Information about managing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 at construction sites.
Controlling COVID-19 risks as restrictions change
The following information provides detailed guidance for employers on how to control risks associated with exposure to COVID-19. Employers may not need to apply all of the controls listed in this guidance to meet their obligations under the OHS Act. Employers need to assess the level of risk that may arise within their workplace and determine the appropriate control measures to apply, depending on the circumstances, and subject to the Victorian Pandemic Orders.
For the latest public health advice about COVID-19 vaccinations, go to the Coronavirus Victoria website.
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 construction industry
Due to working in proximity to other people and the potential to come into contact with potentially contaminated surfaces, steps must be taken to reduce the risks of exposure for employees in the construction industry.
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. This includes preventing, and where prevention is not possible, reducing, risks to 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 Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) or the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations).
More information about employer and employee obligations is set out below (see Legal duties).
For more information about the transmission and symptoms of COVID-19, see the Department of Health (DH) website.
Identifying risks at construction sites
Employers must identify 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.
Some activities that may pose a risk of exposure to COVID-19 can include:
travelling in personnel hoists and lifts
work that requires employees to be in close contact with others
using shared tools or equipment
sharing facilities such as bathrooms, kitchens and communal break areas
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. This includes preventing, and where prevention is not possible, reducing risks to health or safety associated with potential exposure to COVID-19.
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.
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.
In the event of an employee being confirmed as having COVID-19, those who are potentially affected need to be quickly identified.
Employers should implement processes to record the schedule and work locations for employees (including contractors), that enables tracing of those who have come into contact with the confirmed case.
The record should include:
day and time work was undertaken
members of teams that worked together
specific work area on the construction site
any breaks taken, including time and location
Movement between sites, or areas within large sites, should be minimised as much as possible.
Where attending multiple sites is necessary (eg for HSRs, first aiders, emergency wardens) movement between sites should be recorded in the workplace mapping.
Physical distancing of at least 1.5 metres should be implemented wherever possible. Employers should consider each work task and whether there is a safe alternative way to undertake the work with an increased distance between employees.
Other control measures may include:
Mark safe distances in work, transit and break areas (eg on floors and walls).
Consider different shift patterns to minimise the number of employees onsite (eg AM/PM shifts).
Stagger start times, breaks and finish times to avoid congestion in high traffic areas and minimise employees coming into contact with each other as they move around the site.
Plan for how physical distancing will be maintained during inclement weather (eg use of lunch or crib rooms and amenities).
Install temporary physical barriers (eg fences, screens) between work areas, where appropriate.
Where it is not possible to undertake work tasks and maintain physical distancing, other control measures need to be implemented. For example:
Minimise the number of person to person interactions that need to be completed within 1.5 metres.
Minimise the number of individuals involved in activities that need to occur within 1.5 metres of each other.
Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) (eg gloves, masks, glasses).
More information about the safe use of PPE is set out below.
Where essential work activities need to be undertaken in restricted spaces (eg lift shafts, personnel hoists, lifts), the number of employees working in the space should be minimised.
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 need 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.
Department of Health - Best practice ventilation of crib rooms.
Ensure all employees follow good hygiene practices, including washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, covering coughs and sneezes, or coughing into their elbow or shoulder and avoiding touching eyes, nose or mouth.
Display hygiene information in prominent locations on the construction site such as tea rooms, site offices, toilets, foyers, lifts and site entrances.
Provide hand sanitiser at site entrances and exits, in all hoists, amenities and other high traffic areas of the site. Communicate with staff about hand sanitiser locations and encourage regular use.
Employers must ensure that employees have access to appropriate amenities. Employers should review and revise the number and locations of amenities, to reduce movement around the site.
Amenities need to include:
Hand washing facilities (whether permanent or temporary), such as a wash basin, clean running water, soap and paper towels, placed in strategic locations to ensure employees can access them in a timely manner.
Access to hand sanitiser.
Rubbish bins with touch-free lids (eg foot pedal bins).
Thorough and regular sanitation.
Appropriate waste management systems.
Shared tools, plant and equipment
Avoid the shared use of shared tools, plant and equipment wherever possible. For example, drop saws, drills, grinders, ladders or elevating work platforms should not be used by more than one person.
Where it is not possible to eliminate shared use:
Provide cleaning products (eg alcohol spray or solution) where communal tools, plant and equipment are located.
Keep cleaning products with tools, plant and equipment as they move around the site.
Ensure all operators thoroughly wash or sanitise their hands before and after every use.
