How to Implement National COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles
Recently, the Prime Minister announced a set of National COVID-10 Safe Workplace Principles for the safe return of employees. These principles follow Safe Work Australia’s guidance in ensuring businesses take proactive steps to maintaining a healthy and safe working environment.
As businesses increasingly start reopen, it is important to be aware of these principles and actively implement them in their workplace.
What are the principles?
- All workers, regardless of their occupation or how they are engaged, have the right to a healthy and safe working environment.
- The COVID-19 pandemic requires a uniquely focused approach to work health and safety (WHS) as it applies to businesses, workers and others in the workplace.
- To keep our workplaces healthy and safe, businesses must, in consultation with workers, and their representatives, assess the way they work to identify, understand and quantify risks and to implement and review control measures to address those risks.
- As COVID-19 restrictions are gradually relaxed, businesses, workers and other duty holders must work together to adapt and promote safe work practices, consistent with advice from health authorities, to ensure their workplaces are ready for the social distancing and exemplary hygiene measures that will be an important part of the transition.
- Businesses and workers must actively control against the transmission of COVID-19 while at work, consistent with the latest advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, including considering the application of a hierarchy of appropriate controls where relevant.
- Businesses and workers must prepare for the possibility that there will be cases of COVID-19 in the workplace and be ready to respond immediately, appropriately, effectively and efficiently, and consistent with advice from health authorities.
- Existing state and territory jurisdiction of WHS compliance and enforcement remains critical. While acknowledging that individual variations across WHS laws mean approaches in different parts of the country may vary, to ensure business and worker confidence, a commitment to a consistent national approach is key. This includes a commitment to communicating what constitutes best practice in prevention, mitigation and response to the risks presented by COVID-19.
- Safe Work Australia (SWA) through its tripartite membership, will provide a central hub of WHS guidance and tools that Australian workplaces can use to successfully form the basis of their management of health and safety risks posed by COVID-19.
- States and Territories ultimately have the role of providing advice, education, compliance and enforcement of WHS and will leverage the use of the SWA central hub in fulfilling their statutory functions.
- The work of the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission will complement the work of SWA, jurisdictions and health authorities to support industries more broadly to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic appropriately, effectively and safely.
Implementing the principles for the safe return of employees
These principles mean businesses are required to take proactive steps in ensuring a healthy and safe workplace which should involve appropriate planning. This can involve integrating various control measures such as social distancing and increasing hygiene and cleaning for the return of employees and customers.
Further, due to the COVID-19 pandemic being a public health emergency, businesses are required to constantly review control measures in line with up to date public health information and identify risks presented by COVID-19.
Safe Work Australia has also provided businesses with steps they should take to protect their workers from COVID-19 exposure which include:
- Monitoring the COVID-19 situation;
- Reviewing current disease and infection policies;
- Creating a COVID-19 response plan; and
- Implementing safe systems of work.