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 4 square metres of space per person where possible.
Your workplace may also need to comply with physical distancing measures issued under public health directions in your state or territory. See also our information on public health directions – COVID-19 for links to enforceable government directions in your state or territory.
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?
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.