Regulator outlines 4-step approach to COVID-19 for businesses

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Tuesday, 31 March, 2020 - 15:30
Industry news
National News

Businesses must take action to prepare and manage the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for workers and others at their workplace so far as is reasonably practicable consistent with statutory requirements, according to SafeWork NSW.

In particular, all businesses should:

  • Review their exposure and infection control policies and procedures, actively promote social distancing, good hand and respiratory hygiene and increase cleaning of common areas within the work environment

  • Develop and implement safe systems of work (in consultation with workers and/or their HSR’s) that include directions and advice provided by our health authorities, and

  • Keep monitoring the covid-19 situation as it develops

  • Continue to comply with statutory requirements including notifying SafeWork NSW of any work-related fatality, serious injury or confirmed or uncontrolled exposure to a serious illness, including COVD-19.

In a recent statement which sets out the enforcement approach that SafeWork NSW will take to ensure compliance with the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the regulator said health and safety representatives are also encouraged to work collaboratively with businesses to consult on WHS risks and controls during this time.

“HSRs are not entitled to personal medical information of other workers without the consent of the worker, however, are entitled to monitor the rate of exposure and infection of illness or disease in the workplace and work with the business or implementing reasonable and practicable controls,” said Rose Webb, Deputy Secretary of the Better Regulation Division.

The regulator said that advisory, compliance and enforcement activity will continue including a focus on matters that pose a significant risk to workplaces and worker safety.

In particular, SafeWork NSW will apply a reasonable and proportionate response to compliance, including with a business’s ability to meet its WHS duties due to constraints associated with the pandemic.

These may include duties such as:

  • participation in face-to-face training and practical hands-on training demonstrations;

  • maintaining records in prescribed formats;

  • securing access to health surveillance clinics;

  • testing of emergency plans or

  • compliance with other regulatory requirements.

“SafeWork NSW will generally take a supportive and educative approach to compliance with these requirements during this time provided duty holders have made genuine attempts to comply with requirements but are non-compliant due to factors outside their direct control,” said Webb.

“However, SafeWork reserves the right to vary its approach as appropriate to the circumstances, particularly in cases of significant safety risks to workers or the community.”