others at the workplace. 

Talk to your supervisor, health and safety representative (HSR) or human resources area about how risks in your workplace are being managed and risks that are causing you stress. Your employer must consult workers on risks and strategies to address them.  

Follow the policies and procedures your employers has put in place to manage the risks of COVID-19 such as good hygiene and physical distancing.  

Inform yourself of how you can help stop the spread – see also our information on COVID-19 or go to Department of Health’s COVID-19 information.   

A Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service, including information, online community forum and phone counselling service is being provided by Beyond Blue with funding from the Department of Health. 

Tips for managing stress from COVID-19:  

  • Talk to your supervisor, health and safety representative (HSR) or human resources area about anything in your work that is causing you stress 
  • Regularly check in with others about how you’re all going and maintain social connections where possible 
  • Stay informed with information from official sources and any information your employer puts out 
  • Engage with consultation on any risks to your psychological health and how these can be managed 
  • Access channels to support workplace mental health and wellbeing where appropriate, such as employee assistance programs. 

Non-work-related causes of stress

There are things that may cause you stress during COVID-19 which are not work related. Your employer doesn’t have a WHS duty for these things but if you feel comfortable discussing it with them they may be able to help you. For example, if you need to look after children or vulnerable family members you may be able to access flexible working arrangements such as changing your hours. 

By incorporating self-care activities into your regular routine, like going for a walk or socializing with friends, you give your body and mind time to rest, reset, and rejuvenate, so you can avoid or reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety. If your workplace has a mental health and wellbeing support program such as an employee assistance program you can also access these for support. Find more tips on the Black Dog Institute website

A Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service, including information, online community forum and phone counselling service is also being provided by Beyond Blue with funding from the Department of Health.  

How can risks to psychological health be managed?

Your employer should manage psychosocial risks in the same way as physical risks. See also our information on managing the physical risks of coronavirus and other WHS risks including work-related violence. 

The Infographic: Four steps to preventing psychological injury at work shows how the risk management process is applied to psychosocial risks and detailed guidance is available in Safe Work Australia's Guide: Work-related psychological health and safety: A systematic approach to meeting your duties.

Eliminating or minimising the physical risks will also help to manage many psychological risks.  

A Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service, including information, online community forum and phone counselling service is being provided by Beyond Blue with funding from the Department of Health.  

Other resources and support

Visit the following sites for information on caring for mental health: 

Non-WHS information and support 

You can also visit the following sites for information on caring for your mental health: 

Physical distancing

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.

 

PPE

Personal protective equipment (PPE) refers to anything used or worn to minimise risk to worker health and safety. It can be used to supplement the other control measures put in place at your workplace to protect against COVID-19. Your employer must apply a range of control measures in your workplace, suchas good hygiene measures, physical distancing, environmental cleaning and providing workers with information and training. They cannot only use PPE.

Common PPE that can be used to protect against COVID-19 include: 

  • masks 
  • gloves 
  • eye protection, and 
  • screens. 

The type of PPE your employer might provide will depend on your workplace and the outcomes of their risk assessment and consultation. 

The use of some types of masks, gowns and disposable suits is restricted to health care settings. It is not recommended that these types of PPE are used outside of health care to protect against COVID-19. More information about using these PPE in health care can be found on the Australian Government Department of Health website. 

The type of PPE your employer might provide will depend on your workplace and outcomes of their risk assessment and consultation. 

Some states and territories have issued directions about wearing face masks in public and other specific settings. This is based on the local situation. It is important that you keep up to date with recommendations and directions about the wearing of PPE that apply nationally, and in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace. 

Eye protection 

Eye protection, in the form of safety glasses, goggles or a face shield, can be used as PPE for protecting against the risks of COVID-19.  

Eye protection can assist to act as a physical barrier from droplet spray and prevent unintentional rubbing of eyes between hand washing. Eye protection may be necessary for workers who are in close proximity to droplet spray, for example health workers, police, corrections and security work. However, for many workplaces, eye protection will not be a required control measure. 

Good hygiene practices should be followed if eye protection is used.   

More information about using eye protection in health care settings can be found on the Australian Government Department of Health website. 

Does my employer need to provide me with PPE?

Your employer must provide you with appropriate PPE, and information and training on how and why you are required to use it. 

PPE used at a workplace must be:

  • selected to minimise risk to work health and safety
  • suitable for the nature of the work and any hazard associated with the work
  • a suitable size and fit and reasonably comfortable for the person wearing it.

Some states and territories have issued directions about wearing face masks in public and other specific settings. This is based on the local situation. It is important that you keep up to date with recommendations and directions about the wearing of PPE that apply nationally, and in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace. 

