Managing coronavirus (COVID-19) risks: Manufacturing industry

This guidance is intended to help employers prevent and control employees' exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19) in the manufacturing industry.

Last updated

Thursday 27 Aug 2020

Industries and topics
  • Manufacturing
  • 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 the manufacturing 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, stop buttons or grab straps and rails contaminated by a person with the infection

                    Some groups of people are more at risk of serious illness from coronavirus (COVID-19), such as those who are elderly or who have certain pre-existing medical conditions. More information about 'close contact' and who is most at risk of serious illness.

                    Manufacturing is one of the cornerstones of Victoria's economy, employing hundreds of thousands of people producing food, textiles, wood, printing, chemicals, metal, machinery and other goods. Employees in the manufacturing industry are at risk of being exposed to coronavirus (COVID-19) at their workplace through factors such as:

                    • close contact with fellow employees in high-traffic environments
                      • engaging with delivery drivers or contractors attending the workplace
                        • shared handling of plant and equipment
                          • shared handling of products, including raw materials during the manufacturing process
                            • shared handling of manufactured goods
                              • increased numbers of non-direct employees such as labour hire workers, sales persons, clients, suppliers and others

                                Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) employers have a duty to provide and maintain, so far as reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees, including independent contractors. This duty includes preventing risks to safety and health, including psychological health, 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 to cooperate with their employers about any action they take to comply with the OHS Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations).

                                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 happen in consultation, so far as reasonably practicable, with employees and any health and safety representatives (HSRs).

                                Employers should consider each group of employees, from those handling deliveries of raw materials through to those involved in producing the final manufactured goods. This includes areas such as manufacturing, packaging, storage, warehouses, forklift movement, cleaning and maintenance, cafeteria staff, administration, contractors and their employees who have to come on site to carry out work for the employer, such as the servicing and maintenance of equipment.

                                Contributing factors

                                Some of the main factors that could contribute to manufacturing employees contracting coronavirus (COVID-19) include:

                                Controlling risks

                                Where a risk to health is identified at a workplace, employers must, so far as reasonably practicable, eliminate the risk. Where it is not possible to eliminate the risk, employers must control the risk, so far as reasonably practicable.

                                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.

                                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.

                                Working from home

                                Employers should make every reasonable effort to ensure those employees who can work from home do so, for example administrative, corporate or office workers. For those working from home, the employer needs to equip the employee with the tools required to perform their job effectively and in a manner without risk to their health and safety.

                                Screening and quarantining

                                Employers should implement an employee screening process to minimise the introduction of coronavirus (COVID-19) into the workplace, for example by asking employees before they enter the workplace 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), or have any of the symptoms listed above.

                                You should direct employees to inform you if they:

                                • experience any symptoms
                                  • have been or have potentially been exposed to someone who has been diagnosed with or is suspected of having coronavirus (COVID-19)
                                    • are subject to any health directions such as isolation, quarantine or in relation to travel

                                      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).

                                      If an employee has symptoms

                                      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

                                          To ensure person-to-person contact is minimised, screening may be in the form of a self-assessment that employees can complete before attending the workplace for each shift.

                                          The Staff coronavirus (COVID-19) health questionnaire on the Business Victoria website is a useful screening tool for employers.

                                          The DHHS has information about restrictions in relation to travel in metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria.

                                          Policies and procedures for screening employees should be developed in consultation with employees, any HSRs and occupational medical professionals.

                                          If an employee is at work and develops symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), the employer must direct the employee with symptoms to travel home immediately. Where this is not possible, the employee should be isolated in a separate room until they can travel home.

                                          The employee should be advised to be tested for coronavirus (COVID-19) as soon as possible, call the coronavirus (COVID-19) information line on 1800 675 398 and follow the self-isolation guidance available on the DHHS website. More information is available on the DHHS website.

                                          Record keeping and contact tracing

                                          Under current public health advice, all Victorian workplaces are required to establish and maintain a register of every person who attends the workplace for a period of more than 15 minutes. This includes all employees, including sub-contractors, and any customers, clients or visitors permitted in the workplace, including workplace inspectors.

                                          If an employee or visitor tests positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), a current and accurate workplace attendance register will allow employers to immediately identify anyone who has been in close contact with that person within the previous 48 hours.

                                          Physical distancing

                                          One of the ways coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads is by people coughing or sneezing, causing airborne droplets to transmit from one person to another. This is why face coverings and physical distancing are among the best ways to protect others.

                                          Physical distancing means maintaining a distance of at least 1.5m between people wherever possible. Employers should make every attempt to ensure at least 1.5m between employees is achieved and maintained. In addition, on average there should be no more than 1 person per 4 square metres of floor space. Use floor markings to provide minimum physical distancing guides between workstations or areas likely to create congregation of employees.

                                          Manufacturing workplaces should practise and encourage physical distancing. This includes the factory floor, entry and exit points, toilets and change rooms, dining and smoking areas, office areas and at meetings.

