Managing coronavirus (COVID-19) risks: Education

Information about managing risks of exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19) associated with early childhood education, schools, TAFEs and training.

Last updated

Tuesday 25 Aug 2020

Industries and topics
  • Education
  • Infectious diseases

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 education environments

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

                    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. This includes preventing risks to health, including psychological health, and safety associated with potential exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19).

                    Employers also have a duty to consult with employees and health and safety representatives (HSRS), if any, 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).

                    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.

                    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)

                    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).

                    Identifying risks

                    Employers must identify hazards and if necessary, assess the level 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.

                    For example, risks of exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19) that may arise in education settings include:

                    • staff, children, students, attending services (such as Specialist Service Officers or nurses) or visitors who are unwell attending the premises
                      • transmission of the virus through high-touch surfaces (eg tables, chairs, doorknobs, light switches, remotes, handles, desks)
                        • sharing facilities such as bathrooms, kitchens and communal break areas

                          Employers must also identify whether there are other increased risks as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19), such as:

                          • vulnerable staff or students who are at greater risk of more serious illness if they are infected with coronavirus (COVID-19)
                            • stress or fatigue caused by an increased workload and ongoing changes to the way work is done
                              • instances of violence and aggression, either in online or onsite settings
                                • risks that may be associated with working from home, such as suitability of workstation set up, mental health risks or risks of family violence

                                  The Department of Education and Training (DET) is undertaking a centralised risk assessment process for education environments. When implementing advice issued by DET in relation to risk assessments, employers need to consider the risk assessment to ensure it is appropriate for the circumstances particular to their workplace, and to identify whether this introduces any additional risks.

                                  DET's Safety Management Plan has been developed for Victorian government schools, and may also be useful as a guide for other education settings, including in the private and independent sectors.

                                  Controlling risks

                                  Face coverings in workplaces

                                  Directions from the Chief Health Officer about face coverings are in place across Victoria. Everyone in Victoria over 12 years old needs to wear a face covering outside of their home, unless they have a lawful excuse not to do so. For more information see the guidance Managing coronavirus (COVID-19) risks: Face coverings 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 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.

                                  Each group of employees and contractors in the workplace should be considered. For example, cleaning and maintenance staff, delivery drivers, student support staff or visiting health services.

                                  The most important action that can be taken to reduce the risk of transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19), is to ensure that unwell employees, children, students or visitors do not attend the education facility.

                                  Employers should clearly communicate to employees, parents, guardians, contractors and other visitors that no one (children or adults) should attend the premises if they:

                                  • experience any symptoms, however mild
                                    • have been (or have potentially been) exposed to someone who has been diagnosed with or is suspected of having coronavirus (COVID-19)

                                      Physical distancing, hand hygiene, cough and sneeze etiquette and environmental cleaning are primary risk control measures and should be implemented in accordance with relevant sector-specific guidance, set out below.

                                      For schools, including specialist schools, and early childhood settings it may not be appropriate or practical to maintain 1.5 metres between children, or between employees and children. Where it is not possible to undertake work tasks and maintain physical distancing, the effective implementation of other controls, such as hygiene and environmental cleaning, becomes even more important.

                                      For information about how to control risks in early childhood education, schools (including specialist schools), TAFES and training:

                                      Note: Employers need to consider the specific circumstances of their workplace when they are assessing risks and implementing controls, to ensure control measures are adequate and appropriate.

                                      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 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.