29 April 2020

The new normal: returning to the workplace and taking care of your team

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.

return to workplace webinars


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

Register for any or all of our webinar series


Further reading

Protecting your people during COVID-19

Your COVID-19 workers compensation questions answered


Gallagher provides insurance, risk management and benefits consulting services for clients in response to both known and unknown risk exposures. When providing analysis and recommendations regarding potential insurance coverage, potential claims and/or operational strategy in response to national emergencies (including health crises), we do so from an insurance and/or risk management perspective, and offer broad information about risk mitigation, loss control strategy and potential claim exposures. We have prepared this commentary and other news alerts for general information purposes only and the material is not intended to be, nor should it be interpreted as, legal or client-specific risk management advice. General insurance descriptions contained herein do not include complete insurance policy definitions, terms and/or conditions, and should not be relied on for coverage interpretation. The information may not include current governmental or insurance developments, is provided without knowledge of the individual recipient’s industry or specific business or coverage circumstances, and in no way reflects or promises to provide insurance coverage outcomes that only insurance carriers’ control.
 
Gallagher publications may contain links to non-Gallagher websites that are created and controlled by other organisations. We claim no responsibility for the content of any linked website, or any link contained therein. The inclusion of any link does not imply endorsement by Gallagher, as we have no responsibility for information referenced in material owned and controlled by other parties. Gallagher strongly encourages you to review any separate terms of use and privacy policies governing use of these third party websites and resources.
 
Insurance brokerage and related services to be provided by Arthur J. Gallagher & Co (Aus) Limited (ABN 34 005 543 920). Australian Financial Services License (AFSL) No. 238312