Relying only on PPE will not protect you from the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Your employer must consider a range of control measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, including good hygiene measures, physical distancing (keeping everyone at the workplace at least 1.5 metres physically apart), cleaning and disinfecting and providing workers with information and training.   

For further information about PPE including additional employer obligations, go to the personal protective equipment webpage. 

Does my employer need to consult me about PPE?

Yes. Your employer must consult with you about the possible control measures they will put in place in response to the risks of COVID-19. Following consultation, if your employer chooses to provide you with PPE, they must provide you with appropriate information, instruction and training on its use. This includes how to wear the PPE safely and correctly, how to store the items safely, how to dispose of single-use items and how to clean re-usable items.

You should refer to the manufacturer’s instructions provided with the PPE for correct use, storage, maintenance and when to replace PPE. 

Information on how to dispose of PPE can be found below. Information on cleaning reusable PPE can be found in our cleaning guide

For more information on consulting with your employer, see our consultation information.

How do I dispose of PPE?

Unless contaminated, disposable PPE can be disposed of with the general waste, preferably a closed bin. A closed bin is a bin with a fitted lid. 

Where the PPE is contaminated it should be disposed of in a closed bin, preferably one that does not need to be touched to place contaminated PPE inside. A bin with a foot pedal or other hands-free mechanism to open the lid would be appropriate. 

The bin for contaminated PPE should contain two bin liners to ensure the waste is double bagged. Double bagging minimises any exposure to the person disposing of the waste.

PPE would be considered contaminated if:

  • it has been worn by a symptomatic worker or visitor to the workplace
  • it has been worn by a close contact of a confirmed COVID case
  • the PPE has been in contact with a potentially contaminated surface, or
  • it is visibly soiled or damp (e.g. face masks).

Where a closed bin is not available, the contaminated PPE should be placed in a sealed bag before disposal into the bin. The sealed bag and a single bin liner are considered equivalent to double bagging. 

It is important to follow good hand hygiene after removing and disposing of your PPE. Hands should be cleaned thoroughly with soap and water (for a minimum of 20 seconds) or hand sanitiser. 

If you have a case of COVID-19 in the workplace, your state or territory health authority should provide you with advice on what you need to do in your workplace. Follow their instructions. 

For information about the disposal of PPE in health care settings, you will need to refer to the Australian Government Department of Health  and state and territory health authorities.

Does my employer need to install a screen in my workplace?

Perspex screens (also known as sneeze guards) may be beneficial where workers are in close proximity for long periods. For example, where two workers work side by side or back to back for a shift. The current  Australian Government advice is that it is not necessary to install a screen between workers and the public (customers) as the interaction time between them is shorter. However, many businesses have chosen to protect workers by installing these screens including retail stores, pharmacies and doctor’s surgeries. 

Whether a perspex screen should be installed in your workplace must be determined on a case by case basis. You should speak with your employer or health and safety representative if you think a screen should be installed in your workplace. 

Resources and support

It is normal to feel stressed during this time. Talk to your employer about your concerns as they may have an employee assistance program that can help you.  

You can also contact the following services:  

Other information and services to help you if you’re affected by COVID-19 

Fair Work Ombudsman

WHS regulator and workers’ compensation authority contacts 

General state and territory COVID-19 information 

Tertiary education COVID-19 information

Commonwealth

Victoria

New South Wales

South Australia

Queensland

Western Australia

Tasmania

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

 

Risk assessment

Your employer must take a planned and systematic approach to identify and manage health and safety risks to meet their WHS duties and keep you healthy and safe at work.

To do this, your employer will need to undertake a risk assessment that involves considering what could happen if someone is exposed to a hazard (for example, COVID-19) and the likelihood of it happening.  As part of the process, your employer must consult with you and other workers to determine what control measures should be put in place in your workplace.

A risk assessment will help your employer to determine:

  • how severe a risk is
  • whether any existing control measures are effective
  • what action they should take to control the risk, and
  • how urgently the action needs to be taken.

A risk assessment will also assist your employer to:

  • identify which workers are at risk of exposure to COVID-19
  • determine what sources and processes are causing the risk
  • identify if and what kind of control measures should be implemented, and
  • check the effectiveness of existing control measures.

What are the steps to doing a risk assessment?

This risk management process is illustrated by the four steps in the diagram below. For information on how your employer should undertake a risk assessment, see the content under the employer tab. You can also read more about the risk assessment process in the model Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks. The model Code provides practical guidance about how to manage WHS risks through a risk assessment process.

The risk management process
Figure 1. The risk management process

I have some health issues. Will my employer have to take my personal situation into account when doing a risk assessment?

Yes. Some workers are at greater risk of more serious illness with COVID-19 and your employer must take this into account as part of the risk assessment process. See also our information on vulnerable workers.

