Put safety first during reopening

Employers are being warned to put health and safety first, including COVID-19 safety, ahead of businesses reopening on November 2.
News article published

Tuesday 27 Oct 2020

Industries and topics
  • Coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • Infectious diseases

Safety first during reopening

WorkSafe inspectors will be out in force to ensure employers that have been shutdown or under work from home arrangements are doing everything they can to protect their workers.

This includes completing housekeeping before reopening to ensure a workplace is safe, training and instructing staff on how to complete tasks and use equipment safely, and ensuring equipment and machinery is restarted in line with manufacturer specifications.

Employers must also provide adequate supervision and instruction to all staff where work practices have changed and for any new staff that might be unfamiliar with the workplace

Every WorkSafe inspection now includes an assessment of COVID-19 preparedness to ensure businesses have social distancing, good hygiene practices and a COVID-safe work plan.

WorkSafe Health and Safety Executive Director Julie Nielsen said employers had to remember all their health and safety obligations as businesses reopen.

"Employers should take the time to review their health and safety processes and consult with their workers or health and safety representatives about controls in place to keep everyone safe," Ms Nielsen said.

"In the excitement to reopen and get back on the job it is important that employers seriously take stock of health and safety risks in their business."

"Many businesses have been closed for a long period, but that is no excuse for failing to protect workers from being injured or harmed while on the job."

Since the pandemic started WorkSafe inspectors have made more than 15,000 workplace visits and enquiries to ensure COVID-19 compliance and issued more than 460 notices for COVID-19 related health and safety failures.

Common issues have been workers not working from home where possible, inadequate personal protective equipment, failing to enforce social distancing, poor hygiene controls, lack of health screening and not having procedures for when an employee tests positive.

Ms Nielsen said employers that fail to protect their workers and the public will face tough penalties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

"We are urging employers; don't be complacent, don’t rush, take health and safety seriously and ensure you meet your obligations," she said.

"Our inspectors will continue to visit workplaces and where necessary WorkSafe can and will take enforcement action."

There are a variety of penalties available to the courts for breaching the OHS Act, including a maximum of 25 years imprisonment for individuals and up to $16.5 million in fines for body corporates.

Things employers should consider when reopening workplaces include:

  • Appropriate controls to manage the risk of Coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • Removing risks such as trip or fall hazards.
  • Ensuring training is up to date for all returning staff.
  • Providing adequate supervision and instruction to all staff where work practices have changed and for any new staff that might be unfamiliar with the workplace.
  • Ensuring plant and equipment is restarted safely and in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines.

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