Managing COVID-19 risks: Commercial and domestic cleaning
Managing risks of employee exposure to COVID-19 in the commercial and domestic cleaning industry.
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Restrictions apply across Victoria
Depending on your industry your workplace may:
- be required to close temporarily for on-site work
- remain open for on-site work with a completed COVIDSafe Plan in place
- be subject to restricted operations or industry specific obligations
It is mandatory for every Victorian business with on-site operations to have a COVIDSafe Plan.
COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria may be updated at any time. You must stay up to date with changes for your industry.
How are my occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations impacted by the restrictions?
There is no change to your obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) as a result of the Pandemic Orders issued by the Victorian Minister for Health.
Preparation of a COVIDSafe Plan forms part of the development of a safe system of work. However having a COVIDSafe Plan and complying with the Victorian Pandemic Orders does not necessarily mean you have complied with your duties under the OHS Act and OHS Regulations.
You must follow any Pandemic Orders that apply to how your business must operate, and ensure that you are meeting your obligations under the OHS Act. Employees must also comply with their duties under the OHS Act.
Transmission of COVID-19
Researchers are still learning about COVID-19, its long-term effects and emerging variants.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that can result in mild to very severe illness and death.
The main way COVID-19 spreads is when a person with COVID-19 exhales droplets and/or aerosol particles containing the virus. This can happen when they breathe out, cough, sneeze, speak, shout or sing.
Exhaled droplets range in size. Large droplets settle out of the air faster than they evaporate. Small droplets remain suspended in the air for longer periods. Very fine droplets may contain the virus, and can stay suspended in the air for anywhere from minutes to hours. Small droplets and particles are often referred to as ‘aerosols’.
Transmission of COVID-19 can occur in a number of ways, and possibly in combination.
1. Airborne transmission
This occurs when a person inhales aerosols that may contain viral particles that are infectious.
While the risk of transmission is highest when close to an infectious person, air currents can disperse small droplets and particles over long distances. These may be inhaled by people who have not had face-to-face contact or been in the same space with the infectious person. Airborne transmission is more likely to occur in indoor or enclosed settings that are poorly ventilated, crowded, or both. In these kinds of settings, the virus may remain suspended in the air for longer and increase the risk of spread as people tend to spend longer periods in indoor settings.
2. Droplet transmission
Transmission occurs where exhaled droplets from a person with COVID-19 come into contact with another person's mucosal surfaces (nose, mouth or eyes). The risk of transmission is highest when close to the source, where the concentration of these droplets is greatest.
3. Contaminated surfaces transmission
People may also become infected by touching surfaces that have been contaminated by the virus, and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth without cleaning their hands.
COVID-19 and the commercial and domestic cleaning industry
Commercial and domestic cleaners work across all industry sectors providing a range of services from specialised heavy commercial and industrial cleaning to general cleaning in offices, factories and homes. Employees in the commercial and domestic cleaning industry may have an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 due to working in high traffic environments, working in close contact with other people and contact with frequently touched and potentially contaminated surfaces.
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) employers have a duty to provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees, including independent contractors. This includes preventing risks to health, including psychological health, and safety associated with potential exposure to COVID-19.
Employees have a duty to take reasonable care of their own and others health and safety in the workplace and cooperate with their employers about any action they take to comply with the OHS Act or Regulations.
Employers must identify hazards and if necessary, assess the likelihood of risk to the health of employees from exposure to COVID-19 at their workplace. This must be done in consultation with health and safety representatives (HSRs), if any, and employees, so far as is reasonably practicable.
