Labour hire and COVID-19: Information for labour hire providers and host employers

How labour hire providers and host employers can work together to manage risks of labour hire workers’ exposure to COVID-19.

Pandemic Orders and industry requirements are regularly updated

This guidance is correct as at time of publication, however, Victorian Minister for Health's Pandemic Orders and industry requirements are regularly updated. Readers of this guidance need to check the latest Victorian Pandemic Orders for applicability.

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 labour hire industry

Labour hire workers are part of many industries. Some industries that use labour hire may have increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, including:

  • healthcare and social assistance, (such as aged care)
  • manufacturing (including meat processing and abattoirs)
  • warehousing
  • seasonal horticultural worker provision

Labour hire workers can also be more vulnerable to exposure because:

  • the temporary nature of work may mean employees are less familiar with local workplace hazards, risks, policies and procedures
  • they might work at more than one workplace at a time, or move between workplaces on short contracts (subject to restrictions)
  • in some industries, labour hire workers travel to work together or live together
  • due to the insecure nature of labour hire work, they may be less likely to self-report illness or exposure, or to report their concerns

Shared responsibilities for managing COVID-19 risks

Labour hire providers and host employers are both responsible for the health and safety of labour hire providers under the OHS Act.

Their duties include preventing risks to health and safety including those associated with potential exposure to COVID-19. Risks could be to physical or psychological health.

Both labour providers and host employers have responsibilities for training, assessing risks and monitoring the workplace. Both must also ensure the employee is capable and provided with everything they need to do the job safely, for example that they have the right qualifications, and are provided with information, instruction, training or supervision, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Labour hire workers have the same legal rights and responsibilities regarding health and safety as other employees. They have a duty to take reasonable care of their own and others' health and safety in the workplace. They must also cooperate with host employers and labour hire providers about any action they take to comply with the OHS Act or OHS Regulations.

Identifying and controlling risks

Labour hire providers and host employers must identify hazards and assess the likelihood of risk to the health or safety of labour hire workers, including risk from exposure to COVID-19, at their workplace. This must be done in consultation with health and safety representatives (HSRs) and employees, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Where a risk to health or safety is identified at a workplace, host employers must eliminate the risk so far as is reasonably practicable. When elimination is not possible, they must reduce the risk so far as is reasonably practicable.

The types of control measures required depends on the likelihood of risk as well as the availability and suitability of controls for each workplace, including individual work areas.

COVID-19 risks for labour hire workers could include risks specific to the host workplace, and also risks that come from the nature of labour hire work in the current circumstances.

Sources of risk of COVID-19 exposure for labour hire workers could include:

  • work that requires close contact with others (for example, other employees, clients or members of the public)
  • using shared tools or equipment
  • sharing facilities such as bathrooms, kitchens and communal break areas
  • lack of access to appropriate PPE for the job, or lack of instruction and supervision in its proper use
  • working at multiple host employer sites
  • shared employee accommodation or transport
  • difficulty accessing reliable information about COVID-19 safety and precautions in a variety of languages

Other increased risks as a result of COVID-19 for labour hire workers include:

  • occupational violence and aggression
  • increased workload
  • additional or longer shifts
  • inadequate staffing levels
  • gaps in skills or knowledge because of unfamiliar or changed induction, training or handover processes
  • fatigue and stress as a result of the risks above

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.

Actions for labour hire providers

Pre-placement risk assessment

Labour hire providers must establish whether a workplace is safe, so far as is reasonably practicable, before sending a labour hire worker. As part of doing this, it is your responsibility to understand that apply to the industry and location where you are placing labour hire workers.

If you establish that a workplace is not safe, you must not send anyone to work there.

As always, you need to carry out a risk assessment before you send a labour hire worker into the workplace. Along with the other risks associated with the job, the assessment needs to include any risks related to COVID-19, and document the host employer's controls.

If you have concerns about the adequacy of risks controls, discuss them with the host and agree on further actions to eliminate or reduce the risks before the labour hire worker starts. These need to be documented in the risk assessment.

If Pandemic Orders made by the Victorian Minister for Health prevent carrying out an in-person workplace visit to do a risk assessment, other methods could include video tours of the work site and phone conferences with the host employer and HSRs.

These actions can help inform your risk assessment:

Check documentation

  • Check that the host employer has addressed COVID-19 risks where appropriate in the health and safety paperwork you normally ask for, such as safe operating procedures and documentation of their health and safety management system.
  •  Ask the host employer for a copy of their COVIDSafe Plan, and review it.
  • Ask for any other documentation that demonstrates that they have systems of work and other control measures in place to manage the risks related to COVID-19, such as an outbreak management plan. Documentation should also demonstrate management of other increased risks as a result of COVID-19, for example information relating to staffing levels, shift lengths, training, occupational violence controls or controls for handling of cleaning products.

