Managing coronavirus (COVID-19) risks: Public administration and safety industry

Information about managing risks of exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19) in the public administration and safety industry.

Last updated

Friday 28 Aug 2020

Industries and topics
  • Office work and professional services
  • 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 public administration and safety industry

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

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

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

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

                    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 coronavirus (COVID-19).

                    Employees have a duty to take reasonable care of their own and others health and safety in the workplace and cooperate with their employers about any action they take to comply with the OHS Act or Regulations.

                    Identifying risks

                    Employers must identify hazards and, if necessary, assess the level of risk to the health of employees from exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19) at their workplace.

                    Risks of exposure to coronavirus (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 coronavirus (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 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.

                                            Screening

                                            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.

                                            For further information about screening, please see the Business Victoria website.

                                            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).

                                            Physical distancing

                                            One of the ways coronavirus (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. There should also be on average no more than one person per four square metres of floor space.

                                            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 and density of one person per four square metres 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 coronavirus (COVID-19) particles. The workplace should be cleaned more often than usual to improve hygiene.

                                                          Employers should ensure that the following are cleaned regularly in accordance with DHHS 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 DHHS and the Australian Government Department of Health have posters and other resources aimed at educating people about coronavirus (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 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.
                                                                                  • 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 coronavirus (COVID-19)

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

                                                                                            • maintain regular communication with employees on how coronavirus (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 coronavirus (COVID-19) minimise confusion and are clearly understood by employees
                                                                                                • keep up to date with information on coronavirus (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.