There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the way Australians conduct business.
At the time of this writing, 51% of Australians over the age of 16 are double vaccinated, according to the Department of Health’s vaccination numbers and statistics. As more Australians become vaccinated and as each state works towards opening their borders, we will see more offices and workplaces transition staff back to their premises.
Although at surface we can say we are returning to ‘business as usual’, employers must remember its obligations to its staff, especially in relation to the ‘new world’.
The better your WHS foundations, the more challenges you can prevent over the long run.
Steadfast’s head of human resources Justin Mark (in a post by Steadfast here) says everything starts with providing a safe work environment. Review your business’s sanitisation stations, cleaning roster and set rules for wiping down work spaces.
“The federal government’s Safework website is the place to start to check your obligations. But each state has different rules and requirements. So be sure to regularly check your state’s relevant authority for updates,” he says.
“Safely transporting employees to and from work is one of the biggest challenges for many businesses, particularly when staff rely on public transport to get to work”
Safely getting to and from work
Safely transporting employees to and from work is one of the biggest challenges for many businesses, particularly when staff rely on public transport to get to work.
Different modes of transport have guidelines on mask wearing and social distancing and every business needs to be across requirements in their local area. Some employees also have genuine concerns about contracting COVID 19 while travelling on public transport and passing it on to vulnerable close contacts. So consider offering staff the option to catch Ubers or taxis or providing parking spots in public carparks close to the office so they don’t have to catch buses and trains.
“Put in place an employee assistance program to support employees who have a great degree of concern or who are highly anxious about returning to the office because of COVID,” Mark recommends.
- You must take action to protect workers and others at the workplace from the risk of exposure to COVID-19 so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes implementing the public health measures issued by health authorities including Queensland Health and the Australian Government Department of Health.
- It is vital that you consult with and communicate with workers and their health and safety representatives (HSRs) on workplace measures to address COVID-19.
- Also put in place any directives issued by Queensland Health – this should include infection prevention and control policies and procedures, safe systems of work, how workers and their HSRs will be consulted, and how you will monitor and update your plan as public health information changes.
- Consult with workers on the plan and display it clearly in the workplace. Consultation with workers, and, where applicable their representative, is required at each step of the risk management process.
Implement measures to keep workers safe and stop the spread of COVID-19
- Implement and promote high order controls to complement hygiene practices (e.g. social distancing such as work from home where possible, create separate walkways through worksites, limit numbers of people in lunch or crib rooms or install barriers and screens).
- Equally as important, implement good hygiene practices including hand hygiene and workplace cleaning – employers must provide sufficient cleaning and disinfection supplies and equipment, or engage a suitable cleaning service.
- Use personal protective equipment (PPE) where necessary and in accordance with the relevant State and National guidelines.
- Consider industry specific advice for higher risk workplaces or industries where the health of workers or people who are at the workplace are at higher risk, for example residential aged care, healthcare and correctional facilities.
- Manage psycho-social risks for workers.
- Communicate, train and supervise workers on workplace measures to address COVID-19.
Visit https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au for more information.
What happens in the event a worker contracts COVID-19 and alleges it is work- related?
As an employer, what should you do if a worker contracts COVID-19, and what does this mean from an insurance perspective?
According to Steadfast, for workers to be successful in a worker’s compensation claim that relates to COVID-19, they will need to establish they have suffered an injury arising out of or in the course of their employment and work is a substantial contributing factor to the injury.
“Most of the claims brought in NSW have related to psychological injuries such as feelings of isolation, anxiety or concern about the global pandemic. In these cases, the worker has not actually contracted COVID-19 but are dealing with mental illnesses that relate to COVID-19,” explains Steadfast technical broking manager Annette O’Brien.
Employers need to be careful calculating weekly workers’ compensation payments where a worker has been stood down from work due to COVID-19.
“Have regard to the employee’s current circumstances, and not what was occurring before the shutdowns occurred when calculating payments. Employers should also note Job Keeper payments constitute earnings when calculating weekly payments,” O’Brien notes.
At the moment, some employers will be dealing with a backlog of injured workers looking to return to work and increase their work capacity. At the same time, some employers will also have to manage staff who do not want to return to the office. “Employers need to work out how to help these workers,” O’Brien recommends.
As the COVID-19 threat diminishes, employers will need to reconsider policies regarding working from home, as well as hybrid situations where staff work from home some of the time and in the office the remainder of the working week.
This article is based on an original post by Steadfast here.
This article was written by Tony Venning,
Managing Director at Crucial Insurance and Risk Advisors.
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