Does my employer have to consult me when they do a risk assessment?

Yes. Your employer must consult with you and any health and safety representatives at each step of the risk management process. Your experience, knowledge and ideas will assist your employer to identify all hazards and choose effective control measures. See also our information on Consultation. 
 

Training

The model WHS laws include requirements for workers to complete specified training and assessment before they can undertake certain work or roles, including: 

  • First aid training 
  • Health and Safety Representative (HSR) training 
  • Construction Induction training (i.e. White Card) 
  • High Risk Work training and assessment  
  • Asbestos Assessment or Removal training, and 
  • WHS entry Permit Holder training.  

The COVID-19 pandemic is significantly impacting the ability of Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) to deliver face-to-face training. Although WHS laws do not specify how training must be delivered, in practice, most WHS regulators require training be delivered ‘face-to-face’.  

To address training impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, WHS regulators have agreed national guidance on WHS training and assessment, including delivery methods.  

Changes in training delivery methods have been agreed for First Aid training, HSR training and Construction Induction (White Card) training. 

No changes have been made to High Risk Work training and assessment, Asbestos Assessment or Removal training and WHS Entry Permit Holder training. Training and assessment must still be completed face-to-face, acknowledging this may not be possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

How can training be delivered?

Changes in training delivery methods have been agreed for First Aid training, HSR training and Construction Induction (White Card) training. 

First aid training

No compliance action will be taken by WHS regulators in relation to the first aid training requirements in regulation 42 of the model WHS Regulations where first aid training is not available because of COVID-19. 

The Australian Industry Skills Council has also released guidance on the delivery of first aid training

Health and Safety Representative (HSR) training

HSR training may be delivered via Connected real-time delivery.   

Construction Induction (White Card) training

White Card training may be delivered via Connected real-time delivery. Tasmania will continue to allow online delivery of White Card training. In Western Australia (WA), Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) are required to deliver White Card training consistent with the Standards for Registered Training Organisations 2015 (Standards). During the COVID-19 pandemic, provided RTOs deliver White Card training to candidates located in WA in accordance with the Standards, there is no need to apply to WorkSafe WA in relation to connected real-time delivery. 

RTOs may be required to apply for and obtain WHS regulator approval to deliver training via the connected real-time delivery method. Guidance for RTO proposals for connected real-time delivery can be found in fact sheet General Construction Induction (White card) Training – Guidance for RTO proposals for connected real-time delivery.  

What is “connected real-time delivery”? 

  • Live video streaming/conferencing using platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Teams  
  • Involves real-time interaction between learner and trainer  
  • Provides for active participation of learners and trainers  
  • Verification of learner Evidence of Identity (EOI) can be done one-on-one (or face to face) via video conference  
  • Direct observation or verbal assessment can be undertaken for all assessment components.  

Are there limitations on delivery of connected real-time training?

Training must involve real-time interactions between the learner and trainer and must include one-on-one (or face-to-face) training and assessment interaction. The training must not: 

  • be delivered entirely via an online learning management system through portals 
  • include a pre-training requirement 
  • include self-paced learning  
  • include pre-recorded trainer videos or teaching course content including educational videos showing workplaces (e.g. construction sites).  

What about delivery methods for the remaining training and assessment?

There will be no change to the delivery method for the following:  

  • High Risk Work training and assessment, 
  • Asbestos assessment or removal training, and 
  • WHS entry permit holder training.  

Training and assessment for these courses must be completed face-to-face, which may not be possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Will all WHS regulators follow the agreed positions on training delivery methods?

The Commonwealth, state and territory WHS regulators are responsible for enforcing compliance with WHS training and assessment in their own jurisdiction.  

Although national positions on the delivery of WHS training have been reached, some minor administrative variations may still exist between WHS regulators. You should contact your WHS regulator if you have any questions regarding the delivery of WHS training and assessment. If your business operates in more than one jurisdiction, you may need to contact more than one WHS regulator.  

Find contact details for the WHS regulators

Is it possible agreed training delivery methods may be revisited or change?

Yes. WHS regulators will continue to consult and adapt to changing circumstances based on Government directives and Health advice.  

Vulnerable workers

Some people are at greater risk of more serious illness with COVID-19:  

  • 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 

These categories may increase or vary depending on the latest evidence. See Department of Health website for further information.   

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee advice is that there is limited evidence at this time regarding the risk in pregnant women and so, at present, pregnant women are not included on the vulnerable workers list. 

What to do

You should follow the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee for vulnerable people in the workplace.  

