As cases of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, continue to rise across the globe, businesses must be ready to make timely decisions to meet WHS obligations. Here’s what you need to know right now.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some people may also experience aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea.
How does COVID-19 spread?
The virus can spread from person to person through:
· close contact with someone infected by the virus (including in the 24 hours before they started showing symptoms)
· contact with droplets the sneeze or cough of an infected person’s cough or sneeze
· touching objects or surfaces that have cough or sneeze droplets from an infected person, and then touching your mouth or face
Providing information to employees
It’s important that businesses provide regular COVID-19 updates so employees feel informed and supported. Updates should cover:
· Current COVID-19 stats and status
· Potential impacts that the virus may have on the workplace, as well as any policy/procedure changes
· Advice on good hygiene practices for work and home
· Determine and implement an appropriate risk management plan and clearly communicate it to all staff. Be sure to provide clear direction and guidance about workplace expectations
· Encourage staff to work from home where possible
· Ask employees to stop handshaking or engaging in other physical greetings
· Hold meetings via video conferencing or phone calls
· Hold essential face-to-face meetings outside in the open air (if possible and if a video or phone meeting is not suitable)
· Encourage good hand hygiene (ask employees to follow this guide) and provide hand sanitisers for all staff and workers
· Encourage staff to take lunch at their desk or outside rather than in the lunchroom, and limit or ban food sharing
· Clean and disinfect high touch surfaces regularly
· Consider opening windows and adjusting air conditioning for more ventilation
· Limit or ban non-essential business travel
· Ensure employees keep a distance of 1.5 metres
· Require employees to stay away from the workplace if they are unwell
· Limit access to the workplace by other people, unless absolutely necessary
· Promote the strictest hygiene among food preparation (canteen) staff and their close contacts
What are my privacy obligations to workers?
Critical information sharing is not in breach of the Privacy Act and employers have important obligations to maintain a safe workplace. However, during this time, employers should ensure that all personal information shared about the health of a staff member is:
· used or disclosed on a ‘need-to-know’ basis
· only the minimum amount of information reasonably necessary to prevent or manage COVID-19
Employers should also take steps to notify staff of how their personal information will be handled in response to COVID-19 and ensure reasonable steps taken to keep personal information secure.
Managing and controlling risk
It’s important to stay on top of your risks at all times by:
· Closely monitoring official advice, including travel advice
· Reviewing your policies and measures for infection control, including educating workers on best practice
· Ensuring workers are aware of the official isolation/quarantine periods and the actions they should take if they become unwell or suspect they have contracted the virus
· Considering whether any work activities put other people at risk.
· Putting plans in place to manage staff absences and increased workloads
· Providing workers with relevant information and resources
Do workers need to wear masks?
The official advice from the Department of Health is that surgical masks should only be worn by people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to prevent the spread to others. It’s not currently recommended that surgical masks need to be worn by healthy people.
What should you do if your workers may come into close contact with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19?
If you know that your employees may come into close contact with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, you must put measures in place, so far as reasonably practicable, to eliminate or minimize the risk of your workers contracting the virus. This may include supplying personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and face masks, and engineering isolation controls.
Can a worker refuse to come to work?
If it is reasonable for your worker to think that going to work would pose a serious risk to their health then your employee does have the right to refuse to come to work. However, your employee is obligated to:
· inform you as soon as reasonably practicable they can that they have stopped working
· be available to carry out suitable alternative work (for instance, working from home).
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