                                          Ways that employers and employees can encourage physical distancing include the following:

                                          Hygiene and cleaning

                                          Environmental cleaning

                                          The amount of time coronavirus (COVID-19) survives on inanimate objects and surfaces varies. Environmental cleaning is one way to remove the virus.

                                          Follow the DHHS advice about cleaning – see the documents about 'Cleaning and disinfecting to reduce COVID-19 transmission' on the DHHS Business and industry coronavirus disease (COVID-19) page.

                                          Employers should increase usual cleaning practises, including at the end of each shift. In addition:

                                          • ensure frequently touched surfaces including hand rails and door handles are cleaned and disinfected regularly with appropriate detergent or disinfectant solutions
                                            • frequently cleanse and disinfect personal items used in the workplace such as glasses and phones
                                            • workplace amenities including kitchens, lunchrooms, common areas, change rooms, toilets, showers, drink fountains and vending machines should be cleaned and disinfected and the frequency of this cleaning should increase

                                              Additional cleaning and hygiene controls that may be required include:

                                              • ensuring surfaces are cleaned if an employee spreads droplets, such as through sneezing, coughing or vomiting
                                                • ensuring people who are cleaning wear gloves and follow manufacturer's recommendations for use of personal protective equipment (PPE). For example, employees may need protective eye wear when using some chemicals. Where possible, wash hands with soap and water after cleaning or, if washing is not possible, use alcohol-based hand sanitiser. The DHHS website has information about putting on and taking off PPE and there is also PPE information on this page under the heading Personal protective equipment
                                                  • making alcohol-based hand sanitiser available throughout the workplace, including for employees to use after disposing of waste
                                                    • providing foot-operated closed bins in appropriate locations for employees to hygienically dispose of waste such as used tissues as soon as possible after use
                                                      • where employees' work clothes are washed on site, appropriate procedures should be in place and reviewed to ensure the effectiveness of the procedures
                                                        • consider increasing the use of fresh outside air and reducing the use of recirculated air conditioning in common areas

                                                          Cleaning hazards

                                                          Using flammable or disinfectant cleaning products to spray or wipe down equipment may present additional hazards, especially when used around potential ignition sources.  Flammable cleaning liquids must not be sprayed directly near ignition sources or near open flames. Employers must eliminate or reduce these risks, so far as reasonably practicable.

                                                          More information about cleaning is available in the documents about 'Cleaning and disinfecting to reduce COVID-19 transmission' on the DHHS Business and industry coronavirus disease (COVID-19) page.

                                                          Shared tools, plant and equipment

                                                          Avoid the shared use of tools, plant and equipment wherever possible.

                                                          Where it is not possible to eliminate shared use:

                                                          • provide cleaning products, for example, alcohol spray or solution, where communal tools, plant and equipment are located
                                                            • keep cleaning products with tools, plant and equipment if they move around the factory
                                                              • ensure all operators thoroughly wash with soap and water or sanitise their hands before and after every use
                                                                • ensure all parts of tools, plant and equipment, for example, buttons, switches, levers, handles and handrails, are wiped down before and after use

                                                                  The shared use of phones, desks, offices, computers and other devices should also be avoided. Where this is not possible, these items should be regularly disinfected.

                                                                  Employee hygiene

                                                                  Ensure all employees practise good hygiene, including by:

                                                                  • washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, including before and after eating and going to the toilet
                                                                    • completely drying hands using paper towel or hand-drying machines following washing of hands
                                                                      • covering coughs and sneezes with an elbow or a tissue
                                                                        • avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth
                                                                          • immediately disposing of tissues into a waste bin then washing hands
                                                                            • using alcohol-based hand sanitisers
                                                                              • cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and shared equipment after use
                                                                                • limiting contact with others
                                                                                  • Employers should ensure that washroom facilities for employees 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. Facilities must be kept clean, properly stocked and in good working order.

                                                                                    Employers should also provide alcohol-based hand sanitisers containing at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not immediately available. Place hand sanitiser in multiple locations to encourage hand hygiene. If possible, choose touch-free hand sanitiser stations.

                                                                                    Employers should also consider other ways to promote personal hygiene, such as:

                                                                                    • building additional short breaks into staff schedules to increase the frequency that staff can wash their hands
                                                                                      • extending currently rostered breaks to allow employees to follow proper hygiene procedures
                                                                                        • providing tissues and no-touch trash receptacles, for example, foot pedal-operated rubbish bins, for employees to use
                                                                                          • educating employees that cigarettes and smokeless tobacco use can lead to increased contact between potentially contaminated hands and mouths, and that avoiding these products may reduce the risk of infection
                                                                                            • educating employees not to share items such as drink bottles or cigarettes
                                                                                              • reducing the number of touch points for employees, for example, by leaving access doors open where appropriate

                                                                                                Employers should educate employees to avoid touching their faces, including their eyes, nose and mouth, particularly until after they have thoroughly washed their hands upon completing work and after removing PPE.

                                                                                                Personal protective equipment

                                                                                                Under the Chief Health Officer's directions, employers must take reasonable steps to ensure employees wear a face covering at all times when working at the employer's premises.