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee advises that: 

  • Where vulnerable workers undertake essential work, a risk assessment must be undertaken. Risk needs to be assessed and mitigated with consideration of the characteristics of the worker, the workplace and the work. This includes ensuring vulnerable people are redeployed to non-customer-based roles where possible. Where risk cannot be appropriately mitigated, employers and workers should consider alternate arrangements to accommodate a workplace absence. 

I am a vulnerable person. Do I have to stop working?

Not necessarily. To ensure your safety in the workplace, your employer must first conduct a risk assessment taking into account your specific characteristics, the nature of your workplace and the type of work you do. For example, if your job involves extensive interaction and contact with other people, your employer may require you to perform a different role not involving close contact with other people during the pandemic or to work from home. 

If your employer is unable to appropriately minimise the risk of you contracting COVID-19, they will need to consider other options in consultation with you to arrange your absence from the workplace, including paid leave. 

I am a vulnerable person. Will my job need to change?

Not necessarily. If your job involves frequent interaction with the public or extended close contact with co-workers your employer may consider if it is possible for you to perform your current role in a different way, for example, working from home. They may also talk to you about performing a different role at this time if that would eliminate or minimise any close contact with others. 

Your employer must consult with you about any new arrangements and allow you to express your preferences and any concerns. The Model Code of Practice: Work Health and Safety Consultation, Cooperation and Coordination contains more information about what your employer must do to consult with you. 

If you are a vulnerable person working in a role where the risks of contracting COVID-19 can be minimised, taking into account all the relevant circumstances, your job may not need to change. However, your employer will require you to take all necessary precautions to keep yourself safe such as maintaining good hygiene and not coming to work if you are unwell. 

I am a vulnerable person. Can my employer require me to take leave during the COVID-19 pandemic?

There is no automatic requirement for you to have to take leave from your workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, your employer must identify and manage risks to your health and safety at the workplace and consider if your job increases your risk of exposure to the virus. For example, your employer may explore the option for you to work from home or talk with you about moving into a different role during the pandemic. 

If the risks to your health and safety at the workplace cannot be effectively managed, your employer may consult with you about alternate arrangements such as taking leave. 

Your employer must allow you to continue to access available entitlements, including leave, under the relevant enterprise agreement, award, contracts of employment and workplace policies. If you are unsure of your workplace entitlements, you can contact the Fair Work Ombudsman

Work-related violence

Work-related violence and aggression can be any incident where a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. 

Work-related violence and aggression may include: 

  • physical assault such as biting, scratching, hitting, kicking, pushing, grabbing, throwing objects 
  • intentionally coughing or spitting on someone 
  • sexual assault or any other form of indecent physical contact, and 
  • harassment or aggressive behaviour that creates a fear of violence, such as stalking, verbal threats and abuse, yelling and swearing and can be in person, by phone, email or online. 

Violence and aggression might come from your customers or clients. But it can also come from other workers or businesses your work with. It could also come from family and domestic violence if this affects a worker while working (including working from home).  

If you are experiencing family and domestic violence, please go to the Family and domestic violence information.  

Racial discrimination may also increase in the form of individual acts of aggression, or collective forms such as targeting a group of workers of a particular nationality or ethnicity.    

There may also be stigma around, and the potential for violence or aggression towards, people who have had COVID-19, or those who seem to be acting inconsistently with public health requirements.   

WHS duties

Your employer has a duty to ensure that workers and others are not exposed to risks to their health and safety, including from violence and aggression in the workplace. Your employer must eliminate or minimise these risks as much as they reasonably can. 

You also have a duty to take reasonable care of your own health and safety, and not adversely affect the health and safety of yourself or others. This includes following any reasonable instruction given by your employer to comply with a health and safety duty. 

Managing the risks of work-related violence

Your workplace should have measures in place to ensure the health and safety of workers and customers from work-related violence and aggression. Go to the Employer tab for more information. 

However, your workplace might also introduce new measures or make changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts this has had on your workplace or business operations. While there may not have been a violent incident in your workplace before, the risks may have increased due to the unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

You employer must identify and manage these risks and they must consult with you in doing so. You are most likely to know about the risks of your work and can help identify situations where there is a risk of violent behaviour.  

You should tell your employer about these situations so they can put the appropriate measures in place to manage risks to your health and safety.  

Responding to incidents of violence and aggression

How you respond to work-related violence and aggression will vary depending on the nature and severity of the incident. 

You should be trained in what to do during a violent incident, such as: 

  • use calm verbal and non-verbal communication  
  • use verbal de-escalation and distraction techniques  
  • seek support from other workers  
  • ask the aggressor to leave the premises or disconnect the aggressor from the phone call
  • set off a duress alarm, if available  
  • alert security personnel or the police  
  • retreat to a safe location.  

