Physical distancing (also referred to as ‘social distancing’) refers to the requirement that people distance themselves from others. The current advice from the Department of Health is that everyone must keep at least 1.5 metres apart from others (outside of their family unit) where possible. In addition, in a given space, there must be a 4 square metres of space per person where possible.
Why is physical distancing important?
Physical distancing is necessary because the most likely way of catching the virus is by breathing in micro-droplets from another person sneezing, coughing, or exhaling. By ensuring there is 4 square metres of space per person and maintaining a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres from others where possible, you will reduce the likelihood of exposure to micro-droplets of others.
Current health advice is that everyone, including people at workplaces, must implement physical distancing measures wherever possible. For information on the measures your employer should be implementing, see our employer information for your industry.
What if I cannot always maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres?
You may have to work closer than 1.5 metres from co-workers or others (e.g. clients) because of the nature of the task or because it is required for health and safety reasons. For example, if you are a:
- mechanic in a service pit
- removalist moving furniture, or
- a plumber and an apprentice working in a small bathroom.
Working in close contact with others increases your risk of being exposed to COVID-19. In these situations, your employer may consider delaying the task or seek to modify the task. Your employer must consult with you and relevant health and safety representatives on how to perform the work task safely, including where maintaining a physical distance of 1.5 metres is not possible.
For example, if close contact with others is unavoidable, your employer may implement other control measures such as:
- minimising the number of people within an area at any time
- staggering start, finish and break times where appropriate
- moving work tasks to different areas of the workplace or off-site if possible
- if possible, separating workers into dedicated teams and have them work the same shift or work in a particular area
- providing dedicated teams their own meal areas or break facilities where possible, and
- ensuring each worker has their own equipment or tools.
For information on the measures your employer should be implementing, see our employer information for your industry.
When working in close contact with others, you must practise good hygiene by washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or by using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser (with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol as the active ingredient).
Does my employer need to provide me with personal protective equipment if I am required to work in close contact with others?
You must comply with physical distancing requirements where possible. In circumstances where the nature of the task requires you to be in close contact with others, your employer must put control measures in place that minimise the time you spend with other persons.
If the nature of your work task is such that even with additional control measures in place, you will either be:
- face to face with a person for longer than 15 minutes over a course of a week or
- in a closed shared space with a person for more than 2 hours.
you may need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), where it is available and safe to do so. This includes respirators with positive airflow and disposable gloves.
Your employer must consult you and your relevant health and safety representative about the use of PPE and any WHS risks that may arise from using it.
Your employer must provide you with information and training on how to use and wear PPE.
I need to travel in a vehicle with co-workers for work purposes. How do I practice physical distancing?
If you have to travel in a vehicle with co-workers for work purposes, the number of workers travelling in the one vehicle may need to be reduced. People should sit in the most distant seats. Ideally only two people should be in a 5 seat vehicle – the driver and a worker behind the front passenger seat. One worker should be in a single cab vehicle.
These measures may mean more vehicles are required, and you may find yourself driving alone more than usual and for longer periods of time.
There are many WHS risks associated with driving for work including fatigue. Familiarise yourself with your employer’s driving policies and procedures. They should contain information on how to minimise risks to your health and safety when driving.
Other measures you can take when sharing a work vehicle with others include setting the air‑conditioning to external airflow rather than to recirculation, or having windows open where appropriate. It is also a good idea to buddy up with the same workers to limit your contact with others.
Vehicles will need to be cleaned and disinfected more frequently, no matter the length of the trip.
Whatever measures your employer puts in place regarding travelling in vehicles, they must consult with you and relevant health representatives before doing so.
Do I need to practice physical distancing when on a lunch break or when travelling to and from work?
Yes. You must always comply with any State or Territory public health directions or orders. This includes maintaining a physical distance of 1.5 metres between people in public places and when travelling to and from work.
In some States and Territories there are strict limitations on gatherings in public places. This means that in some circumstances, workers cannot eat lunch together in a park or travel together in a vehicle to and from work.