Managing COVID-19 risks: Public administration and safety industry
Information about managing risks of exposure to COVID-19 in the public administration and safety industry.
This information is no longer current. There maybe a more recent version available.
Restrictions apply across Victoria
Depending on your industry your workplace may:
be subject to restricted operations or industry specific obligations
be subject to COVID-19 vaccination requirements
It is mandatory for every Victorian business with on-site operations to have a COVIDSafe Plan. COVIDSafe plans should be reviewed and updated regularly.
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 all of 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 public administration and safety industry
The public administration and safety industry includes a diverse range of work activities and covers bodies engaged in state or local government legislative, executive and judicial activities. It includes bodies that set policy and oversee government programs, and bodies that provide police and correctional and detention services.
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 level of risk to the health of employees from exposure to COVID-19 at their workplace.
Risks of exposure to COVID-19 that may arise in public administration and safety settings include:
working near other employees and people requiring services
engaging with delivery drivers, contractors or other visitors attending the workplace
transmission of the virus through frequently-touched surfaces (eg. desks, chairs, light switches)
transmission of the virus through contact with items exchanged with members of public (eg. licenses, cash, documents)
inspection of vehicles, facilities or residences
sharing facilities such as bathrooms, kitchens and communal break areas
employees sharing items used in the workplace such as computers and phones
in correctional facilities, exposure to the virus from prisoners, professional visitors (eg. lawyers), visiting and on-site health services, and personal visitors
employees who work with the public such as prison guards, police officers, or court wardens experiencing, and responding to, incidents of violence and aggression
Employers must also identify whether other risks have arisen or increased as a result of COVID-19. For example, increased work demands or changes to the way work is done may lead to psychosocial risks including increased:
bullying, harassment, and violence and aggression (by people requiring services or by other employees)
Where a risk to health is identified at a workplace, employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, eliminate the risk. Where it isn't possible to eliminate the risk, it must be reduced, 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.
COVID-19 vaccinations in workplaces
COVID-19 vaccination is one control measure that can reduce the risk of COVID-19 in workplaces. This should be part of a suite of controls used to reduce the risk of COVID-19 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.
Employers should implement an employee screening process to minimise the introduction of COVID-19 into the workplace. Employers should ask employees before they enter the workplace if they are currently subject to any Pandemic Order requirements (such as needing to isolate or quarantine), and instruct employees who have been in contact with confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 to follow Department of Health (DH) 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:
confirmed COVID-19 cases do not attend the workplace
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
employees who have been in contact with confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 are instructed to follow DH procedures
any unwell employee does not attend the workplace, including those who have been tested for COVID-19 and are awaiting their test result
The symptoms of COVID-19 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 COVID-19 symptoms, however mild, they should:
self-isolate immediately, get tested and if needed, seek advice from their doctor or the Victorian Coronavirus Hotline on 1800 675 398.
tell their employer as soon as possible, follow the procedures their workplace has in place to deal with symptomatic people, and update their employer if their situation changes, for example: if they receive a positive COVID-19 diagnosis
In the event of a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case or cases at the workplace, Pandemic Orders issued by the Victorian Minister for Health may also require employers to take specific response actions.
One of the ways COVID-19 spreads is by people coughing or sneezing, causing droplets to transmit from one person to another. That is why one of the best ways to protect others is to practise physical distancing.
Physical distancing means maintaining a distance of at least 1.5m between people wherever possible. Every attempt needs to be made to ensure at least a 1.5m distance between people is achieved and maintained.
Under Pandemic Orders made by the Victorian Minister for Health, workplaces may also be required to comply with particular density quotient rules.
Employers can facilitate physical distancing by:
configuring communal work areas so that employees are spaced at least 1.5m apart, if possible
using floor markings to provide minimum physical distancing guides between workstations
installing screens between workstations
minimising the build-up of employees waiting to enter and exit the workplace and various parts of the workplace
staggering arrival, departure and break times where practicable to avoid congestion
establishing regular communication to reinforce the need to maintain physical distancing and other control measures. Any non-essential face-to-face meetings or training should be postponed, cancelled or held in a virtual environment
ensuring physical distancing is maintained for areas accessible to the public, with information provided visibly and accessibly
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.
Cleaning the workplace is an important way to remove COVID-19 particles. The workplace should be cleaned more often than usual to improve hygiene.
Cleaning needs to be conducted in accordance with the DH information on cleaning and disinfection for workplaces.
Employers should ensure that the following are cleaned regularly in accordance with DH advice about cleaning:
frequently touched surfaces, such as desks, keyboards, counters, handrails, doors, phones, and motor vehicles (eg. door handles, gear sticks, steering wheels)
workplace amenities such as kitchens, lunchrooms, communal areas, change rooms, toilets and vending machines
Employers should make sanitising wipes available so that employees can clean personal items used in the workplace, such as glasses and mobile phones.
Employers should ensure that people undertaking cleaning are provided with the information, instruction and training as is necessary, including to enable those persons to perform the work without risks to their health and safety.
Employers should ensure all employees practise good hygiene, including by:
washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds including before and after eating, and after going to the toilet
covering coughs and sneezes with their elbow or a tissue
immediately disposing of used tissues in a rubbish bin
using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser
cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and shared equipment after use
ensuring safe disposal of single use personal protective equipment (PPE)
Employers should use signage and posters to promote hygiene messages. The DH and the Australian Government Department of Health have posters and other resources aimed at educating people about COVID-19.
Employers should ensure that bathrooms for employees have adequate facilities for good hygiene including clean running water, and an adequate supply of soap, water, single-use paper hand towels or hand drying machines, and toilet paper. These must be kept clean, properly stocked and in good working order.
Employers should also provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not immediately available. Hand sanitizer should be placed in multiple locations (including workplace entrances, exits and work vehicles) to encourage hand hygiene, and provided to all employees working in the field. If possible, choose hand sanitizer stations that are touch-free.
Deliveries, contractors and visitors attending the workplace
Consider the following risk controls to enable physical distancing with deliveries, contractors and other visitors attending the workplace.
Cancel or postpone non-essential visits to the workplace.
Minimise the number of employees attending to deliveries, contractors and other visitors as much as possible.
Make hand washing facilities or alcohol-based hand sanitiser available for employees after physically handling deliveries.
Ask visitors before they enter the workplace if they are subject to any Pandemic Orders made by the Victorian Minister for Health (such as isolation, quarantine or in relation to travel), have been in contact with any confirmed cases of COVID-19, or have any of the symptoms listed above.
Clearly instruct contractors and other visitors of hygiene and distancing requirements that are in place.
Direct delivery drivers to remain in vehicles and to communicate with employees with mobile phones wherever possible.
Restrict movement of delivery workers, contractors and other visitors.
Use electronic paperwork where possible.
Set up alternatives to signatures if possible. For example, a confirmation email or a photo of the loaded or unloaded goods might be accepted as proof of delivery or collection.
Managing psychosocial hazards from COVID-19
To manage psychosocial hazards that have arisen or have increased as a result of COVID-19, employers should:
maintain regular communication with employees on how COVID-19 is being managed at the workplace and what controls are being put in place
ensure any changes to systems of work as a result of COVID-19 minimise confusion and are clearly understood by employees
keep up to date with information on COVID-19 and regularly share this information with employees
proactively support employees who are identified to be more at risk of workplace psychological injury (for example, frontline employees or those working from home)
provide employees a point of contact to discuss their concerns
Prisons and the youth justice system
Information for specific risk controls in prisons and the youth justice system in addition to the control measures outlined above.
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
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 employees of the employer
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. For more information, see the guidance on powers for HSRs.
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.