Check the training provided

Labour hire providers must ensure their employees are adequately trained to perform the role. For example, you may be required to provide, or ensure that labour hire workers have completed, any standard training for the industry (for example, general COVID-19 risk prevention, use of PPE) while the host provides site-specific training (for example, local workplace COVID-19 risk controls and where the PPE is kept).

You should assess the host employer's ability to provide appropriate training specific to the workplace and tasks.

In addition:

  • Ensure the induction you give labour hire workers before they start at the host site includes details of who to contact if they have any health and safety concerns about COVID-19 or if they feel unwell.
  • As well as specific job training, check that labour hire workers will receive training from the host employer on:
    • local procedures for preventing COVID-19 exposure
    • what to do if they feel unwell
    • how to raise concerns
    • emergency procedures
  • Determine if infection prevention and control (IPC) training is required, how it will be provided by the host and what the content is.

Check PPE

  • Understand the PPE requirements for the industry and work that labour hire workers will be placed in.
  • Consult with the host employer to ensure that there is appropriate provision of and access to PPE for labour hire workers and that workplace-specific training and supervision is provided on its proper use and disposal.

Monitoring workplaces

You must also monitor the employee's safety throughout their placement with the host employer and consult with them on OHS matters relevant to their job. This includes:

  • monitoring ongoing requirements and ensuring they are met
  • ensuring employees promptly report any issues (such as problems with PPE provision) and providing clear methods to escalate urgent concerns

Reduce employees working across multiple sites

To reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission, wherever possible, consider rostering employees together into dedicated work units and assign each work unit to specific work sites.

Under Pandemic Orders from the Victorian Minister for Health, there may be specific requirements about limiting work across multiples sites. There may also be additional obligations, depending on the workplace, in circumstances where an employee has worked at a site where someone was confirmed to have COVID-19. Pandemic Orders vary by industry and may be updated at any time. You must stay up to date with any changes.

Actions for host employers

As the host employer, you must treat labour hire workers as if they are your own employees with regards to health and safety.

The points below are additional actions for host employers relevant to labour hire situations during COVID-19.

Sharing plans and documentation

Host employers and labour hire providers who have duties to the same employees must, so far as reasonably practicable, consult, cooperate and coordinate with each other in relation to labour hire workers' duties.

As always, you should provide the labour hire provider with detailed information about the nature of the work to be carried out, associated hazards and risk control measures. This includes those associated with COVID-19.

  • Provide details of your COVIDSafe Plan to labour hire providers and employees.
  • Provide labour hire providers with any other documentation that will help them establish that appropriate COVID-19 risk control measures are in place.
  • Provide clear guidance to labour hire providers of the employee training and competencies required prior to attending your site.

Screening

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.

Hygiene facilities

Ensure that labour hire workers 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.

Cleaning needs to be conducted in accordance with Department of Health (DH) information on cleaning and disinfecting for workplaces.

You should also provide alcohol-based hand sanitisers if soap and water are not immediately available. Hand sanitiser should be placed in multiple locations to encourage hand hygiene. If possible, choose hand sanitiser stations that are touch-free.

PPE

Ensure there is:

  • an adequate supply of PPE
  • clear communication about its location
  • training and supervision regarding the use and disposal of PPE

Information, instruction, training and supervision

Host employers must ensure training, instruction, information and supervision is provided to labour hire workers for the type of job they are doing. Your obligations include providing health and safety information (where appropriate) in languages other than English.

As part of your overall site- and job-specific training, ensure that issues relevant to COVID-19 are covered, including:

  • COVID-19 hazards and risks specific to the worksite
  • workplace policies and procedures relating to COVID-19, including emergency procedures
  • hand hygiene
  • IPC, if necessary
  • what to do when feeling unwell
  • how to raise concerns

Shared employee accommodation and travel

As a labour hire provider or host, if you provide accommodation to employees:

  • Ensure adequate and accessible facilities to support physical distancing and good hygiene.
  • Have arrangements in place to enable employees to self-isolate, if needed.
  • Ensure accommodation is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before employees arrive, after they leave, and as regularly as possible during their stay.
  • Consider placing employees who live together on the same shift and work area. Pandemic Orders made by the Victorian Minister for Health may require this for specific industries.

As a labour hire provider or host, if you provide transport to employees:

  • Where possible, avoid carrying multiple passengers in one vehicle, unless they live together.
  • Set the air conditioning to external airflow rather than to recirculation, or have windows open where appropriate.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces (such as doors, handrails, seatbelts and windows) with appropriate cleaning and disinfectant solutions in between each trip.

The guidance above regarding accommodation and transport applies particularly to seasonal horticultural workers.

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 a labour hire worker 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.