As the rate of COVID-19 infection drops in Australia, the government and business community are beginning to consider what a return to workplaces might look like.
Until a vaccine is developed coronavirus remains a threat due to its ease of transmission, and this means workplaces will have to adopt new business models. Here are some workplace health and safety considerations to plan for.
In order to plan for employees’ return to the workplace, business owners will need to take action on the following steps
- understanding the practicalities of a phased return
- identifying and managing the risks involved
- taking into account the business’s duty of care for employees
- facilitating and progressing the necessary planning
- incorporating best practice for more flexible working arrangements
- adopting changes to people management and developing supporting protocols.
From 7 May, the Gallagher Workplace Risk team is conducting a six-week series of webinars to assist businesses with managing these requirements, and more. Register now.
Phasing a return to the workplace
Practicalities involved with preparing for a return to the workplace include planning for the ‘new normal’. The first consideration is compliance with workplace health and safety regulations. Employers’ duty of care includes providing a safe environment and adequate facilities for performing the required work.
This involves identifying factors that might present or give rise to a risk and eliminating or mitigating them as far as possible. Practical provision for risk management needs to be integrated into your return to work plan. Part of this is recognising employees who may be particularly at risk.
People at increased risk
In Australia those regarded as being at greater risk of becoming more seriously ill if they contract COVID19 are people over 70, those over 65 with chronic medical conditions, those with compromised immune systems and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 50 who have existing health conditions.
Logistical risk management
Enabling social distancing may require physical reconfiguration of your existing workplace, such as the installation of partitioning of work stations or protective screens.
Where this isn’t feasible you may need to rotate the workforce in shifts and support the continuation of flexible working from home arrangements.
Maintaining protective hygiene demands increased vigilance over site cleaning, especially where hot-desking is involved, the provision of hand sanitiser and availability of personal protective equipment in situations where close contact is unavoidable, as well as limiting access.
These factors call for the continuation of virtual communications and use of technology to facilitate
- rotating the workforce present in shifts
- supporting the continuation of flexible working arrangements
- introducing restrictions around access and contact
- enabling alternative distanced communications
- maintaining protective hygiene.
Workplace community mental health
Your workplace health and safety also includes psychological factors and as an employer you are required to eliminate or minimise employee psychological stress as far as you are able. To do this you need to talk to your employees and/or their representatives to find out what their concerns are.
Apart from anxiety about the pandemic and the wellbeing of loved ones, Australians are dealing with considerable levels of uncertainty about the future. Many are also caring for and schooling family members while performing their professional duties. And in some cases, household income streams may have been lost.
Check in with employees often and facilitate transparency about any issues that might be affecting them. Make information about the virus, how the business is responding to changed conditions and available support resources easily accessible for all employees.
Monitor and review the measures you put in place to ensure they are effective and whether they need updating and adapting as the situation for your business develops.
Need practical information and guidance?
Employers are in an unprecedented situation with the need to navigate altered business conditions while fulfilling your obligations to your employees. To assist your business, the Gallagher Workplace Risk team of experts are hosting a free webinar series to offer genuine information and guidance that will enable you to comply with regulations and take care of your people.Our free six week webinar series cover the following topics
- Managing through Crisis: A Guide to Effective People Management in the time of Covid-19
- Catching Compliance: A Guide to Understanding and Meeting Safety Requirements Amidst Covid-19
- Wellbeing in Isolation: A Guide to Identifying and Supporting Vulnerable Workers as a Result of Covid-19
- Returning to Work from Home: Return to Work and Injury Management Amidst Covid-19
- A New Kind of Flexibility: A Guide to Successful Working from Home and What this Means for the Future
- Business as Usual?: A Guide to Planning for a Return to the New Normal