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 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.
How do I make sure there is 4 square metres of space per person?
To achieve the 4 square metre ‘rule’ you would:
- calculate the area of the room (e.g length of room in metres x width of room in metres = area of room in square metres), and
- divide the area of the room by 4.
For example, if you had a room that was 160 square metres in size, you should only allow up to 40 people in the room, to allow each person to have 4 square metres of space.
How do I make sure there is 1.5 metres between people?
You should consider and make adjustments to the layout of the workplace and your workflows to enable workers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart to continue performing their duties. For example, this could be achieved by, spreading out furniture or plant to increase distancing, or considering floor and/or wall markings and signage to identify 1.5 metres distancing requirements.
You should also review tasks and processes that usually require close interaction and identify ways to modify these to increase physical distancing between workers where it is practical and safe to do so.
Do I need to do both? That is, make sure there is 4 square metres per person and physical distancing of 1.5 metres?
Yes. You need to do what you can to make sure there is 4 square metres in your workplace per person and keep everyone apart at least 1.5 metres, where possible.
My workers cannot maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres when performing work. Does this mean they cannot perform work?
It will not always be possible for workers and others to keep 1.5 metres apart at all times at the workplace. For example, workers may have to work closely with each other or others because of the nature of the task, such as when lifting or moving heavy objects.
Working in close contact increases the risk of workers being exposed to COVID-19. You must consider whether the work task must be completed or could be rescheduled to a later date. If the task must be completed and your workers will be in close contact, you must undertake a risk assessment to determine what control measures are reasonably practicable in the circumstances to eliminate or minimise health and safety risks from COVID-19. For example, if close contact with others is unavoidable, you must implement other control measures such as:
- minimising the number of people within an area at any time. Limit access to the workplace or parts of the workplace to essential workers only
- staggering start, finish and break times where appropriate
- moving work tasks to different areas of the workplace or off-site if possible
- if possible, separating workers into dedicated teams and have them work the same shift or work in a particular area and consider whether these dedicated teams can have access to their own meal areas or break facilities, and
- ensuring each worker has their own equipment or tools.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) may also be appropriate in some circumstances. See also our information on PPE below.
What physical distancing measures do I need to implement in my workplace?
Below are measures to ensure physical distancing is achieved in workplaces in the road freight industry.
Remember, you must consult with workers and their representatives, e.g. health and safety representatives (HSRs) on health and safety matters relating to COVID-19, including what control measures to put in place in your workplace.
Drivers: While driving
- Stop or reduce the use of driving in teams as much as possible and prohibit drivers travelling with passengers.
- Where driving with one or more other person cannot be avoided:
- ensure people sit in the most distant seats, and
- set the air conditioning to external airflow rather than to recirculation or have windows open where appropriate.
See also our information on workers travelling together in a vehicle for work purposes.
Drivers: Making deliveries
- You may not be able to control the practices at customer and delivery premises. You could:
- talk to your regular customers and deliveries about what measures they have in place to manage the risks of exposure to COVID-19 for their workers and for your workers when your workers visit the site. Collaborate on further control measures where required, such as providing dedicated driver waiting areas
- use electronic paper work where possible
- direct workers to remain in vehicles or in a dedicated waiting area if available
- use contactless methods such as mobile phones to communicate with customers and deliveries at their premises wherever possible, and
- practice good hygiene before they touch the product to be delivered.
Depot workers: Worker interactions and work tasks
- Where possible, provide each person with 4 square metres of space in enclosed areas in accordance with general health advice.
- To achieve this, calculate the area of the enclosed space (length multiplied by width in metres) and divide by 4. This will provide you with the maximum number of people you should have in the space at any one time.
- Where the nature of work means you are not able to provide 4 square metres of space per person, you need to implement other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- To help you achieve 4 square metres of space per person (or where not reasonable, to achieve the maximum space per person) limit the number of workers in your workplace by:
- reducing the number of tasks to be completed each day, where possible
- postponing non-essential work, and
- splitting workers’ shifts to reduce the number of workers onsite at any given time. Schedule time between shifts so that there is no overlap of staff arriving at and leaving the workplace or have different entrances and exits to avoid interaction.
- Direct workers to keep 1.5 metres of distance between them in accordance with general health advice. To achieve the best outcomes for physical distancing:
- implement measures in combination with measures for 4 square metres spacing, as set out above
- put signs around the workplace and create wall or floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance. Your staff could wear a badge as a visual reminder to themselves and each other of physical distancing requirements
- limit physical interactions between workers, workers and clients, and workers and other persons at the site – e.g. by using contactless deliveries and limiting non-essential visitors, and
- require workers to use other methods such as mobile phone or radio to communicate rather than face to face interaction.
- Where it is practical and safe to do so, review tasks and processes that usually require close interaction and identify ways to modify these to increase physical distancing between workers. Where not possible, reduce the amount of time workers spend in close contact. See also our information on what to do if your workers cannot maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres.
Layout of the depot
- You may need to redesign the layout of the depot where possible and your workflows to enable workers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart to continue performing their duties. This can be achieved by, where possible:
- restricting workers and others to certain pathways or areas, and
- spreading out furniture or plant to increase distancing.
