Many of us have been working from home for well over 6 weeks. While we have been settling in and getting our jobs done (for the most part), most are wondering when we will return to work at the office. With the Government’s road map having been released recently that date could be very soon.
Now the questions in business owners’ heads are shifting from “how can I make working from home work well?”, to “Is the office ready for our return?” There will be a lot to think about in the transition period back. From stocking up the kitchen, to ensuring everyone can get back to their normal work schedule as soon as possible. But something hanging over us on our return will of course be COVID-19.
To help keep workers safe on their return to the office a range of measures have been enacted across the country. Among these are the National COVID-19 SafeWork Principles. To help you better understand this document, and to better prepare your workplace to continue the fight against COVID-19, we have created this summary.
SafeWork Australia protocols
The government has released a guide to business back to normal with the National COVID-19 SafeWork Principles. This in turn with industry specific guidelines is aimed at establishing a virus free economy by July. Through these guidelines and protocols, the Government is equipping businesses with the tools and resources they need to begin reaching these goals as soon as possible.
The guidelines cover 23 specific industries in detail. Each covering the perspective of an Employer, Small Business, and worker. Included are information around key areas such as physical distancing, risk assessment, hygiene, cleaning, PPE, and more. It is a big read, but very important to ensuring your business can get back to fully operational as soon as possible. You can read these guidelines here.
The guidelines are regularly updated so stay tuned.
What are the principles of the SafeWork Australia protocols?
The principles of the SafeWork Australia protocols are designed around the COVID-19 pandemic. They are founded in expert health advise, and so are regularly updated to reflect that. At time of writing the principles agreed by the governments and the national cabinet are as follows:
- 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 (AHPPC), 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.
It is important to regularly check these guidelines to ensure you are remaining up to date and are following the latest advice.
Keeping yourself and your employees safe as you return to work is vital to returning back to normal. While it is good to think about stocking up on coffee and milk in the office and making sure your employees have all they need to get back to work as soon as possible, you should also begin implementing these guidelines.