Managing COVID-19 risks: Public transport industry

Information about managing risks of exposure to COVID-19 associated with public transport vehicles such as trains, trams, buses and ferries.

Pandemic Orders and industry requirements are regularly updated

This guidance is correct as at time of publication, however, Victorian Minister for Health's Pandemic Orders and industry requirements are regularly updated. Readers of this guidance need to check the latest Victorian Pandemic Orders for applicability.

Restrictions apply across Victoria

Depending on your industry your workplace may:

  • be subject to restricted operations or industry specific obligations
  • be subject to COVID-19 vaccination requirements

It is mandatory for every Victorian business with on-site operations to have a COVIDSafe Plan. COVIDSafe plans should be reviewed and updated regularly.

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 Pandemic Orders issued by the Victorian Minister for Health.

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 Pandemic Orders does not necessarily mean you have complied with all of your duties under the OHS Act and OHS Regulations.

You must follow any Pandemic Orders 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.

Transmission of COVID-19

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

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that can result in mild to very severe illness and death.

The main way COVID-19 spreads is when a person with COVID-19 exhales droplets and/or aerosol particles containing the virus. This can happen when they breathe out, cough, sneeze, speak, shout or sing.

Exhaled droplets range in size. Large droplets settle out of the air faster than they evaporate. Small droplets remain suspended in the air for longer periods. Very fine droplets may contain the virus, and can stay suspended in the air for anywhere from minutes to hours. Small droplets and particles are often referred to as ‘aerosols’.

Transmission of COVID-19 can occur in a number of ways, and possibly in combination.

1. Airborne transmission

This occurs when a person inhales aerosols that may contain viral particles that are infectious.

While the risk of transmission is highest when close to an infectious person, air currents can disperse small droplets and particles over long distances. These may be inhaled by people who have not had face-to-face contact or been in the same space with the infectious person. Airborne transmission is more likely to occur in indoor or enclosed settings that are poorly ventilated, crowded, or both. In these kinds of settings, the virus may remain suspended in the air for longer and increase the risk of spread as people tend to spend longer periods in indoor settings.

2. Droplet transmission

Transmission occurs where exhaled droplets from a person with COVID-19 come into contact with another person's mucosal surfaces (nose, mouth or eyes). The risk of transmission is highest when close to the source, where the concentration of these droplets is greatest.

3. Contaminated surfaces transmission

People may also become infected by touching surfaces that have been contaminated by the virus, and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth without cleaning their hands.

COVID-19 and the public transport industry

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

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

Pandemic Orders made by the Victorian Minister for Health about face masks are in place across Victoria. For more information see the guidance Managing COVID-19 risks: Face masks in workplaces.

COVID-19 vaccinations in workplaces

COVID-19 vaccination is one control measure that can reduce the risk of COVID-19 in workplaces. This should be part of a suite of controls used to reduce the risk of COVID-19 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.

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

Employers should implement an employee screening process to minimise the introduction of COVID-19 into the workplace. Employers should ask employees before they enter the workplace if they are currently subject to any Pandemic Order requirements (such as needing to isolate or quarantine), and instruct employees who have been in contact with confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 to follow Department of Health (DH) procedures.

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:

  • confirmed COVID-19 cases do not attend the workplace
  • 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
  • employees who have been in contact with confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 are instructed to follow DH procedures
  • any unwell employee does not attend the workplace, including those who have been tested for COVID-19 and are awaiting their test result

The symptoms of COVID-19 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.

If an employee develops any COVID-19 symptoms, however mild, they should:

  • self-isolate immediately, get tested and if needed, seek advice from their doctor or the Victorian Coronavirus Hotline on 1800 675 398.
  • tell their employer as soon as possible, follow the procedures their workplace has in place to deal with symptomatic people, 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 or cases at the workplace, Pandemic Orders issued by the Victorian Minister for Health may also require employers to take specific response actions.

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 in cases where the public are not maintaining physical distance.

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
  • 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

Ventilation

People in indoor environments, particularly in crowded or inadequately ventilated spaces, are at a higher risk of becoming infected with COVID-19. When someone infected with COVID-19 has been present, the virus may linger in poorly ventilated spaces or areas with stagnant air for a longer period of time.

Providing an adequate supply of fresh air (ventilation) to enclosed areas of a workplace dilutes the number of airborne virus particles and lowers transmission risk. Improving ventilation alone does not reduce the risk of transmission via droplets and contaminated surfaces. It needs to be considered as part of a suite of infection control measures.

Adequate ventilation can be achieved using natural or mechanical ventilation, or a combination of the two.

  • Natural ventilation is fresh air coming in through open windows, doors or air vents.
  • Mechanical ventilation means a method of forced or induced ventilation using mechanical air-handling systems that bring in fresh air from outside. It forms part of a building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system.

Note: Natural ventilation is dependent on variable local conditions (eg window opening size, weather conditions including wind speed and direction) and may not always be effective in quickly removing airborne virus particles.

Better ventilation can be achieved by:

  • increasing the rate that air is supplied
  • increasing the supply of fresh outdoor air
  • reducing or eliminating recirculated air in HVAC systems
  • improving filtration for air recirculated by HVAC systems if the ventilation rate is not compromised
  • regular maintenance of the HVAC system, including changing filters

Guidance on HVAC systems is available in AS1668.2:2012 The use of ventilation and air-conditioning in buildings, Part 2: Mechanical ventilation in buildings. Further information on HVAC systems and COVID-19 is available in World Health Organization (WHO) guidance Roadmap to improve and ensure good indoor ventilation in the context of COVID-19 (who.int).

In areas where it is not possible to maintain adequate ventilation and there is a high risk of transmission, portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtered air cleaners may be appropriate to be used to reduce the concentration of airborne virus particles and other aerosol contaminants. These units are not a substitute for ventilation. Employers should assess the risk and/or undertake a ventilation assessment to identify what ventilation strategies are appropriate for the space and whether an air cleaner is needed and consider operational placement and maintenance of these units.

Employers should work with the building's owner or manager to improve ventilation where possible. Engaging a suitably qualified person such as an occupational hygienist or a ventilation engineer to advise and assist should also be considered.

For more information about ventilation, see the following documents on the DH Infection prevention control (IPC) resources page:

  • COVID-19: Ventilation principles and strategies to reduce aerosol transmission in community and workplace settings.
  • Department of Health IPC Ventilation Policy.
  • Coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission from air-circulating, wind-blowing devices and activities.
  • Ventilation strategies to reduce COVID-19 infection, when used as per DH guidelines.

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.