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.
You should also consider whether you are required to comply with any 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.
What physical distancing measures do I need to implement for workers who perform work at a client’s premises?
If your business undertakes work for clients at their premises there are a number of steps you must take to ensure you and any of your workers keep safe from the risks of COVID-19 while on site.
This guidance is intended for consultants, auditors, sale representatives and client engagement workers undertaking work at a client’s premises.
You should also refer to our other industry guidance, with respect to measures to implement within your own physical workplace. For example, see our guidance for offices for information on measures to implement for your business’ office building or space.
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 at your workplace.
Worker and client interactions and work tasks
In the first instance, you should look at implementing arrangements that would allow for your workers to minimise the work they undertake at the client premises. Meetings between workers and clients should be conducted using other methods rather than face-to-face interaction where possible. This may include using electronic communication via email, teleconference and videoconference, or shared document access systems wherever possible and appropriate. It is recognised that some tasks, such as safety auditing or equipment certification/maintenance, cannot be undertaken remotely.
Where a project or engagement would usually require multiple workers visiting a client’s premises, you should consider whether the on-site work could be completed by a smaller number of workers who are assisted remotely by other workers in your workplace or at home. For example, a business owner could send a video of an existing retail fit out to a sales representative ahead of a client meeting to assist in planning for a new display. Planning as much as possible will assist to reduce the duration or number of visits required.
Where your worker is required to visit and/or work at a client’s premises, before attending a client’s workplace, you or your worker need to talk to your client about what measures they have in place to achieve physical distancing at the client’s premises. To assist with this discussion, you may wish to refer to our guidance for the relevant industry of the workplace your worker will be visiting. You should provide the client with information on the measures you are implementing for your workers and your expectations of the client.
Information received from this discussion should be used to assess the risks associated with your worker visiting the client’s premises – see further our information on risk assessments. Your worker must not attend the client’s premises if the client has not implemented adequate physical distancing or other measures to reduce the risk of your worker being exposed to COVID-19.
Workers should be advised that they have the authority to not enter the client’s site, or to leave at any time if the agreed control measures are not in place or are breached by the client’s workers.
You should direct your workers to maintain physical distancing with clients in accordance with general health advice where possible.
- meetings between workers and clients should be conducted using other methods such as mobile phone, email or teleconferencing rather than face to face interaction where possible
- if a non face-to-face meeting is not possible, ensure face-to-face time with clients is limited and that meetings do not go longer than needed. Require clients to hold meetings with your workers in spaces that enable all participants to keep at least 1.5 metres apart and with 4 square metres of space per person
- request that the clients limit physical interaction with your workers. For example, request that:
- only essential workers attend meetings
- the client nominates a dedicated worker to be the face-to-face liaison with your worker
- if a worker needs to see different areas of the client’s workplace, for example a building site, either ask non-essential workers to leave the area or schedule a time when there are limited workers on site where possible and appropriate, and
- If your worker is required to be working at a client’s workplace for an extended period of time, for example an auditor completing an audit, request that the client provide a dedicated work area (e.g. an office) that meets physical distancing requirements and is separate to the client’s general workforce.
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 clients 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 and some tasks require workers to be in close proximity to be carried out safely.
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 or workers and customers 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 offsite 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.
On-going review and monitoring
- To assist with contact tracing where required, ensure you keep detailed up-to-date records of the client premises where your workers have worked and request that workers keep records of persons they have substantial meetings or interactions with while on the client’s premises.
- If physical distancing measures introduce new health and safety risks (e.g. because they impact communication, mean that less people are doing a task, or increase the likelihood of client aggression), you need to ensure you and your client are also managing those risks.
- Put processes in place to regularly monitor and review the implementation of physical distancing measures to ensure they are being followed and remain effective. Implement regular consultation and de-brief meetings with your workers to receive reports on practices and risks they may have observed at the client’s premises so that you can raise these with the client or if required implement additional risk reduction measures for your worker.
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.
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-home services.