Immediately after a violent incident, you should:  

  • ensure that everyone is safe  
  • provide first aid or urgent medical attention where necessary  
  • seek support where required, including psychological support  
  • report what happened, who was affected and who was involved. 

You can report your concerns about violent or aggressive behaviour at your workplace to your supervisor, human resources area, or the person designated by your organisation. You can also get advice from your employee assistance program if you have one. 

Further information and resources 

For further information: 

Workers' compensation

As a national policy body, Safe Work Australia does not have a role in determining a worker’s coverage or eligibility for benefits in workers’ compensation schemes, or for managing workers’ compensation claims and return to work programs for injured workers. All workers’ compensation arrangements are the responsibility of the Commonwealth, and each state and territory (jurisdictions). 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, workers’ compensation authorities across the jurisdictions are providing additional information for workers, employers, medical and health practitioners and others. 

For general guidance relating to your jurisdiction or advice on your particular circumstances, please refer to the information provided by your workers’ compensation authority. Seek specific advice from that authority if further information is needed. See workers’ compensation authorities for details.

Am I covered by workers’ compensation if I get COVID-19? 

You may be. 

Workers’ compensation arrangements differ across jurisdictions, however generally to be eligible for compensation a worker will need to: 

  • be covered by their workers’ compensation scheme, either as an employee or a deemed worker, 
  • have contracted the COVID-19 virus out of or in the course of their employment. 

It may be difficult to establish the time and place of your contraction of COVID-19 and therefore its connection to your employment.  

In some industries (e.g. health care), and in some circumstances (e.g. in the course of your employment you travelled to a high-risk area) it will be easier to establish a connection between your employment and the contraction of COVID-19.  

Your workers’ compensation authority will determine whether you are covered by their scheme and if the contraction of COVID-19 was adequately connected to their employment. They will consider each claim on its merits, with regard to the individual circumstances and evidence. 

Am I covered by workers’ compensation if I am injured while working from home? 

If you sustain an injury while working from home, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation. 

Workers’ compensation arrangements differ across jurisdictions, however generally to be eligible for compensation a worker would need to: 

  • be covered by their workers’ compensation scheme, either as an employee or a deemed worker, 
  • have an injury or illness of a kind covered by the scheme, that arose out of or in the course of their employment. 

Your workers’ compensation authority will determine whether you are covered by their scheme and your injury or illness was adequately connected to your employment. They will consider each claim on its merits, with regard to the individual circumstances and evidence. 

Am I covered by workers’ compensation if I lose my job due to my workplace closing? 

Workers’ compensation does not compensate a worker for the loss of a job due to COVID-19 related workplace closures.  

Workers’ compensation arrangements differ across jurisdictions, however generally to be eligible for compensation a worker will need to: 

  • be covered by their workers’ compensation scheme, either as an employee or a deemed worker, 
  • have an injury or illness of a kind covered by the scheme, that arose out of or in the course of their employment. 

If you have an existing workers’ compensation claim and your workplace closes, you and your employer should refer to information provided by, and seek advice from, your workers’ compensation authority about your particular circumstances. See workers’ compensation authorities for details.

Other financial support may be available to you if you have lost your job. Refer to the Australian Government’s Economic Response to the Coronavirus and also go to Staying informed about COVID-19 for links to other sources of information such as Services Australia and the Australian Tax Office. 

Will my existing workers’ compensation claim and return to work arrangements change due to COVID-19? 

It is possible that COVID-19 restrictions may impact aspects of your recovery and return to work.  

You and your employer should refer to information provided by, and seek advice from, your workers’ compensation authority on your particular circumstances. See workers’ compensation authorities for details.

What other support is available for me? 

Individuals may be eligible for financial support. Refer to the Australian Government’s Economic Response to the Coronavirus and also go to Staying informed about COVID-19 for links to other sources of information such as Department of Health, Services Australia, and the Australian Tax Office. 

Workers' rights

You are entitled to: 

  • elect a health and safety representative (HSR) if you wish to be represented by one 
  • request the formation of a health and safety committee 
  • cease unsafe work in certain circumstances 
  • have health and safety issues at the workplace resolved in accordance with an agreed issue resolution procedure, and 
  • not be discriminated against for raising health and safety issues. 

Health and safety representatives (HSR) 

You can ask your employer to facilitate the election of one or more HSRs for the workplace.  

An HSR is elected by a work group (e.g. all workers in the office part of a manufacturing complex, or all people on the night shift) to represent the health and safety interests of the work group. An HSR must be a member of the work group they represent). There can be as many HSRs and deputy HSRs as needed after consultation, negotiation and agreement between workers and the PCBU.  

Your employer must keep a current list of all HSRs and deputy HSRs for the workplace and display a copy. A list must also be provided to the WHS regulator. 

