Controlling WHS risk when working from home doesn’t work

This article brings together information about what some organisations are doing, or could be doing, to meet social distancing and cleaning and hygiene requirements for work that is continuing to occur in manufacturing and distribution workplaces.

The control measures in this document may not be relevant to your organisation and are intended as ideas for consideration, not specific actions that will deal with all issues that you may be facing.

Identify and control your specific risks

Identify what work activities create a risk of close contact or communal use of equipment.

Implement control measures according to the legally required hierarchy. The following link provides detailed information about identifying and controlling risks:

Increase cleaning and hygiene protocols

  • · Make sure you have in place is heightened hygiene protocols. All staff should maximise hand washing in the way recommended by health authorities (click here for a poster that could be displayed in workplaces).
  • · Below are some specific extra considerations for the workplace:
  • · If multiple workers are using equipment, provide cleaning materials for handles, and operational controls and ensure that they are used whenever the operator changes – this is more than providing handwipes and sanitisers (which are only effective if they are alcohol based – generally in the range of 60% to 80% alcohol).
  • · Ensure cleaning staff use appropriate gloves and any other appropriate personal protective equipment when undertaking all cleaning work.
  • · Have extra cleaning in place for high traffic touchpoints during break times.
  • · Introduce a daily cleaning regime and/or consider between shift changeovers.
  • · Review other facilities that are provided. Is the equipment used to supply drinking water, such as bubblers, a transmission risk? Should communal equipment (such as sandwich makers and cutlery) be removed?

Decrease interaction between workers and workgroups when possible

  • · No unnecessary contact between workgroups within the workplace.
  • · Consider splitting up your support teams so that you have backup resources if one person becomes unable to work (e.g. have members of the accounting team work in separate offices).
  • · Use skype or similar to interact when necessary, even with those in the same building.
  • · Identify whether some work can be undertaken in different locations, or at different times, to reduce the physical contact between workers.
  • · If meetings must take place in person, use larger rooms to allow the recommended social distancing between people - currently a minimum of 1.5 metres but the more the better.
  • · Consider holding meetings outside in the fresh air, whilst maintaining social distancing
  • · Split up office areas to reduce contact between people.
  • · Stagger breaks to reduce the number of people congregating in meal rooms
  • · Keep teams separated from each other during breaks.

Changing work to reduce contact between workers

  • · Any changes to shift arrangements or start and finish times must be undertaken in consultation with workers and may require agreement. It is important to consider the personal circumstances of individual workers who may not have the flexibility to change work arrangements.
  • · Nevertheless, if you identify an opportunity to reduce risk you should not be reluctant to pursue quick change.
  • · Ai Group’s Workplace Advice Line can assist you to understand and apply the requirements of the relevant industrial instruments (Fair Work Act, Awards and Enterprise Agreements) and they can also help you to respond to specific concerns raised by workers.
  • · Even if you are not considering making changes now, it helps to be prepared by understanding what options might be available.
  • · Consider changing work arrangements so that one group of workers starts and finishes early and another group starts and finishes later to minimise time together.
  • · Consider introducing new shift arrangements. A current example from a member is the introduction of 3 x 12.5-hour shifts across a 6-day week; this may also assist if employees are faced with school closures at some time in the future as it may be easier to manage childcare across fewer working days.
  • · Can you split your core production team into two groups who do not interact?
  • · Do you have key person weaknesses? Train at least two people to do every critical job but keep them apart.
  • · Separate entries and facilities for each shift; some organisations have hired additional portable facilities to allow this to happen.

Limit direct contact with external organisations and people

  • · If contact is necessary, consider seeking assurances about the control measures that the organisation or individual has in place. Ensure there is access to personal hygiene items (soap and water or alcohol-based sanitisers) at all entrances.
  • · Install signage on all access points advising of required protocols and the importance of not entering if unwell and to seek medical advice.
  • · Introduce separation protocols for deliveries – no physical contact (like signing documents, consider emailing receipt confirmation).
  • · Ensure your delivery drivers are engaging in good personal hygiene practices and have processes in place for cleaning the cab of the truck.
  • · Contractors only coming onsite when absolutely necessary.
  • · Restrict visitors to essential requirements.

Travelling to and from work

Travelling on public transport may be confronting during these times. Consider what arrangements could be made to provide parking onsite or nearby for workers who normally use public transport.

Remind workers about the importance of their external activities

Workers and their families exercising good hygiene and social distancing away from work is just as critical as what happens at work. These protocols are there for their protection to keep their workplace and income going.

Take the opportunity to emphasise this in discussions and consider providing resources for them to take home, e.g. printed copies of the hand washing poster.

Provide information and support for workers

It is a difficult time for everyone. As more people start to work from home and workplaces begin to close, people who are continuing to work may begin to feel more anxious about their exposures. There may also be financial concerns if partners or family members are facing unpaid leave, even if your workers are not at direct risk of financial impact.

This anxiety may show itself in increased tension in the workplace or through general changes in the behaviour of people. It is essential that managers and supervisors are supported to provide individual support and that those supervisors and managers also have access to support.

It is very important for leaders to help everyone understand how their individual contribution is assisting the organisation to generate incomes and keep key supply chains working for the community.

If you have a current Employee Assistance Program (EAP), make sure it is widely promoted and the specific services are identified. Many people think of EAP as purely a counselling service, but many EAPs also provide direct access to financial advice.

If you don’t have an EAP, promote the free services that are available to access.

This link will take you to a list of helplines that may be useful.

This link with take you to the National Debt Helpline with provides FREE independent financial counselling.

You don’t have to do it alone

Employment Plus clients who have placed two or more candidates have free access to the Ai Group Workplace Advice Line. Ai Group is well placed to draw on our daily interaction with employers and our detailed knowledge of legislative requirements to provide you with assistance and guidance, or to just be a sounding board.

Our advisers are ready to answer your questions about the impact of COVID-19 on your workplace or any other workplace relations matters.

Call 1300 862 217