Worker interactions and work tasks
- Check the physical distancing requirements on your relevant state or territory government website.
- If your jurisdiction requires businesses to limit the number of people in an enclosed area:
- calculate the area of the enclosed space (length multiplied by width in metres) and divide by the number of square metres allowed/recommended per person (e.g. 4 square metres). 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 comply with these requirements, you need to implement other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- You can also limit the number of workers in your workplace by:
- facilitating working from home for office/administrative workers, where you can
- reducing the number of tasks to be completed each day, where possible
- postponing non-essential work
- splitting workers’ shifts to reduce the number of workers onsite or in control rooms at any given time. Where possible schedule time between shifts and stagger them so that there is no overlap of staff arriving at and leaving the workplace or have different entrances and exits to avoid interaction
- creating specific walkways, preferably one way, throughout a site where possible to maintain physical separation, and
- exploring the use of technology to complete certain tasks such as virtual inspections of plant and equipment.
- 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 the density requirements specified in your jurisdiction (for example, 4 square metres of space per person)
- put signs around the workplace and create wall or floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance, including in areas such as control rooms. Your staff could wear a badge as a visual reminder to 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
- reduce the number of workers in a vehicle travelling to work sites where possible and set the air conditioning to external airflow rather than to recirculation, or have windows open where appropriate. Provide other forms of transportation (e.g. electric bikes for short trips) where it is appropriate. See further information on travelling in a vehicle below
- separate workers into dedicated teams where the same teams work together, where possible
- provide workers with their own tools
- require workers to interact using other methods such as mobile phone or radio to communicate rather than face to face interaction, including for handovers, and
- if entering a private property to complete work, request clients or residents stay away from the area where workers are performing the work. Interactions that are required should be conducted at a distance or via other communication methods.
- 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 below for further information where workers are performing tasks in close contact including vehicle use.
See also our information on what to do if your workers cannot maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres.
Layout of the workplace
- You may need to redesign the layout of the workplace 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, office desks 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 toolbox and other meetings – e.g. electronic communication such as tele and video conferencing, or through an app
- 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 in spaces that enable workers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart and to comply with the density requirements specified in your jurisdiction – 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.
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?
Ideally, numbers should be limited to one person per vehicle trip where possible. If that is not possible, the numbers of employees in a vehicle per trip need to be minimised.
When minimising numbers, employers need to take into account:
- the size of the vehicle, the number of rows of seats, and how distances can be maximised in the space (for example, the driver with a passenger sitting in the back)
- the duration of the trip
- the additional control measures in this guidance.
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.
My workers are working, travelling and living together. How do I ensure they maintain physical distancing?
Workers may have to work closely together because of the nature of the task or for work health and safety reasons. They may also have to share accommodation and vehicles when performing tasks away from the primary workplace or in remote or rural locations.
It may not always be reasonable or practicable to require these workers to maintain a space of 1.5m from each other, particularly when sharing accommodation. To minimise the risks to these workers, it would be preferable to treat these workers as a unit or dedicated team.
When you treat workers as a unit or dedicated team, they can work, travel and stay together without having to practice physical distancing, although they must practice physical distancing when they can. However, to limit the risk of exposure, they must be isolated as a unit as far as possible from other workers. So, for example, they must practice physical distancing when interacting with workers and others not in their unit. The workers must also practice good hygiene to reduce the chance of spreading the virus amongst themselves and should not share facilities with other units. Distancing the unit from others in the workplace will reduce cross-contamination, should one of the workers in that unit display COVID-19 symptoms.
As with all workers, a worker in a unit must inform you if they are unwell. The symptoms of COVID-19 include shortness of breath, fever, sore throat, fatigue and coughing. See also our information on what to do if a worker in the unit is confirmed or is suspected of having COVID-19.
If one worker displays symptoms of COVID-19, you must isolate the entire unit. You will not necessarily need to isolate workers that are not part of the unit, assuming they have maintained the required physical distancing and practiced good hygiene. Of course, this will depend on how well you have been able to separate the unit from other workers in your workplace.
Working in units will potentially expose workers to a higher chance of exposure to COVID-19. This means you must also consider whether any of the workers in the unit may belong to the following groups, who have been identified as having a higher risk of serious illness if infected with the virus
- 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
The Australian Government Department of Health advises that these workers should be supported to work from home where possible. If they cannot, a risk assessment should be undertaken to address the risks of exposure to COVID-19. This may require re-assigning vulnerable employees to other roles outside of the unit where they don’t need to have contact with others. If the risk cannot be appropriately addressed, alternative arrangements such as leave should be considered.
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 may be 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.
Do I have to maintain physical distancing if I’m visiting a client’s home?
Yes. The model Work Health and Safety laws apply even when the workplace is a private home or dwelling. The client’s home is a workplace when you or your worker is there to perform work
You or your worker should talk to the client to ensure they understand the risks of COVID-19 and about the control measures you must implement – including physical distancing - to minimise the risk of exposing them and your worker to the virus.
See also our information on in-house services and trades and home maintenance.