Right to stop work

In some circumstances, workers, or their HSRs have the right to refuse to carry out or stop unsafe work. They have this right if there is a reasonable concern that the worker will be exposed to a serious risk to their health and safety from an immediate or imminent hazard. This could include exposure to the COVID-19 virus.   

If you stop work because it is unsafe, you need to tell your employer as soon as possible. You must also then be available to carry out suitable alternative work, including doing other tasks that you are trained or able to do, or performing your work from another location, such as working from home. 

In most circumstances, your HSR will need to consult with your employer before they direct you to, and you can, stop work.  

Right not to be discriminated against

You should raise any concerns you have about work health and safety (WHS) in your workplace with your employer – including in relation to the COVID-19 virus. Your employer can not discriminate against or disadvantage you for raising work health and safety concerns in the workplace.  

Your employer also cannot discriminate against or disadvantage HSRs in the workplace for performing their HSR role.  

Who can help?

If you feel you have been discriminated against for raising a WHS issue, or because of your role as an HSR, please contact your WHS regulator or the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94. 

If you are a member of a trade union or employee association, they may also be able to help you.

If you feel you have been discriminated against on other grounds, you may prefer to raise your concerns with the Australian Human Rights Commission on 1300 656 419 or your relevant state or territory anti-discrimination body. 

Working from home

The nature of the work involved in your industry may impact your ability to access working from home arrangements, as well as how these arrangements are set up. If you are unsure how the information below applies to you, talk to your employer or contact your WHS regulator. 

The model WHS laws still apply if workers work somewhere other than their usual workplace, for example, from home.

To support you while working from home your employer, in consultation with you and your representatives should:

  • identify work health and safety risks and appropriate control measures
  • allow you to borrow any necessary work station equipment from the office to take to the home as agreed 
  • require you to familiarise yourself and comply with workplace policy and procedures, for example by having a workstation self-assessment checklist that includes how to set up your computer workstation. If you identify any issues or concerns when completing the checklist, you should discuss these with your employer
  • provide you with a health and safety checklist to use to ensure you have a safe work space
  • maintain regular communication with you and your co-workers 
  • provide access to information and support for mental health and wellbeing services (Beyondblue has a freely available website, or your employer may provide an employee assistance program (EAP) you can access), and
  • appoint a contact person in the business that you and your co-workers can talk to about any concerns related to working from home

Your employer must consult with you, other affected workers and any HSRs on working from home arrangements. 

You also have a duty as a worker to take care of your own health and safety and follow reasonable health and safety policies, procedures and instructions put in place by your employer. This may include:

  • following procedures about how the work is performed
  • following instructions on how to use the equipment provided by the workplace
  • maintaining a safe work environment (for example moving furniture to allow adequate workspace and providing adequate lighting, repairing broken steps)
  • keeping equipment safe, well maintained and in good order
  • looking after your own in-home safety (for example maintaining electrical equipment, keeping a first aid kit and installing and maintaining smoke alarms)

You must also advise your employer of any risks that you are aware of that arise from you home working environment. These risks could be physical risks, like poor lighting, or psychosocial risks, like long working hours, high work demands and reduced support from managers and colleagues. 

Any WHS issues raised with your employer must be resolved in accordance with the WHS issue resolution process in your workplace. Further information about consultation and dispute resolution can be found in the Model Code of Practice: WHS consultation, cooperation and coordination and the Worker Representation and Participation Guide.

Can I work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, has advised that workers should work from home wherever and whenever they can. You should also check the latest advice from official sources in your state or territory regarding working from home in response to COVID-19.

Whether working from home is a reasonably practicable measure at your workplace will depend on the specifics of the work you do, the facilities available for you to work remotely and the ability for you to do your work effectively and safely from home.

Under the model WHS laws, your employer has a duty of care for the health and safety of workers and others at your workplace. This duty extends to identifying and managing the risks of exposure to the COVID-19 virus and putting appropriate controls in place.  

If work can be completed at home, and the risks that arise from working remotely can be effectively managed, your employer may determine that encouraging or directing you to work from home is the best way to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

In assessing whether you should be working from home, your employer must take into account that vulnerable people are, or are likely to be, at higher risk of serious illness if they contract COVID-19. Vulnerable people include: 

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years and older with one or more chronic medical conditions
  • people 65 years and older with chronic medical conditions. Conditions included in the definition of ‘chronic medical conditions’ will be refined as more evidence emerges. 
  • people 70 years and older, and
  • people with compromised immune systems.

As public health conditions change, any working from home arrangement your employer put in place in response to COVID-19 may also vary. 

As with all work health and safety matters, employers must consult with you and any elected HSRs in relation to returning to the normal workplace.  

