It is time to think about what work looks like once stay-at-home directions are withdrawn, temporary flexibility measures cease and the curve has been sufficiently "flattened". It is time to plan for when things start turning back to normal – whatever normal will be.
Return to work: WHS response
The National Cabinet has agreed ten National COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles which include, amongst others, that:
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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."
The key for businesses will come down to planning both for the immediate- and short-term recovery phase, but also for the longer-term workplace of the future. The recovery phase planning will likely address all of the measures referred to above and those matters contained in the Safe Work Australia information in addition to the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission's 'Planning tool to help businesses reopen and be COVIDSafe' . The planning will also necessarily involve consideration of how to flex back to more a responsive stage to quickly and effectively respond to any potential for 'second wave' infections.
Some of the considerations for employers in the planning for recovery phase would include:
- Managing access to the workplace (building or workplace access; lifts; reception)? Will numbers be counted and if so, who will be responsible for the monitoring of access?
- How will social distancing measures be addressed in offices, working spaces, meeting rooms, walkways, lifts, tea rooms, kitchens, toilets, etc.? How will tasks that challenge physical distancing be managed?
- What kind of cleaning protocols will be used? Who will do the cleaning? If plant/equipment is shared, how will it be cleaned and by whom? What about high-touch items?
- What kind of instruction and training will be provided to workers on cleaning and worker hygiene measures?
- How to effectively consult and communicate prior to and during the return phase if there are different start/finish times, rotating teams and others working from home?
- How to manage whether there is a need for refresher training on work tasks/equipment or information to people returning following stand-downs/absence from work (particularly where those persons may have been involved doing other work in the meantime and may need to be re-trained)?
- How to support good mental health where there may be increased general anxiety connected with COVID-19 both due to work changes (e.g. changed work conditions) and change in personal circumstances?
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