Safety measures you may need to take to protect employees
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the "3-Step Framework for a COVIDSafe" to put Australia back on the road to recovery from Coronavirus. It will be at the discretion of each state to implement each step and when, with the plan to have all steps in action by mid-July 2020. As businesses reopen and move towards recommencing their normal operations in accordance with the framework, employers will be asking their employees to return to the workplace. But as governments and businesses move forward, employers should have appropriate procedures in place to ensure that any employee returning to work following recovery from COVID-19 is safe to do so, without placing any other employees at risk. It is important that employers either review or develop a "Return to Work COVIDSafe Plan". The plan will encourage an employer to constantly observe / assess public health orders that may be in place at a relevant time, ensuring employees are not exposed to breaching any relevant restrictions. As mid-May 2020, some well known restrictions include physical distancing as well as observance of a "square meter rule" which may differ from workplace to workplace. As Australian businesses implement their "COVDSAFE Plan", it is possible that employers are required to relocate workspaces, or introduce teams of workers who attend the workplace in shifts so fewer employees are present at any one time. Equally, travel to and from work should be considered as part of the plan and measures can include employers considering a staggering of employees’ start / finish times so that public transport is not crowded during peak travel times.
A recent survey done by US Qualtrics online survey giant has produced some prompting results when people were asked whether they were comfortable returning to the workplace, dining at restaurants, voting at polling places, and / or visiting other public spaces. Although this is a US based survey and results, nonetheless it is great feedback to assess if your company is ready to return to work and get on with business. Reported responses as provided by Qualtrics:
- Most employees want assurance from public health officials like the Centers for Disease Control (63%) or the WHO (45%) to feel comfortable returning to the workplace.
- People also expect their employers to keep them safe at work once they come back, with 69% saying they trust their company leadership to make the best decision on when employees should return to work, 16% reporting that they were neutral, and 15% who disagree.
- 74% want their work facility to be thoroughly and regularly cleaned and disinfected
- 63% want their company to consult with local and state authorities to make sure it’s safe to come back
- 62% want strict policies about who cannot come to the office, like those who are sick or have recently traveled
- 57% want masks available to anyone who wants one
- Two out of three people (64%) say they want to be able to wear a mask at work, while nearly as many (61%) want to maintain social distancing
- Workers are worried, not only about their own safety, but about the safety of their co-workers. They also understand that their co-workers' health affects their own, and many want safety policies put into place before returning to work — like a temporary ban on handshakes and hugs (45%), or a policy that requires employees who travel for work or pleasure to self-quarantine for 14 days (38%).
The Australian Government and each Australian State has published guidelines for businesses as they prepare to recommence normal operations. Below, we outline some of these guides and policies that your business maybe able to use as a reference:
- Safe Work Australia - Advice for Employers
- FairWork Omdusman - Health and Safety in Workplace
- NSW SafeWork - Return to Work Program
- NSW State Insurance Regulatory Authority
- Victoria - Return to Work
- Victoria WorkSafe - The Return to Work Guide
- WorkCover Queensland - Covid-19
- Advice for Business and Organisations - SA
- Return to Work - South Australia
- WA Return to Work - Employer Guide
It is important to acknowledge that the health and safety of employees is a main goal for employees to safeguard. Notwithstanding, business productivity is also of importance, as such it is paramount that employers are able to determine what can be required from employees, taking into account the pros and cons of allowing an employee to continue to work remotely, as we emerge from lockdown and into the future.