- Consider floor and/or wall markings and signage to identify 1.5 metres distancing requirements.
If changing the physical layout of the workplace, your layout must allow for workers to enter, exit and move about the workplace both under normal working conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable.
Staff gatherings and training
- Postpone or cancel non-essential gatherings, meetings or training.
- If gatherings, meetings or training are essential:
- use non face-to-face options to conduct – e.g. electronic communication such as tele and video conferencing
- if a non face-to-face option is not possible, ensure face-to-face time is limited, that is make sure the gathering, meeting or training goes for no longer than it needs to
- hold the gathering, meeting or training it in spaces that enable workers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart and with 4 square metres of space per person – e.g. outdoors or in large conference rooms
- limit the number of attendees in a gathering, meeting or training. This may require, for example, multiple training sessions to be held, and
- ensure adequate ventilation if held indoors.
See also our information on Training.
- Reduce the number of workers utilising common areas at a given time – e.g by staggering meal breaks and start times.
- Spread out furniture in common areas. If changing the physical layout of the workplace, you must ensure the layout allows for workers to enter, exit and move about the workplace both under normal working conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable.
- Place signage about physical distancing around the workplace. Our website has links to a range of posters and resources to help remind workers and others of the risks of COVID-19 and the measures that are necessary to stop its spread. These posters can be placed around the workplace and in client-facing work environments (e.g. workplace entrances). Consideration needs to be given to how to communicate with workers and others for who English is not their first language.
- Consider providing separate amenities for workers and others in the workplace – for example separate bathroom facilities for workers and visitors/clients.
- Consider providing a dedicated waiting area with hygiene facilities, where possible, for visiting drivers.
Deliveries, contractors and visitors attending the workplace
- Non-essential visits to the workplace should be cancelled or postponed.
- Minimise the number of workers attending to deliveries and contractors as much as possible.
- Delivery drivers and other contractors who need to attend the workplace, to provide maintenance or repair services or perform other essential activities, should be given clear instructions of your requirements while they are on site.
- Ensure handwashing facilities, or if not possible, alcohol-based hand sanitiser, is readily available for workers after physically handling deliveries.
- Direct visiting delivery drivers and contractors to remain in vehicles and use contactless methods such as mobile phones to communicate with your workers wherever possible.
- Direct visiting delivery drivers and contractors to use alcohol-based hand sanitiser before handling products being delivered.
- Use, and ask delivery drivers and contractors to use, electronic paper work where possible, to minimise physical interaction. Where possible, set up alternatives to requiring signatures. For instance, see whether a confirmation email or a photo of the loaded or unloaded goods can be accepted as proof of delivery or collection (as applicable). If a pen or other utensil is required for signature you can ask that the pen or utensil is cleaned or sanitised before use. For pens, you may wish to use your own.
On-going review and monitoring
- If physical distancing measures introduce new health and safety risks (e.g. because they impact communication or mean that less people are doing a task), you need to manage those risks too.
- Put processes in place to regularly monitor and review the implementation of physical distancing measures to ensure they are being followed and remain effective.
Do I need to provide personal protective equipment to workers who are in close contact with each other?
You must ensure workers comply with physical distancing requirements where possible. In circumstances where the nature of the task requires workers to be in close contact, you must put control measures in place that minimise the time workers spend with each other or with other people in the workplace. You must also ensure workers are practicing good hygiene.
If you have a situation where, despite other control measures, workers will be in close contact with each other or with other people for longer than the recommended time (i.e more than 15 minutes face to face cumulative over the course of a week or more than 2 hours in a shared closed space), consider the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Workers must be trained in the proper use of PPE. Be aware of WHS risks that may arise as a result of workers using and wearing PPE.
See also our information on PPE.
My workers need to travel in a vehicle together for work purposes. How do they practice physical distancing?
You must reduce the number of workers travelling together in a vehicle for work purposes. You should ensure that only two people are in a 5 seat vehicle – the driver and a worker behind the front passenger seat. Only one worker should be in a single cab vehicle.
These measures may mean:
- more of your vehicles are on the road at one time
- more workers are driving and for longer periods than usual (if driving by themselves).
Because of this, you should review your procedures and policies for vehicle maintenance and driver safety to ensure they are effective and address all possible WHS risks that arise when workers drive for work purposes.
If workers are required to travel together for work purposes and the trip is longer than 15 minutes, air conditioning must be set to external airflow rather than to recirculation or windows should be opened for the duration of the trip.
You must also clean vehicles more frequently, no matter the length of the trip, but at least following each use by workers.
See also our information on Cleaning.
Do workers need to practice physical distancing when on a lunch break or when travelling to and from work?
Yes. Workers must always comply with any state or territory public health directions or orders. This includes maintaining a physical distance of 1.5 metres between people.
In some states and territories there are strict limitations on gatherings in public places. This means that in some circumstances, workers cannot eat lunch together in a park or travel together in a vehicle to and from work.
You should refer to your state or territory health authority for further information on specific restrictions in place under public health directions or orders in your state or territory.