Managing COVID-19 risks: Accommodation industry

Information for employers providing accommodation services, such as hotels, motels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, and caravan parks, on how to keep employees and guests healthy and safe during the pandemic.

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 accommodation industry

Resources for industry

Online resources to assist accommodation providers are available on the coronavirus.vic.gov.au website.

Identifying risks

Employers must identify hazards and, if necessary, assess the level of risk to the health of employees, including independent contractors, 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.

Consider risks that are significant for employees in the accommodation industry, including:

  • employees operating in close proximity to guests
  • contact with commonly-touched surfaces, including counters, handrails, doors, room furnishings, bedside lamps, kitchen and food preparation areas
  • shared workplace amenities, such as kitchens, lunch rooms, communal areas, change rooms, toilets, drink fountains and vending machines
  • shared guest amenities, such as playgrounds, pools, kitchens, BBQs and gyms
  • contact with delivery drivers and other contractors attending the workplace
  • exchanging cash with customers
  • the physical and psychological challenges for employees working at quarantine accommodation/hotels

Controlling risks

Where a risk to health or safety 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.

At risk employees

Some employees may be at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 or becoming more seriously ill if infected. The Department of Health (DH) has the latest information on 'at risk' groups.

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.

Information, training and instruction

Employers must provide necessary information, training, and instruction for employees and independent contractors to ensure they can perform their work safely, such as the correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE) if it is required, good hygiene practices and cleaning procedures.

Screening and quarantining

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.

Record-keeping for contact tracing

Under Pandemic Orders made by the Victorian Minister for Health, workplaces may be required to keep records of attendance to assist with contact tracing.

Physical distancing

Maintaining 1.5 metres distance between employees and guests is essential to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Under Pandemic Orders made by the Victorian Minister for Health, workplaces may be required to comply with particular density quotient rules.

In consultation with employees and independent contractors, employers should develop a plan to ensure physical distancing is maintained.

The advice below may include activities that may not be permissible. Employers should check what activities are permissible on the DH website.

Ventilation

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.

Hygiene

Cleaning needs to be conducted in accordance with the DH information on cleaning and disinfection for workplaces.

Hygiene practices

Employers should develop good hygiene practices for both employees and guests:

  • Develop infection control policies that outline measures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, such as training employees on how areas may need to be cleaned and disinfected in the event of any contamination.
  • Train employees to wear gloves when cleaning and wash their hands correctly after cleaning.
  • Train employees on correct hand-washing techniques, for example, to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use a >70% alcohol-based hand sanitiser, and to dry hands correctly – for example, place posters near handwashing facilities showing how to correctly wash and dry hands.
  • Instruct employees to wash their hands before and after eating, after coughing or sneezing, after changing tasks or touching potentially contaminated surfaces.
  • Inform employees of workplace hygiene standards – for example, placing rubbish in bins provided and avoiding putting items such as phones on meal surfaces.
  • Display information in highly visible locations throughout the venue about the symptoms of COVID-19 and the need to stay home when unwell.
  • Inform guests of workplace hygiene standards, including:
    • washing their hands or using alcohol-based hand sanitiser upon arrival
    • washing their hands, or using sanitiser, in restrooms
    • not entering the premises if they feel unwell with flu-like symptoms
  • Encourage contactless payment where possible.
  • Provide alcohol-based hand sanitisers in appropriate locations for patrons and employees to use, such as entries and exits.
  • Clean frequently touched areas and surfaces several times a day with a detergent or disinfectant solution or wipe, for example EFTPOS equipment, elevator buttons, handrails, tables, counter tops, door knobs, sinks and keyboards.
  • Encourage employees to minimise the amount of personal property they bring to work and to clean with disinfectant any personal property they do bring to work, such as sunglasses, mobile phones and iPads.
  • Remove public access to flyers, maps and guides. Instead, provide these to guests on request or share electronic versions.
  • Remove books and magazines from foyers and common areas.
  • Provide alcohol-based sanitiser or disinfectant wipes for guests to sanitise their luggage handles before being handled by employees.
  • Ensure room keys are cleaned and disinfected before re-using.
  • Where possible, either do not provide, or replace items, such as pens, note pads, bibles, shampoo and conditioner in rooms between guests, or ensure these are cleaned appropriately.
  • Provide disposable plates, cutlery and serviettes for any room service and in-room facilities, where appropriate.
  • When shared amenities are provided to guests, such as kitchens and bathrooms, implement processes to increase good hygiene and communicate these to guests. For example, provide guests with their own items to use during their stay, such as tea towels, bath mats and dish cloths to avoid sharing with other guests. Also ask guests to:
    • wash their hands with soap and water or sanitise their hands when entering and exiting the kitchen and practice good hand hygiene when using the bathroom
    • take all belongings with them when leaving the bathroom, such as towels
    • only touch items (such as cutlery) that they will use
    • place their dirty dishes in the dishwasher immediately after use
    • wipe down any benchtops, tables and chairs that they use, and
    • place all their food on one shelf in the refrigerator or pantry, or in containers provided, and use that shelf/container for the duration of their stay
  • When shared recreational facilities are provided to guests, such as games rooms, pools and BBQs, implement processes to increase good hygiene and communicate these to guests. For example:
    • provide sanitiser at the entrance to recreational facilities and ask guests to use the sanitiser when they enter and exit the area
    • if practicable, implement a booking system for guests to use recreational facilities and allocate an employee to clean the facilities after every booking. If that is not practicable, provide cleaning wipes so guests can wipe down facilities before use
    • store items such as video games, DVDs and pool cues and balls behind the information desk to minimise handling, and disinfect items when they are returned

You should put processes in place to regularly monitor and review the implementation of hygiene measures to ensure they are being followed and remain effective.

Legal duties

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 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 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.