Ensure all parts of tools, plant and equipment (eg including handles, handrails) are wiped down before and after use.
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.
Thorough and regular cleaning needs to be undertaken of all:
transit areas (including personnel hoists and lifts)
communal and meal break areas
shared facilities (eg bathrooms and kitchens)
Cleaning needs to be conducted in accordance with the DH information on cleaning and disinfection for workplaces.
Employees using hoists and lifts may be at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19, because they are required to be in close contact with others and potentially contaminated surfaces.
Control measures to reduce the risk in personnel hoists should include systems of work, physical distancing, personal hygiene, PPE and cleaning.
It is acknowledged that not all hoists and lifts are identical in size or dimension, and have varying weight limits.
Where it is not possible to implement physical distancing measures in a personnel hoist, all other available control measures need to be used.
Control measures may include:
Limiting employee movement between levels and floors on site, where it is possible and safe to do so.
Reviewing which hoists are available for use on site and identifying if additional hoists can be used (for example where a partially occupied building is under construction, consider whether a residential lift can be used solely for construction persons).
Physical distancing of 1.5 metres and hygiene systems to be followed when waiting for a hoist, particularly on floors where employee volumes may increase during peak times (start, break, finish times). For example the ground floor, floors with meal or break out spaces and floors with bathroom amenities. The diagram below shows how physical distancing should be implemented in hoist waiting areas.
Determine how many persons can use a hoist at any time (including hoist operator) taking into consideration the size of the hoist, limited duration and additional control measures in this guide.
Mark out hoist floors, identifying:
where employees stand
what direction they are to face when in the hoist to avoid face to face contact
sequencing of entering and exiting
Mark the hoist waiting area at each floor to ensure physical distancing is maintained.
Regularly communicate and remind employees (eg through posters, digital displays):
appropriate positioning of persons and sequence of people entering
not to touch the walls or doors of the hoist
the cleaning regime in place
During peak periods have systems in place to limit crowding of persons entering and exiting the work area. For example:
developing a schedule for use of the hoist
staggering which floors persons are able to use the hoists for
Hoist operators may be exposed to additional risk. They should:
Be provided with PPE that protects them from person to person transmission and from touching contaminated surfaces (eg surgical mask/P2 respirator and glasses).
Perform frequent hand washing with soap and water or the application of hand sanitiser positioned within the hoist.
Where possible, change the hoist operator every two hours into a different role.
Personal protective equipment
Employers must provide information, instruction and training on the safe use, decontamination, maintenance and disposal of any PPE provided.
Any PPE provided needs to be practical for the work environment (eg allowing the necessary visibility and mobility) and properly decontaminated or disposed of at the end of every shift.
Employers should monitor and encourage correct use of PPE, for example by providing information on posters and digital screens about:
Washing or sanitising hands before putting PPE on, and putting face protection on before gloves.
Removing gloves before face protection, washing or sanitising hands after removing PPE and decontaminating or disposing of used PPE safely.
What to do if an employee has COVID-19
In the event of a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case DH will contact the individual to identify the close contacts and the causal contacts.
Employers should establish a response plan and procedure for suspected and confirmed cases, which should include:
Consultation and communication arrangements with employees and contractors, including making sure contact details are up to date.
Maintain workplace mapping information.
Identify site locations for cleaning and disinfection.
Implement an appropriate cleaning and disinfection regime, which should be overseen by a competent person, for example, an occupational hygienist.
The competent person should advise that the cleaning and disinfection regime has occurred for re-entry to the affected areas.
Provide employees and contractors with relevant information prior to re-entering the site and resuming work.
Review and revise systems to ensure risks are effectively controlled, in consultation with HSRs and employees.
In the event of a confirmed COVID-19 case at the workplace, Pandemic Orders made by the Victorian Minister for Health may also require employers to take specific response actions.
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.
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 their management and control.
Provide information concerning health and safety at the workplace to employees, including (where appropriate) in languages other than English.
Ensure that persons other than their employees are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the employer's undertaking.
Consult with employees and HSRs (if any), on matters related to health or safety that directly affect, or are likely to directly affect them.
Regardless of whether or not they are an "employer" for the purposes of the OHS Act, 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 and that of persons who may be affected by their 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.
WorkSafe Advisory Service
WorkSafe's advisory service is available between 7:30am and 6:30pm Monday to Friday. If you need more support, you can also contact WorkSafe using the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) or the National Relay Service.