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.