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 maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres when performing work?
It will not always be possible for you to keep 1.5 metres apart from other workers or members at all times. For example, you may have to work closely with members when providing them advice on how to perform an exercise or spotting them to ensure safety. Some tasks require you to be in close proximity with other workers 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 example, if close contact with others is unavoidable, your employer must implement other control measures
For information on the measures your employer should be implementing see our employer information for Gyms and fitness centres.
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 (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.
What if the members at my gym/fitness centre cannot maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres when performing certain physical activities?
The nature of some physical activities requires members to be close together such as partner drills for boxing or martial arts or performing a dance routine.
Your employer will need to either suspend or modify the activity to ensure members who are not part of the same household maintain physical distance. For example in a martial arts or boxing class your employer may need to suspend sparring and use long or short bags (that are spaced the appropriate distance apart) instead of partner drills that involve glove and mitt/striking pads.
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.
Do I have to maintain physical distancing in 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 are there to perform work.
You or your employer 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.
For information on the measures your employer should be implementing, see our employer information for Gyms and fitness centres.