Managing COVID-19 risks: Public transport industry

Preventing and controlling employee and passenger exposure to COVID-19 in public transport vehicles such as trains, trams, buses and ferries.

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 transport industry

COVID-19 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

Under the 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.

Employers must also ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that other people are not exposed to risks to their health or safety as a result of the employer's conduct or undertaking.

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.

More information about employer and employee obligations is set out in the Legal duties section.

Controlling the risks of exposure to COVID-19

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 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.

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.

Employers should monitor expert advice as the COVID-19 situation develops (for example from DH). In consultation with employees and any HSRs, employers should review risk controls when there are any changes to hazards and risks, to ensure controls remain effective.

Screening

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.

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 health directions (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.

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

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

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 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.

Hygiene

Employee and passenger hygiene

Educate and encourage all employees on the practice of good hygiene, including:

  • washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, including before and after eating and going to the toilet
  • covering coughs and sneezes with an elbow or a tissue
  • avoiding touching their eyes, nose and mouth
  • immediately disposing of tissues properly
  • using alcohol-based hand sanitisers
  • cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and shared equipment after use
  • not shaking hands
  • limiting contact with others where possible, including touching a passenger's payment card

Washroom facilities for passengers and employees need to have adequate facilities for good hygiene such as adequate supply of soap, water, paper hand towels or hand drying machines and toilet paper. These must be kept clean, properly stocked and in good working order.

Employers should display signage and posters at terminals and stations and inside vehicles, to encourage passengers to practise good hygiene before, during and after using public transport. The DH and the Australian Government Department of Health have posters and other resources aimed at educating the public about COVID-19.

Employers should also:

  • consider reducing the number of touch points for passengers and employees
  • provide additional hand sanitising stations for employees and passengers where possible, to encourage use

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

PPE (for example, gloves, eye protection) is a protection of last resort and should always be used in conjunction with other control measures.

Unless specific risks have been identified and risk exposure is evident, it is not necessary to install a perspex or 'sneeze' screen between employees and the public due to shorter interaction times.

Environmental cleaning

The amount of time the COVID-19 virus survives on inanimate objects and surfaces varies. Environmental cleaning can reduce the risk of the virus spreading via frequently touched surfaces.

Usual cleaning regimes need to be increased.

  • Ensure regular cleaning including thorough cleaning of transport vehicles such as trains and trams.
  • Ensure frequently touched surfaces and bathrooms are cleaned and disinfected regularly with appropriate detergent or disinfectant solutions. This needs to include doors, handrails stop buttons, grab straps, card readers, barriers and work stations.
  • Frequently cleanse and disinfect personal items used in the workplace such as glasses and phones (for example by using isopropyl alcohol wipes).
  • Workplace amenities including kitchens, lunch rooms, common areas, change rooms, toilets, showers, drink fountains and vending machines should be cleaned industrially and the frequency of this cleaning should increase.

Employees should continue to use standard cleaning practices at the end of each shift, as part of good hygiene practice.

Additional cleaning and hygiene controls include:

  • Clean surfaces with appropriate disinfectant wipes. If a surface is visibly soiled it also needs to be thoroughly cleaned with appropriate products.
  • Encourage cleaners to clean wearing gloves and use alcohol-based hand sanitiser before and after wearing gloves.
  • Make alcohol-based hand sanitiser available throughout the workplace.
  • Provide bins in appropriate locations for employees and passengers to hygienically dispose of waste such as used tissues as soon as possible after use.
  • Provide alcohol-based hand sanitiser for employees to use when they must handle money or EFTPOS machines.

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

Physical distancing

Physical distancing is maintaining a distance of at least 1.5 metres between people wherever possible, including employees and passengers.

Physical distancing should be practised where possible in public and work environments where directed by DH.

On transport

Encourage passengers to maximise physical distancing to the greatest extent possible:

  • Consider where additional services or pre-booked seating may be possible to facilitate additional distancing.
  • Encourage passengers to travel outside of peak travel times.
  • Encourage staff to report breaches by public of safe distancing.

Reduce the time employees spend in close contact with passengers where possible:

  • Encourage the use of contactless facilities (for example, tap and go passes) and cashless payment.
  • Ask passengers to use the card readers furthest from the driver.
  • Alter the way passengers enter and exit the vehicle. For example:
    • request passengers board via the rear door where it does not infringe on safety concerns or the accessibility of the service for passengers with a disability or reduced mobility; and/or
    • if appropriate, request passengers enter and exit through separate doors to allow single-direction flow through the carriage
  • Restrict access to the areas immediately around drivers (for example, the first row of seats on buses).
  • Where possible, consider opening windows or adjusting air conditioning to increase ventilation.
  • Reconsider the need for ticket inspections or reduce the number of locations they visit during this time.

At passenger terminals and platforms

  • Consider passenger movement flow around the terminal or platform that supports physical distancing, while retaining access for people with a disability or reduced mobility. For example, reviewing passenger flow at barriers and opening selected wide barrier gates to reduce face-to-face contact.
  • Consider appropriate signage and floor markings to encourage passengers to practise physical distancing where possible including while waiting for transport, using escalators and lifts and when queueing to board.
  • Encourage customer service staff to stay behind information booths, or desks where booths are not available, to maintain sufficient distance from customers.
  • It is important that all attendees at worksites including staff and contractors are logged.

If physical distancing measures introduce new health and safety risks, employers must also manage those risks.

Communication and employee welfare

Employers should:

  • provide employees with regular updates about COVID-19 safety
  • provide updated information to all employees in a format that they can readily understand (for example, in their first language), including employees on leave, contractors and casual workers
  • ensure there are contingency plans in place for staff 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
  • 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
  • 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.