Australia is closely monitoring an outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) coronavirus (2019-nCoV) first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause illnesses from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak of 2019-nCoV as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Only a limited number of cases have been confirmed in Australia and you can access the latest updates from the Australian Government Department of Health.
Currently in Australia, people most at risk of contracting the virus are people who have:
- been in mainland China recently, or
- been in close contact with someone who is has a confirmed case of novel coronavirus.
The model WHS laws require a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace. This includes providing and maintaining a work environment that is without risks to health and safety.
Businesses must identify hazards at the workplace, and the associated risks, and do what is reasonably practicable to eliminate the risks, or to minimise the risks if elimination is not reasonably practicable.
Whether a control measure is reasonably practicable for you to implement involves consideration of what is able to be done to manage a risk and whether it is reasonable in the circumstances for you to do so. The likelihood of the risk occurring, the degree of harm that might result and the availability and suitability of a control measure are key considerations in determining what measures are reasonable to implement in your circumstances.
Exposure to 2019-nCoV could be a potential hazard at the workplace. Information for PCBUs and workers in the education, health and aged care sectors and in the travel industry can be found on the Australian Government Department of Health website.
Workers also have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and to not adversely affect the health and safety of others. Workers should always practice hygiene and other measures to protect against infections, including by:
- washing their hands often, with soap and water, or carrying hand sanitiser and using it as needed
- covering their mouth while coughing or sneezing
- seeing a health care professional if they start to feel unwell.
If you or your workers are planning to travel overseas for work, particularly to China, monitor the latest Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) travel advice on the Smartraveller website.
Find out more
- Further general guidance is available in the model Code of Practice: Managing the work environment and facilities.
- Additional information on 2019-nCoV can be found on the World Health Organization website, the Australian Government Department of Health or from your state and territory health department.
- For guidance specific to your industry and workplace, including whether and how the WHS laws of a jurisdiction may apply overseas, contact your WHS regulator.
- For overseas travel advice, see the Smartraveller website.