                                                                                                Where the work or task requires the use of specific types of face coverings in the workplace, the employer must provide these coverings.

                                                                                                Employees may already wear respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to control risks associated with their work. Where employees wear RPE, the employer must conduct a risk assessment to ensure the level of RPE provided controls the risks associated with their work, including the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

                                                                                                Appropriate face masks include respirators that meet the Australian/New Zealand Standard on Respiratory protective devices (AS/NZS 1716:2012) or its equivalent and surgical masks, noting that surgical masks would be adequate and that respirators should be primarily reserved for specialist healthcare procedures.

                                                                                                Where PPE such as face masks or face shields is relied on as a control measure:

                                                                                                • employers must ensure adequate PPE is available on site and within easy access
                                                                                                  • appropriate training on the wearing, removal and maintenance of the PPE needs to be provided, along with supervision to ensure it is appropriately used
                                                                                                    • disposable face masks should be disposed of after every break
                                                                                                      • non-disposable face masks need to be appropriately cleaned and stored when not in use
                                                                                                        • face shields or protective eyewear that is reusable must be appropriately cleaned after each use

                                                                                                          Deliveries, contractors and visitors attending the workplace

                                                                                                          • Non-essential visits to the workplace should be cancelled or postponed.
                                                                                                            • Consider installing entrance signs which state all visitors require appointments.
                                                                                                              • Consider using security measures such as locked gates to restrict unauthorised entry to the site.
                                                                                                                • Minimise the number of employees attending to deliveries and contractors as much as possible.
                                                                                                                  • Delivery drivers and other contractors who need to attend the workplace to provide maintenance or repair services or perform other essential activities should receive clear instructions of requirements while they are on site.
                                                                                                                    • Ensure handwashing facilities or, if not possible, alcohol-based hand sanitisers are readily available for employees physically handling deliveries and for those people coming onto the site.
                                                                                                                      • Instruct visiting delivery drivers and contractors to remain in vehicles and use contactless methods such as mobile phones to communicate with employees wherever possible.
                                                                                                                        • Instruct visiting delivery drivers and contractors to use alcohol-based hand sanitiser before handling deliveries.
                                                                                                                          • Use, and ask delivery drivers and contractors to use, electronic paperwork where possible to minimise physical interaction. Where possible, set up alternatives to requiring signatures. For instance, see whether a confirmation email or a photo of the loaded or unloaded goods can be accepted as proof of delivery or collection, as applicable.
                                                                                                                            • Employers should ask contractors and labour hire businesses to provide copies of their coronavirus (COVID-19) management plans. This may provide employers with information about contract and labour hire employees' knowledge and awareness of coronavirus (COVID-19), hygiene measures and ways to prevent the virus from spreading.

                                                                                                                              Communication and employee welfare

                                                                                                                              Employers must consult with employees and any HSRs on matters related to health or safety that directly affect, or are likely to directly affect them, so far as reasonably practicable. Employers should also:

                                                                                                                              • maintain regular and ongoing communication with employees on how coronavirus (COVID-19) is being managed at the workplace and what controls are being put in place
                                                                                                                                • provide information to employees in a format that they can readily understand, for example, in their own language, and in multiple formats, for example, email, posters and verbal, including employees on leave, contractors and casual workers
                                                                                                                                  • ensure there are contingency plans in place for staff replacement when necessary
                                                                                                                                    • provide documented information to family, potential visitors, labour hire staff, contractors and others

                                                                                                                                      What to do if an employee has coronavirus (COVID-19)

                                                                                                                                      In the event of a suspected or confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) case, DHHS will contact the individual to identify the close contacts and the source of the infection. If the employee has attended their workplace while infectious and had close contact with other employees, DHHS will contact the employer.

                                                                                                                                      Employers should establish a response plan and procedure for suspected and confirmed cases, which should include the following:

                                                                                                                                      1. Consultation and communication arrangements with employees and contractors, including making sure contact details are up to date, including, for example, visitors, labour hire employees and contractors.
                                                                                                                                        1. Maintain workplace record keeping and tracing information.
                                                                                                                                          1. Identify site locations for cleaning and disinfection.
                                                                                                                                            1. Implement an appropriate cleaning and disinfection regime, which should be overseen by a competent person, for example, an occupational hygienist.
                                                                                                                                              1. The competent person should advise that the cleaning and disinfection regime has occurred for re-entry to the affected areas.
                                                                                                                                                1. Provide employees and contractors with relevant information prior to re-entering the site and resuming work.
                                                                                                                                                  1. Review and revise systems to ensure risks are effectively controlled, in consultation with employees and HSRs.
                                                                                                                                                    1. Review and improve security measures as required.

                                                                                                                                                      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 any HSRs on matters related to health or safety that directly affect or are likely to directly affect them
                                                                                                                                                                      • provide documented information to family, potential visitors, labour hire, contractors

                                                                                                                                                                        A person with management or control of a workplace must ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it are safe and without risks to health.

                                                                                                                                                                        Employees

                                                                                                                                                                        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
                                                                                                                                                                            • cooperate 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 WorkSafe's guidance on powers for HSRs.