Risks for employees in the commercial and domestic cleaning industry include:
- tasks that require close contact to other employees, contractors and the public, especially if for prolonged periods
- cleaning frequently touched surfaces such as entrances/exits to the workplace, break rooms, lifts, changing rooms and toilets
- cleaning workplaces where there has been a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19
- shared use of tools and equipment such as cleaning trolleys, buckets, mops, vacuum cleaners, and floor scrubbing machines
- handling shared products such as floor and surface cleaners, hand sanitiser refills and disinfectants
- working across multiple places of work, increasing the risk of contracting and spreading the virus
Employers must also identify whether there are other increased risks as a result of COVID-19, including:
- fatigue and stress due to changes in the workplace, for example changes to work processes, work hours and rosters
- risk of exposure to hazardous substances, for example due to increased or prolonged contact with cleaning and disinfecting products, or use of new, unfamiliar products
- musculoskeletal risks associated with changes to the physical workplace or systems of work
Where a risk to health is identified at a workplace, employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, eliminate the risk. Where it is not possible to eliminate the risk, it must be controlled, so far as is reasonably practicable.
The types of control measures required depends on the level of risk as well as the availability and suitability of controls for each workplace, including individual work areas.
Face masks in workplaces
Pandemic Orders made by the Victorian Minister for Health about face masks are in place across Victoria. For more information see the guidance Managing COVID-19 risks: Face masks in workplaces.
Consult with employees
Employers have a duty to consult with employees, independent contractors and any health and safety representatives (HSRs), so far as is reasonably practicable, on matters related to health or safety that directly affect, or are likely to directly affect them. This includes consultation on identifying hazards or risks and decisions about how to control risks associated with COVID-19.
The consultation should be conducted in accordance with any agreed consultation procedures.
Ensure employees know what to do
An employer's duty to eliminate or reduce risks associated with exposure to COVID-19 so far as is reasonably practicable includes ensuring that:
- employees know what to do or who to notify if they feel unwell or suspect they've been infected, according to the information provided by DH
- any unwell employee does not attend the workplace, including those who have been tested for COVID-19 and received a negative test result
- employees who have been tested for COVID-19 and are awaiting their results or who are confirmed COVID-19 cases do not attend the workplace
The symptoms of COVID-19 to watch out for are: fever, chills or sweats, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, runny nose and loss or change in sense of smell or taste. Some people may also experience headache, muscle soreness, stuffy nose, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
If an employee develops any of the symptoms of COVID-19, however mild, they should:
- self-isolate immediately, seek advice from their doctor or the Victorian Coronavirus Hotline on 1800 675 398, and get tested
- tell their employer as soon as possible, follow the procedures their workplace has in place, and update their employer if their situation changes (for example if they receive a positive COVID-19 diagnosis)
Suspected or confirmed cases
In the event of a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case at the workplace, Pandemic Orders made by the Victorian Minister for Health may also require employers to take specific response actions.
Employers should implement a screening process to minimise the introduction of COVID-19 into the workplace, for example by directing employees to inform you if they:
- are subject to any Pandemic Orders (such as isolation, quarantine or in relation to travel)
- have been in contact with any confirmed cases of COVID-19
- are unwell or have any of the COVID-19 symptoms
Physical distancing of at least 1.5 metres needs to be implemented wherever possible to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Employers should consider each work task and whether there is a safe, alternative way to undertake the work with an increased distance between employees.
Controls to achieve physical distancing may include:
- scheduling work arrangements so that high traffic areas can be cleaned when there are minimal other people in the workspace
- restricting other people (such as clients, other employees and the public) from using or entering the area during scheduled cleaning
- limiting access to the parts of the workplace being cleaned to essential employees only
- providing signage to advise of the physical distancing requirements
- providing physical barriers (where possible) in high traffic areas when cleaners are working
- if cleaning in a private dwelling, requesting the residents stay away from the area where employees are working. Any communications that are required should be conducted at a distance
Under Pandemic Orders made by the Victorian Minister for Health, workplaces may also be required to comply with particular density quotient rules.
People in indoor environments, particularly in crowded or inadequately ventilated spaces, are at a higher risk of becoming infected with COVID-19. When someone infected with COVID-19 has been present, the virus may linger in poorly ventilated spaces or areas with stagnant air for a longer period of time.
