Managing COVID-19 risks in workplaces
Guidance to help employers control the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that can result in mild to very severe illness and death. COVID-19 can spread through:
- aerosols (very fine particles) which are breathed in when an infected person does things such as coughs, sneezes, talks, shouts or sings– these can stay in the air for some time, especially in indoor spaces with poor ventilation
- droplets (larger particles) can directly enter your eyes, nose or mouth when you are in close contact with an infected person who coughs or sneezes
- touching objects or surfaces (such as door handles) contaminated with COVID-19 virus from settled droplets and aerosols, and then touching your face
For more information about COVID-19 (including symptoms and health effects), go to Coronavirus (COVID-19) Victoria.
As an employer, you must, so far as is reasonably practicable:
- provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees
- provide employees with information about health and safety at the workplace, in appropriate languages
- ensure that other people are not exposed to risks to their health or safety because of your work activities
Employers must also provide employees with the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their jobs safely.
Identify if exposure to COVID-19 is a hazard in your workplace
- Review your workplace and work practices to identify if employees (or other persons) may be exposed to COVID-19 due to work activities.
- Consider if work activities or physical attributes of the workplace, such as poor ventilation, put other people such as clients or the public at risk of exposure to COVID-19.
- Educate employees about COVID-19 in the workplace and keep them up to date on new information about risk control measures.
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 while identifying hazards or risks in the workplace (including exposure to COVID-19) and when making decisions about how to control those risks.
The consultation should be conducted in accordance with any agreed consultation procedures.
Conduct a risk assessment
Where an employer identifies that exposure to COVID-19 is a hazard in the workplace, they should conduct a risk assessment.
A risk assessment is the process used to determine the risk of a hazard taking place at a workplace. Risk is calculated by considering the likelihood of a hazard occurring along with the severity of its consequences.
A risk assessment also includes consideration of control measures that can be implemented to control the risk.
Control COVID-19 risks
Where a risk to health or safety from exposure to COVID-19 is identified at your workplace, you must eliminate the risk so far as is reasonably practicable.
If you cannot eliminate the risk, you must reduce the risk so far as is reasonably practicable.
Some examples of control measures that may be appropriate to manage the risk of exposure to COVID-19 are listed below. The control measures required in a workplace will depend on a number of factors including the level of risk, and whether the measure is available and suitable for your workplace. Employers (and not employees or other parties) bear the responsibility of providing and implementing risk control measures in the workplace.
Employers may not need to apply all of the controls listed in this guidance to meet their obligations under the OHS Act.
- Encourage employees to keep a distance of at least 1.5 metres between themselves and others.
- Minimise face-to-face meetings in spaces that are not well ventilated.
- Consider allowing flexible work arrangements, such as employees working from home or staggered start and finish times.
- Considerations that support physical distancing can include limiting the number of people allowed in enclosed spaces and limiting gathering sizes.
Maximise the amount of fresh air in indoor areas. Fresh air can come in through:
- open windows, doors or air vents.
- mechanical ventilation systems that are set to bring outside air in. Many buildings have commercial ventilation systems that require specialist knowledge to operate. Building owners should seek advice on how to increase fresh air circulation and filtration in these systems.
Adequate ventilation can be achieved using natural or mechanical ventilation, or a combination of the two.
Air purifiers can be used if ventilation cannot be improved by increasing the amount of fresh air introduced into indoor areas.
More information about ventilation is available on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Victoria website.
Advice on fresh air supply rates and air changes can be found on the Department of Health website.
Face masks and respiratory protective equipment (RPE)
- Encourage employees to wear face masks where they are working indoors, or outdoors where physical distancing is not possible.
- Provide face masks for employees at entry points to the workplace.
- In some workplaces it may be appropriate to use RPE, such as P2 or N95 respirators. This will depend on the type of workplace, the nature of work activities, and the level of risk.
- Where RPE is worn at the workplace, the employer should conduct a risk assessment to ensure the level of RPE provided controls the risks associated with the work.
- Maintain regular and thorough cleaning practices, especially after known cases of COVID-19 have been in work areas.
- Clean and disinfect high-touch and shared surfaces regularly, such as phones, keyboards, door handles, light switches and bench tops.
Provide adequate facilities or products (such as hand sanitiser and soap) to allow employees to practise good hygiene.
Encourage everyone in the workplace to practise good hygiene:
- regularly clean hands with soap and water (for at least 20 seconds) or an alcohol-based hand rub
- if hands are visibly dirty, wash them with soap and water
- wash hands with soap and water:
- before eating
- after visiting the toilet
- after attending a public place
- after coughing, sneezing or nose blowing
- cover the nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing, and dispose of used tissues immediately
Personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Provide appropriate PPE where reasonably practicable.
- Provide information and training on why the PPE is required and how to use it safely.
Rapid antigen tests
- A rapid antigen testing program may assist in identifying people who are infectious with COVID-19 and controlling the risk of further exposure to COVID-19 in your workplace.
- If it is determined that a rapid antigen testing program is reasonably practicable for your workplace, it should not be relied upon in isolation or as a substitute for other control measures.
COVID-19 vaccination policies
- Employers may consider whether a COVID-19 vaccination policy is a reasonably practicable measure to control risks associated with exposure to COVID-19 in their workplace.
- If you determine that a workplace vaccination policy is a reasonably practicable control measure for your workplace, consider:
- whether employees should be required to have a COVID-19 vaccine to attend the workplace
- what level of vaccination employees should have
- what exceptions to vaccination should apply
- industrial relations obligations
- privacy and health obligations
Ensure employees know what to do
- Implement clear COVID-19 procedures and communicate them to employees, so they know what to do if they feel unwell or think they have been infected.
- Strongly encourage employees who develop COVID-19 symptoms to self-isolate, get tested, and if needed, seek medical advice.