Mental health risks and working from home

The COVID-19 pandemic is a stressful and uncertain time for all Australians. Working from home, particularly for the first time, can create additional risks to psychological health.

The WHS duties apply to both physical and psychological (mental) health. This means that employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure the mental health of their workers and protect their workers from psychological risks. 

Working from home can have psychological risks that are different to the risks in an office or your regular workplace. A psychosocial hazard is anything in the design or management of work that causes stress. Some psychosocial hazards that may impact your mental health while working from home include:

  • being isolated from managers, colleagues and support networks
  • less support, for example workers may feel they don’t have the normal support they receive from their supervisor or manager
  • changes to work demand, for example the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and a move to working at home may create higher workloads for some workers and reduced workloads for others
  • low job control
  • fatigue
  • poor environmental conditions, for example an ergonomically unsound work station or high noise levels, and
  • poor organisational change management, for example workers may feel they haven’t been consulted about the changes to their work.

Working from home may also impact your mental health in other ways, such as from changed family demands. For example, home schooling children who are learning from home, relationship strain or family and domestic violence.

More information is available about managing mental health risks on the Safe Work Australia website.

How can I take care of my mental health while working from home?

The mental health of workers either directly or indirectly affected by COVID-19 is an important consideration. Some people may be struggling to deal with feelings of uncertainty, stress and anxiety, and others may be adjusting to self-isolation or working from home.

While self-isolation and working from home is an important measure that many workers and workplaces are taking to slow the spread of COVID-19, these measures can also lead to feelings of loneliness.

Workers have a duty to take reasonable care of their health and safety, including their psychological health and safety. Where possible, you must follow reasonable instructions from your employer on health and safety matters.

Some strategies that may help you to look after your mental health while working from home include:

  • keeping a routine, such as by having regular start and finish times and taking regular breaks
  • setting boundaries between your work and home life, for example setting aside a work area in part of your house, wearing ‘work clothes’ when you are working, discussing boundaries with the people you live with
  • taking care of your mental and physical health outside of work, such as by getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising regularly, staying connected to family and friends (in line with physical distancing requirements), spending time outside, reducing your alcohol intake
  • staying connected with your managers and co-workers, for example scheduling regular team meetings via phone, email or videoconferencing, and
  • identifying and minimising distractions in your home.

You should contact your employer if you start feeling stressed or that your mental health is being negatively impacted by your work from home arrangement. Your employer has a duty to ensure your psychological health just like your physical health while you are working so they need to be aware if something is stressing you or you have any concerns. 

Some organisations engage organisations to provide Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). If your organisation has an EAP it may be appropriate to contact them to discuss your situation. Your workplace EAP may be able to provide you with useful information and strategies to assist you. 

Further resources

Who is responsible for ensuring that I have a safe workstation set up when working from home?

Under the model WHS laws, employers have a duty of care for the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace. This includes working from home arrangements.

Workers also have a duty to take care for their own health and safety, which includes while working from home, and must follow any reasonable policies or directions their employer gives them. 

This means employers and workers both share responsibility for ensuring a safe workstation set up. 

Employers should:

  • provide you with information on how to identify and address common risks associated with working from home. Information may include guidance on what is a safe home office environment, what a suitable computer station set up looks like with equipment available, and why keeping active when working from home is important for health and wellbeing
  • provide a workstation self-assessment checklist for you to complete, and
  • consider allowing you to borrow equipment, such as chairs, monitors, keyboards and mouses, from the office or reimburse them reasonable costs for purchasing any required equipment.

You must follow reasonable policies or directions of your employer. This may include completing workstation checklists and following any other reasonable safety policies and directions given to you by your employer. As with any other work environment, you must inform your employer of any work-related incidents or injuries that occur while working at home and you are encouraged to report health and safety concerns to your employer and HSR.

How do I set up a workstation at home?

When working from home, the model WHS laws still apply. Just as in the office, your workstation must be set up in a way that is safe, comfortable and easy to use. 

A workstation that is set up incorrectly can create poor postures leading to injury and eye strain. The length of time that you sit in these postures also adds to the risk for injury and health problems associated with long periods of sitting.

What you need to do to set up a safe workstation depends on the work you do, your environment and your individual needs. You have a duty to take care for your own health and safety while working from home and must follow any reasonable policies or directions your employer gives you about setting up your home-based workstation. You should also refer to any relevant advice from the WHS regulator in your state or territory.

If you have concerns about the safety of your home workstation set up, talk to your employer or your HSR. Your employer has a duty to manage any health and safety risks that arise out of your workstation set up, as far as is reasonably practicable.