Providing an adequate supply of fresh air (ventilation) to enclosed areas of a workplace dilutes the number of airborne virus particles and lowers transmission risk. Improving ventilation alone does not reduce the risk of transmission via droplets and contaminated surfaces. It needs to be considered as part of a suite of infection control measures.
Adequate ventilation can be achieved using natural or mechanical ventilation, or a combination of the two.
- Natural ventilation is fresh air coming in through open windows, doors or air vents.
- Mechanical ventilation means a method of forced or induced ventilation using mechanical air-handling systems that bring in fresh air from outside. It forms part of a building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system.
Note: Natural ventilation is dependent on variable local conditions (eg window opening size, weather conditions including wind speed and direction) and may not always be effective in quickly removing airborne virus particles.
Better ventilation can be achieved by:
- increasing the rate that air is supplied
- increasing the supply of fresh outdoor air
- reducing or eliminating recirculated air in HVAC systems
- improving filtration for air recirculated by HVAC systems if the ventilation rate is not compromised
- regular maintenance of the HVAC system, including changing filters
Guidance on HVAC systems is available in AS1668.2:2012 The use of ventilation and air-conditioning in buildings, Part 2: Mechanical ventilation in buildings. Further information on HVAC systems and COVID-19 is available in World Health Organization (WHO) guidance Roadmap to improve and ensure good indoor ventilation in the context of COVID-19 (who.int).
In areas where it is not possible to maintain adequate ventilation and there is a high risk of transmission, portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtered air cleaners may be appropriate to be used to reduce the concentration of airborne virus particles and other aerosol contaminants. These units are not a substitute for ventilation. Employers should assess the risk and/or undertake a ventilation assessment to identify what ventilation strategies are appropriate for the space and whether an air cleaner is needed and consider operational placement and maintenance of these units.
Employers should work with the building's owner or manager to improve ventilation where possible. Engaging a suitably qualified person such as an occupational hygienist or a ventilation engineer to advise and assist should also be considered.
For more information about ventilation, see the following documents on the DH Infection prevention control (IPC) resources page:
- COVID-19: Ventilation principles and strategies to reduce aerosol transmission in community and workplace settings.
- Department of Health IPC Ventilation Policy.
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission from air-circulating, wind-blowing devices and activities.
- Ventilation strategies to reduce COVID-19 infection, when used as per DH guidelines.
Maintaining good hygiene can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Employers should encourage all employees to practise good hygiene such as:
- washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, frequently and in-between tasks
- covering coughs and sneezes with an elbow or a tissue
- avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth during work
- immediately disposing of potentially contaminated objects (such as disposable items used to clean frequently touched or potentially contaminated surfaces) then washing hands
- using alcohol-based hand sanitisers
- limiting contact with others
Employers should ensure that washroom facilities for employees have adequate amenities for good hygiene, including clean running water and an adequate supply of soap, single-use paper hand towels or hand-drying machines, and toilet paper. Facilities must be kept clean, properly stocked and in good working order.
Employers should provide alcohol-based hand sanitisers containing at least 60 per cent alcohol if soap and water are not immediately available.
Employers should consider other ways to promote personal hygiene, such as:
- building additional short breaks into employees schedules to allow employees time to follow hygiene procedures, such as washing their hands
- allowing extra time for tasks to be completed, to ensure employees have adequate time to follow any additional hygiene procedures if required
Any shared tools, equipment and products need to be cleaned thoroughly before and after each use.
- ensure reusable cleaning equipment, such as mop heads and cloths, are laundered using hot water and completely dried before re-use
- ensure reusable items such as buckets and bins are thoroughly cleaned, disinfected and completely dried before re-use
- provide employees with alcohol-based hand sanitiser and instruct them to use it frequently, including in between each task
- provide single use and disposable products (such as paper towels and single use disinfectant wipes) to use when cleaning surfaces that are frequently touched or that may be infected with COVID-19
- cleaning needs to be conducted in accordance with the DH information on cleaning and disinfection for workplaces
Employers need to ensure they are up to date with relevant information provided by DH about specific cleaning requirements, and ensure that employees are provided with adequate information and training to follow any required protocols.
