Managing coronavirus (COVID-19) risks: Commercial and domestic cleaning

Managing risks of employee exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19) in the commercial and domestic cleaning industry.

Restrictions apply in metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria

Depending on your industry your workplace may:

  • be required to be closed for onsite work
    • remain open for onsite work with a completed COVIDSafe Plan or High Risk COVIDSafe Plan
      • be subject to restricted operations or industry specific obligations

        These restrictions may be updated at any time. You must stay up to date with any changes for your industry.

        How are my 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 restrictions.

        Preparation of a COVIDSafe Plan forms part of the development of a safe system of work, however having a COVIDSafe Plan and complying with Chief Health Officer Directions does not necessarily mean you have complied with your duties under the OHS Act and OHS Regulations.

        You must follow any health directions that apply to how your business must operate as well as ensure that you are meeting your obligations under the OHS Act. Employees must also comply with their duties under the OHS Act.

        Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the commercial and domestic cleaning industry

        A coronavirus (COVID-19) infection can cause mild to severe respiratory illness. The most common coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms reported are:

        • fever
          • chills or sweats
            • cough
              • sore throat
                • shortness of breath
                  • runny nose
                    • loss of sense of smell or taste

                      Coronavirus (COVID-19) is most likely to spread from person-to-person through:

                      • close contact with an infected person
                        • touching objects or surfaces (such as door handles) contaminated by a person with the infection

                          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 coronavirus (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 coronavirus (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.

                          Identifying risks

                          Employers must identify hazards and if necessary, assess the likelihood of risk to the health of employees from exposure to coronavirus (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 coronavirus (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 coronavirus (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

                                            Controlling risks

                                            Face masks in workplaces

                                            Directions from the Victorian Chief Health Officer about face masks are in place across Victoria. Everyone in Victoria over 12 must wear a fitted face mask outside of their home. For more information see the guidance Managing coronavirus (COVID-19) risks: Face masks in workplaces.

                                            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.

                                            Consult with employees

                                            Employers have a duty to consult with employees, independent contractors and any 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 coronavirus (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 coronavirus (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 DHHS
                                              • any unwell employee does not attend the workplace, including those who have been tested for coronavirus (COVID-19) and received a negative test result
                                                • employees who have been tested for coronavirus (COVID-19) and are awaiting their results or who are confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) cases do not attend the workplace

                                                  If an employee develops any of the symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), however mild, they should:

                                                  • self-isolate immediately, seek advice from their doctor or the DHHS 24-hour 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 coronavirus (COVID-19) diagnosis)

                                                      Suspected or confirmed cases

                                                      In the event of a suspected or confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) case at the workplace, Directions from the Chief Health Officer may also require that employers take specific response actions.

                                                      Notifiable incidents and coronavirus (COVID-19)

                                                      From 28 July 2020 new temporary regulations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 specify when employers and self-employed persons must notify WorkSafe of a confirmed diagnosis of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the workplace. For more information see the guidance Notifiable incidents involving coronavirus (COVID-19).

                                                      Screening

                                                      Employers should implement a screening process to minimise the introduction of coronavirus (COVID-19) into the workplace, for example by directing employees to inform you if they:

                                                      • are subject to any health directions (such as isolation, quarantine or in relation to travel)
                                                        • have been in contact with any confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19)
                                                          • are unwell or have any of the coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms

                                                            Physical distancing

                                                            Physical distancing of at least 1.5 metres needs to be implemented wherever possible to reduce the risk of coronavirus (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 Directions from the Chief Health Officer, Workplaces may also be required to comply with particular density quotient rules for shared spaces.

                                                                        Employee hygiene

                                                                        Maintaining good hygiene can help prevent the spread of coronavirus (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

                                                                                        Workplace cleaning

                                                                                        Any shared tools, equipment and products need to be cleaned thoroughly before and after each use.  

                                                                                        Employers should:

                                                                                        • 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 coronavirus (COVID-19)

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

                                                                                                Employers need to ensure they are up to date with relevant information provided by DHHS 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 coronavirus (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 coronavirus (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 coronavirus (COVID-19) cases.

                                                                                                      Employers should follow DHHS information on the appropriate use of PPE for coronavirus (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.

                                                                                                              Workplace directions issued by the Chief Health Officer 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

                                                                                                              Employers should:

                                                                                                              • keep up to date with information on coronavirus (COVID-19) and regularly share this information with employees and HSRs, if any
                                                                                                                • maintain regular communication with employees on how coronavirus (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

                                                                                                                        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 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.