Managing COVID-19 risks: Public administration and safety industry

Information about managing risks of exposure to COVID-19 in the public administration and safety 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 Victorian 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.

COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria may be updated at any time. You must stay up to date with changes for your industry.

How are my occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations impacted by the restrictions?

There is no change to your obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) as a result of the 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 all of 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 public administration and safety industry

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

Researchers are still learning about COVID-19, emerging variants of concern and its long-term effects.

Current research suggests that COVID-19 spreads through:

  • 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
  • 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

The public administration and safety industry includes a diverse range of work activities and covers bodies engaged in state or local government legislative, executive and judicial activities. It includes bodies that set policy and oversee government programs, and bodies that provide police and correctional and detention services.

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 level of risk to the health of employees from exposure to COVID-19 at their workplace.

Risks of exposure to COVID-19 that may arise in public administration and safety settings include:

  • working near other employees and people requiring services
  • engaging with delivery drivers, contractors or other visitors attending the workplace
  • transmission of the virus through frequently-touched surfaces (eg. desks, chairs, light switches)
  • transmission of the virus through contact with items exchanged with members of public (eg. licenses, cash, documents)
  • inspection of vehicles, facilities or residences
  • sharing facilities such as bathrooms, kitchens and communal break areas
  • employees sharing items used in the workplace such as computers and phones
  • in correctional facilities, exposure to the virus from prisoners, professional visitors (eg. lawyers), visiting and on-site health services, and personal visitors
  • employees who work with the public such as prison guards, police officers, or court wardens experiencing, and responding to, incidents of violence and aggression

Employers must also identify whether other risks have arisen or increased as a result of COVID-19. For example, increased work demands or changes to the way work is done may lead to psychosocial risks including increased:

  • stress
  • fatigue
  • bullying, harassment, and violence and aggression (by people requiring services or by other employees)

Controlling risks

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.

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.

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.

Screening

Employers should implement an employee screening process to minimise the introduction of COVID-19 into the workplace, for example by asking employees before they enter the workplace if they are subject to any directions issued by the Victorian CHO (such as isolation, quarantine or in relation to travel), have been in contact with any confirmed cases of COVID-19, or have any of the COVID-19 symptoms.

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.

For further information about screening, please see the coronavirus.vic.gov.au website.

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 the Victorian Department of Health (DH)
  • unwell employees do 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

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)

In the event of a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case at the workplace, Directions from the Victorian Chief Health Officer 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.

Physical distancing

One of the ways COVID-19 spreads is by people coughing or sneezing, causing droplets to transmit from one person to another. That is why one of the best ways to protect others is to practise physical distancing.

Physical distancing means maintaining a distance of at least 1.5m between people wherever possible. Every attempt needs to be made to ensure at least a 1.5m distance between people is achieved and maintained.

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

Employers can facilitate physical distancing by:

  • configuring communal work areas so that employees are spaced at least 1.5m apart, if possible
  • using floor markings to provide minimum physical distancing guides between workstations
  • installing screens between workstations
  • minimising the build-up of employees waiting to enter and exit the workplace and various parts of the workplace
  • staggering arrival, departure and break times where practicable to avoid congestion
  • establishing regular communication to reinforce the need to maintain physical distancing and other control measures. Any non-essential face-to-face meetings or training should be postponed, cancelled or held in a virtual environment
  • ensuring physical distancing is maintained for areas accessible to the public, with information provided visibly and accessibly

Workplace cleaning

Cleaning the workplace is an important way to remove COVID-19 particles. The workplace should be cleaned more often than usual to improve hygiene.

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

Employers should ensure that the following are cleaned regularly in accordance with DH advice about cleaning:

  • frequently touched surfaces, such as desks, keyboards, counters, handrails, doors, phones, and motor vehicles (eg. door handles, gear sticks, steering wheels)
  • workplace amenities such as kitchens, lunchrooms, communal areas, change rooms, toilets and vending machines

Employers should make sanitising wipes available so that employees can clean personal items used in the workplace, such as glasses and mobile phones.

Employers should ensure that people undertaking cleaning are provided with the information, instruction and training as is necessary, including to enable those persons to perform the work without risks to their health and safety.

Employee hygiene

Employers should ensure all employees practise good hygiene, including by:

  • washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds including before and after eating, and after going to the toilet
  • covering coughs and sneezes with their elbow or a tissue
  • immediately disposing of used tissues in a rubbish bin
  • using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser
  • cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and shared equipment after use
  • ensuring safe disposal of single use personal protective equipment (PPE)

Employers should use signage and posters to promote hygiene messages. The DH and the Australian Government Department of Health have posters and other resources aimed at educating people about COVID-19.

Employers should ensure that bathrooms 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. These must be kept clean, properly stocked and in good working order.

Employers should also provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not immediately available. Hand sanitizer should be placed in multiple locations (including workplace entrances, exits and work vehicles) to encourage hand hygiene, and provided to all employees working in the field. If possible, choose hand sanitizer stations that are touch-free.

Deliveries, contractors and visitors attending the workplace

Consider the following risk controls to enable physical distancing with deliveries, contractors and other visitors attending the workplace.

  • Cancel or postpone non-essential visits to the workplace.
  • Minimise the number of employees attending to deliveries, contractors and other visitors as much as possible.
  • Make hand washing facilities or alcohol-based hand sanitiser available for employees after physically handling deliveries.
  • Ask visitors before they enter the workplace if they are subject to any directions issued by the Victorian CHO (such as isolation, quarantine or in relation to travel), have been in contact with any confirmed cases of COVID-19, or have any of the symptoms listed above.
  • Clearly instruct contractors and other visitors of hygiene and distancing requirements that are in place.
  • Direct delivery drivers to remain in vehicles and to communicate with employees with mobile phones wherever possible.
  • Restrict movement of delivery workers, contractors and other visitors.
  • Use electronic paperwork where possible.
  • Set up alternatives to signatures if possible. For example, a confirmation email or a photo of the loaded or unloaded goods might be accepted as proof of delivery or collection.

Managing psychosocial hazards from COVID-19

To manage psychosocial hazards that have arisen or have increased as a result of COVID-19, employers should:

  • maintain regular communication with employees on how COVID-19 is being managed at the workplace and what controls are being put in place
  • ensure any changes to systems of work as a result of COVID-19 minimise confusion and are clearly understood by employees
  • keep up to date with information on COVID-19 and regularly share this information with employees
  • proactively support employees who are identified to be more at risk of workplace psychological injury (for example, frontline employees or those working from home)
  • provide employees a point of contact to discuss their concerns

Prisons and the youth justice system

Information for specific risk controls in prisons and the youth justice system in addition to the control measures outlined above.

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.