COVID-19 – Getting Back to Work


Australia is Opening for Business Again

Businesses across Australia are gradually getting back to work and starting to open their doors for business as restrictions begin to ease and we cautiously begin to get back to normal. But many of us realise that there will be a new normal moving forward. Now, more than ever, none of us can afford to be complacent. Up until now, Australia has done relatively well in dealing with COVID-19. However, moving forward as we begin to move into a more dynamic phase of easing restrictions, we still need to ensure we do everything possible to keep infection at bay. 

According to the Department of Health, your employer should be reviewing or developing their COVID-19 business continuity plan. Planning can help reduce the impact of COVID-19 on their business.

These plans will obviously need to be flexible to reflect the many different workplace environments, but possible controls your employer should be adopting include:

  • Still working from home wherever possible
  • Social distancing should still be supported (i.e. by changing staff numbers, staggering working hours
  • Trying to ensure four square metres per person and 1.5 metres between people, wherever possible, including in recreational areas such as café or rest areas
  • Promoting good hand hygiene by providing handwashing facilities and/or alcohol-based hand sanitiser and appropriate waste receptacles
  • Undertaking frequent cleaning and disinfection of workspaces, particularly objects and surfaces that are frequently touched
  • Holding only essential meetings, and doing so via video conferencing (Zoom, Skype, etc.), phone, or outside in the open air if possible
  • Modify your roster or staffing to reduce staff interactions (i.e. smaller groups, staggered rosters)
  • Ensure staff are educated about the early signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and the need to stay home if unwell
  • Develop a policy that requires staff to unequivocally stay home if unwell
  • Support employees to adhere to official advice about how to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 

Staggered Work Hours are one of the most effective means of ensuring the least exposure COVID-19 whilst maintaining a safe return to normal working practices. Staggered shifts or hours can help ease congestion on public transport and traffic at certain peak hours, as well as large groups of people arriving and leaving organisations at the end of the day. Staggering employees’ lunch breaks can also help prevent large groups from gathering in rest areas or queues at local shops/ lunch providers. 

However, such approaches need to be accompanied by social distancing measures and high standards of hygiene and regular cleaning/ disinfecting to help support health and safety at work. For workplaces where it is vital that workers work closely together, it is suggested that PPE and coronavirus testing could be used to make people feel safe. Check your State Government website for the latest information.

Getting back to work and staying safe

Mental Health and Wellbeing

Your employer should also be mindful of the mental health and wellbeing impact of a return to work after an enforced period of isolation. Understanding the new situations employees face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic should be taken just as seriously as business-related considerations. These include:

  • Stress and anxiety for those who may not yet feel comfortable or safe returning to work
  • Alternative transport methods for staff who rely on public transport
  • Reviewing expectations around productivity as a result of frequent cleaning of workspaces, handwashing breaks and other safety protocols
  • Ways to further support remote working for those who need it

Summary

The key for businesses will come down to planning both for the immediate- and short-term recovery phase, but also for the longer-term workplace of the future. The recovery phase planning will likely address all of the measures referred to above and those matters contained in the Safe Work Australia website in addition to the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission’s ‘Planning tool to help businesses reopen and be COVIDSafe’. The planning will also necessarily involve consideration of how to flex back to more a responsive stage to quickly and effectively respond to any potential for ‘second wave’ infections. 

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