If employees are cleaning a workplace following a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, additional protocols may be required.
Shared tools and equipment
Eliminate the shared use of tools, equipment and products wherever possible.
Employees should avoid using clients' personal tools, equipment and products, particularly in domestic residences.
Where it is not possible to eliminate shared use:
- provide cleaning products, for example alcohol spray or solution, and keep these with communal tools and equipment so they can move around the workplace
- ensure all employees thoroughly wash hands (with soap and water or sanitiser) before and after every use
- ensure all parts of tools and equipment are sterilised or cleaned as appropriate before and after use
Personal protective equipment (PPE)
Personal protective equipment (PPE) should only be used in certain situations, after other control measures to protect against COVID-19 have been considered and implemented.
In some cases, the use of PPE (such as masks, gloves, eye protection and disposable gowns) may be appropriate and recommended, for example when performing cleaning and disinfection for suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Employers should follow DH information on the appropriate use of PPE for COVID-19 in the work environment.
Any PPE provided needs to be practical for the work environment (allowing the necessary visibility and mobility) and properly decontaminated or disposed of at the end of every shift.
Employers must provide information, instruction and training on the safe use, decontamination, maintenance and disposal of PPE. They must also provide any necessary supervision.
Where PPE is being supplied, employers need to ensure that adequate PPE is available on site and within easy access.
Employers should monitor and encourage correct use of PPE, for example by providing information on posters about:
- washing or sanitising hands before putting PPE on, and putting face protection on before gloves
- removing gloves before face protection, washing or sanitising hands after removing PPE and decontaminating or disposing of used PPE safely
Employees working across multiple sites
- Where possible, minimise the number of work sites that employees work at during the same period.
- If it is essential that employees work between multiple sites in the same shift, ensure that all movement between work sites is recorded accurately to allow contact tracing if required.
Pandemic (Workplace) Order issued by the Victorian Minister for Health also include specific requirements about reducing work across multiples sites, working for more than one employer and record keeping, which must be followed. These may differ by industry and area.
Communication and employee welfare
- keep up to date with information on COVID-19 and regularly share this information with employees and HSRs, if any
- maintain regular communication with employees on how COVID-19 is being managed at the workplace and what controls are in place
- provide information to employees in a format that they can easily understood, for example, in their own language
- provide information to employees in multiple formats, for example, emails, posters and verbally
- ensure there are contingency plans in place for employee replacement when necessary
Employers have duties under the OHS Act, which include that they must, so far as is reasonably practicable:
- provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees and independent contractors and their employees
- provide adequate facilities for the welfare of employees and independent contractors
- provide such information, instruction, training or supervision to employees and independent contractors as is necessary to enable those persons to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health
- monitor the health of their employees
- monitor conditions at any workplace under the employer's management and control
- provide information concerning health and safety to employees, including (where appropriate) in languages other than English
- ensure that persons other than employees of the employer are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the undertaking of the employer
- consult with employees and HSRs, if any, on matters related to health or safety that directly affect or are likely to directly affect them
A person with management or control of a workplace must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it are safe and without risks to health.
Employees also have duties under the OHS Act, which includes that they must:
- take reasonable care for their own health and safety
- take reasonable care for the health and safety of persons who may be affected by the employee's acts or omissions at a workplace
- co-operate with their employer with respect to any action taken by the employer to comply with a requirement imposed by or under the OHS Act
The OHS Act gives HSRs a role in raising and resolving any OHS issues with their employer, and powers to take issues further if necessary.
WorkSafe Advisory Service
WorkSafe's advisory service is available between 7:30am and 6:30pm Monday to Friday. If you need more support, you can also contact WorkSafe using the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) or the National Relay Service.