You may find Safe Work Australia’s - How do I set up a workstation at home guide helpful. This resource includes a checklist of tasks and activities to consider when setting up your workstation.

Am I entitled to equipment to enable me to work safely from home? 

To make sure you have a safe workstation set-up, your employer may allow you to borrow equipment, such as chairs, monitors, keyboards and mouses, from the office or they may offer to reimburse you reasonable costs for purchasing any required equipment. 

You should discuss these options with your employer or consult your workplace policy about working from home. If you require equipment, you should discuss what equipment is needed with your employer to safely carry out your work. 

If your employer is unable to be satisfied that a safe workstation can be created at your home, it may not be reasonably practicable for you to work from home. In these circumstances, alternative arrangements may need to be made. This could include setting up a safe office space for you in the office and/or establishing flexible work hours to minimise contact between you and other workers in the office.

I am working from home and caring for, and educating, my school aged children who are unable to attend school. What can I do to ensure that I balance my work life, with my family life, and ensure that I take breaks and work reasonable hours? 

Good communication between employers and their workers is especially important when workers are working from home. You should ensure that you are aware of any working from home and carers policies that relate to your workplace including, for example, flexible work arrangements. You may also wish to discuss your entitlements to caring and other leave with your employer and flexibility in working hours where possible. Further information on leave entitlements is available on the Fair Work Ombudsman website

You may also find Comcare’s information sheet for parents and carers helpful.

I am finding working from home stressful and it is negatively impacting my mental health. What should I do and where can I find support?

Good communication with your employer and colleagues is especially important when you are working from home. You should share any concerns that you have about your working from home arrangement with your employer as they may be able to assist. 

Some organisations engage organisations to provide Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). If your organisation has an EAP it may be appropriate to contact them to discuss your situation. Your workplace EAP may be able to provide you with useful information and strategies to assist you. 

There are a range of resources available to workers to support workers' mental health. These include:

There are also a number of other practical steps that can help. These include:

  • maintaining daily communication with colleagues
  • staying informed with information from official sources and sharing relevant information with other workers 
  • accessing flexible work arrangements, where available, and
  • effectively disengaging from work and logging off at the end of the day.

It is also open to you to discuss with your employer whether it is an option for you to return to your usual workplace. 

You can also call the National Coronavirus Helpline for information and advice about COVID-19 on 1800 020 080.

I have contracted COVID-19 while working from home, what should I do? 

If you have been found to have COVID-19 you must follow the health advice provided by your treating clinician and public health authority. You should also notify your employer of your circumstances as soon as practicable, even if you have been working from home. 

You will need to discuss personal leave arrangements with your employer, if necessary, and may be asked to inform your employer if you have been in contact with any other workers while you were infectious.

You must not return to the workplace until you provide advice that you are fit for work. If you have COVID-19 but are asymptomatic whether you can continue to work from home will be something to discuss with your treating clinician. Your employer will likely require that you provide medical certification to return to work, in accordance with the latest health requirements.

If you have not been confirmed as having contracted COVID-19, and rather you have been in quarantine for the required 14 days (due to contact with a confirmed case, or returning from overseas travel), you should not need to provide evidence that you have tested negative for COVID-19 in order to return to work, following the 14 day quarantine. 

When can I return to the workplace?

When you will be allowed to return the workplace will depend on current Government advice, including about physical distancing requirements at workplaces, and advice from your employer about when it is safe to do so. Your employer may implement measures to ensure a safe transition back to the workplace. This may include measures to maintain appropriate physical distancing, in line with the latest Government advice. 

If your workplace is open to access by workers, and you are having difficulties adjusting to working from home, you should consult with your employer about whether you can undertake work from your workplace. Whether this option is available for your workplace will depend on the physical distancing requirements for your workplace, as well as your workplace’s policy for managing workers to work from home or the office during COVID-19.  

I like working from home, can I keep doing it?

Whether you will need to return to your usual place of work after a period of working from home will depend on a number of factors, including any working from home policies that apply.

As public health conditions change, working from home arrangements made by your employer in response to COVID-19 may change. 

Your employer must consult with you about returning to the workplace and ensure return to work arrangements are consistent with public health requirements. Your employer must also consider the risks to workers when they return to their usual workplace and, in consultation with you and your representatives, how to eliminate and control those risks.

Beyond work health and safety considerations there are a range of flexible working arrangements that employers and workers can explore together that may suit their individual needs and circumstances. More information is available about workplace rights and responsibilities in relation to the COVID-19 virus on the Fair Work Ombudsmen Coronavirus and Australian Workplace Laws webpage. 

Where can workers get more information on working from home?

Comcare

New South Wales

Queensland

Victoria

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

Western Australia

Family Violence Resources (not COVID-19 specific)