Managing COVID-19 risks: Commercial and domestic cleaning

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

Directions and industry requirements are regularly updated

This guidance is correct as at time of publication, however, Victorian Chief Health Officer (CHO) Directions and industry requirements are regularly updated. Readers of this guidance need to check the latest CHO Directions for applicability.

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.

        Victoria's COVIDSafe settings 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 directions issued by the Victorian Chief Health Officer (CHO).

        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 CHO 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, and ensure that you are meeting your obligations under the OHS Act. Employees must also comply with their duties under the OHS Act.

        COVID-19 and the commercial and domestic cleaning industry

        A COVID-19 infection can cause mild to severe respiratory illness.

        Researchers are still learning about COVID-19 and its long-term effects.

        Current research suggests that COVID-19 spreads through:

        • droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks or sings – these can enter your eyes, nose or mouth when you are in close contact
          • touching objects or surfaces (such as door handles) contaminated with droplets
            • airborne aerosols generated by actions like coughing, sneezing, talking or singing – these can stay in the air for some time, especially in indoor spaces with poor ventilation

              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.

              Identifying risks

              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

                                Controlling risks

                                Face masks in workplaces

                                Directions from the Victorian CHO about face masks are in place across Victoria. For more information see the guidance Managing 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 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, Directions from the Victorian CHO may also require employers to take specific response actions.

                                          Notifiable incidents and COVID-19

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

                                          Screening

                                          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 health directions (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

                                                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 Directions from the Victorian CHO, workplaces may also be required to comply with particular density quotient rules.

                                                            Employee hygiene

                                                            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

                                                                            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 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.

                                                                                                    Workplace directions issued by the Victorian CHO 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 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

                                                                                                              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.