Managing COVID-19 risks: Sport and recreation industries

Information about preventing and controlling risks of exposure to COVID-19 in the sports and recreation industry.

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 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 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 sport and recreation industry

The sport and recreation industry includes organisations, such as community sporting organisations, licensed tour operators, residential camps, indoor and outdoor activity providers, gyms and fitness centres. These activities are undertaken in a range of spaces, including sports and fitness centres, residential camps, sporting ovals, aquatic centres, gymnasiums, national parks, parks and gardens, aquatic centres, beaches, rivers and lakes.

Employees in the sport and recreation industry may be at risk of being exposed to COVID-19 at their workplace through factors such as:

  • close contact with fellow employees and clients
  • crowding during participation in sporting or outdoor recreational activities
  • insufficient time between scheduling of activities
  • hygiene management at entry and exit points and in communal areas
  • shared equipment and sporting goods

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 and others, including independent contractors, clients and visitors. This duty includes preventing risks to safety and health, including psychological health, associated with potential exposure to COVID-19.

Employers and self-employed people have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that other people (for example volunteers and patrons) are not exposed to risks to their health and safety arising from the conduct of their business 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 and OHS 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. This must be done in consultation with health and safety representatives (HSRs), if any, and employees, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Every workplace will need to develop a unique plan to minimise the risk of COVID-19 and introduce appropriate control measures. The types of control measures required will depend on the level of risk as well as the availability and suitability of controls for each workplace, including individual work areas.

Employers should consider the activities of each group of employees. This extends to those dealing directly with the public (such as those conducting supervised sporting or recreational activities, personal or training sessions and classes, and working at service counters) through to those involved maintenance work.

Some factors that could contribute to employees contracting COVID-19 include:

  • Interacting with others:
    • Employees often work close to one another at service counters, gyms or organised training sessions and may also be near one another at other locations, such as workplace entrances and exits, common areas, changing rooms, showers and toilets.
    • Employees may often have prolonged close interaction with clients during a sporting or recreational activity or with suppliers during product deliveries. Continued close interaction with potentially infectious individuals increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
  • Use of equipment and sporting goods:
    • Any number of employees and others may have contact with equipment and sporting goods during its use. For example, the fitting of a lifejacket to a client, ropes and harnesses used in an abseiling course, weights used in a supervised training session, floor mats used in a martial arts class, a balance beam or sound equipment used in a dance class, and when preparing equipment for use in sporting or outdoor recreational activity.
  • Other risks:
    • Employers must also identify whether there are other increased risks as a result of COVID-19, including risks of fatigue and stress because of changes in the workplace such as changes to work hours and rosters.

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 is not possible to eliminate the risk, it must be controlled, 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.

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.

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)
  • 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

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.

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

A suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 at the workplace

In the event of a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case at the workplace, pandemic orders from the Victorian Minister for Health may also require employers to take specific response actions.

Screening and quarantining

Under pandemic orders from the Victorian Minister for Health, it may be mandatory for some workplaces to screen employees or patrons before entry into the workplace. Employers must comply with these pandemic orders, if they apply. These pandemic orders may be updated at any time. You must stay up to date with any changes.

The staff COVID-19 health questionnaire on the coronavirus.vic.gov.au website may be a useful screening tool for employers.

Record keeping

Under pandemic orders issued by the Victorian Minister for Health, workplaces are required to keep records of attendance to assist with contact tracing.

Physical distancing

Employers should ensure physical distancing of 1.5 metres between people is achieved, wherever possible.

This includes public areas, entry and exit points, toilets and change rooms, common areas, dining areas, fitness studios and other sporting facilities.

Employers and employees can encourage physical distancing by:

  • introducing a booking system to limit the number of clients who can participate in a sporting or recreational activity
  • discouraging spectators and requesting they don’t crowd at entrances and exits to the venue
  • limiting the number of organised activities or events held at the same time in the workplace
  • allowing extra time between activities and classes for cleaning of equipment and sporting goods encouraging attendance just before the activity, class or training session starts and for clients to leave immediately afterwards to avoid crowding
  • introducing separate entrances and exits where possible, as well as one-way walkways in public areas
  • re-arranging the floor area layout to establish clear pathways around equipment to avoid crowding and ensure physical distancing of 1.5 metres

Under the pandemic order issued by the Victorian Minister for Health, workplaces may also be required to comply with particular density quotient rules.

Signage and posters

Where a premises has publicly accessible space, a sign must be displayed at each public entry to the space stating the maximum number of people that may be present in that space at a time. This is the number permitted by the density quotient, rounded down to the nearest whole number.

Posters and other resources about COVID-19 are available on the coronavirus.vic.gov.au website. These can be placed in environments where employees interact with customers and other people, for example in workplace entrances.

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.

Hygiene and cleaning

Employers should increase usual cleaning practices, including between each activity, class or training session. Where possible, wash hands with soap and water after cleaning or, if washing is not possible, use alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

In addition:

  • ensure frequently touched surfaces are given priority for cleaning and are disinfected during activities, classes and training sessions, where possible
  • ensure equipment is not shared during activities and is wiped down and disinfected after each use
  • disinfect any shared items such as phones, desks, computers and other devices before and after use
  • frequently clean and disinfect personal items used in the workplace such as glasses and phones
  • increase the frequency of cleaning for amenities including kitchens, lunchrooms, common areas, change rooms, toilets, showers and drink fountains

Additional cleaning and hygiene controls that may be required include:

  • ensuring surfaces are cleaned if employees or clients spread droplets, such as by sneezing, coughing or vomiting
  • ensuring employees who are cleaning wear gloves and follow manufacturers' recommendations for use of personal protective equipment (PPE). making alcohol-based hand sanitiser available at entrances and throughout the workplace
  • providing closed bins in appropriate locations for employees and clients to hygienically dispose of waste such as used tissues as soon as possible after use
  • providing alcohol-based hand sanitiser for employees and clients to use after they dispose of their waste
  • increasing the circulation of fresh air from outside and reducing the use of recirculated air conditioning in common areas, where possible

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

Shared equipment and sporting goods

Avoid the shared use of equipment in the workplace and during activities, classes or training sessions.

Where it is not possible to eliminate shared use of equipment:

  • ensure all equipment is cleaned between each user
  • make disinfectant wipes available for clients to clean equipment and surfaces after client use
  • ensure any clothing such as sporting jerseys, harnesses and wetsuits, is laundered between use
  • ensure all employees and clients thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water or sanitise before and after each activity, class or training session

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 by:

  • 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
  • immediately disposing of tissues into a waste bin then washing hands
  • avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth
  • using alcohol-based hand sanitisers
  • cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and shared equipment after use
  • limiting physical contact with others, including avoiding shaking hands

Employers should ensure that washroom facilities 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 per cent 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 employees can wash their hands
  • extending currently rostered breaks to allow employees to follow proper hygiene procedures
  • providing tissues and no-touch waste receptacles, such as foot pedal-operated rubbish bins
  • educating employees and clients not to share items such as drink bottles
  • 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, wherever possible particularly until after they have thoroughly washed their hands upon completing work and after removing PPE.

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 is reasonably practicable. Employers should also:

  • maintain regular communication with employees on how 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 preferred language, and in multiple formats, for example, email, posters and verbal, including employees on leave, contractors and casual employees
  • ensure there are contingency plans in place for employee if 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 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

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
  • 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