Your quick-reference guide to being a COVID-safe business with the help of technology and government advice.
By Dean Mohr
If your staff have been working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have already started the transition back to work. Or you may be planning your transition now.
That transition will be different depending on your industry and location. However, there are common practices that you can implement to make it as safe as possible for your staff, and to reduce the impact if a problem arises.
The Department of Health advises that all workplaces must have a COVID-19 plan, created using the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC) online planning tool and the Safe Work Australia National COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles.
To have a COVID-safe business, you’ll need to focus on the following.
Physical distancing helps to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This means maintaining a 1.5-metre distance between people where possible. Each state and territory has its own rules around physical distancing.
At work, this could mean moving workstations further apart, or having staggered shifts so you have fewer people coming and going at the same time. You may also consider having small teams that work the same shifts, limiting crossover between a larger group of employees.
Brian Borowsky, head of My Occ Health Record, says he’s seen a lot of our clients use the shift approach, especially where there are hybrid teams alternating working between home and the workplace. In some cases it’s so groups of staff don’t cross over, and in other cases the groups even have different work and lunchbreak spaces.
“This approach is relatively easy to put in place. It can be cleanly communicated with tape on the ground and signage,” says Borowsky.
But this approach is changing as cases reduce in Australia.
“Earlier it was about continuity. Companies would split up teams so if someone in that team had a problem, the whole company didn’t have to isolate and stop working. Now teams are on the same shifts to get the value of working together.”
You may need to review work practices to increase physical distancing between your staff. If that’s not practical, you can reduce the time staff spend in close contact, advises Safe Work Australia.
Technology has helped some employers encourage staff to keep at a distance. In Europe back in May 2020, port workers started using a social distancing wristband that vibrated if they got too close to a colleague.
Borowsky has since seen this in Australian companies, too.
“It talks to the other badges or bracelets near it so if someone comes too close it can change colour or beep. It can even create maps of where people are so companies can redesign areas that make social distancing difficult.”
Keep a record of who has visited your workplace
Some businesses need to keep a record of all staff, visitors and contractors visiting their site. And in NSW for example, it is now mandatory for these businesses to use electronic check-in methods.
My Occ Health Record’s Daily Health Check app can make this process efficient and reliable. Staff and visitors can check in via a QR code. Management can then quickly generate a report with everyone who’s been at the site for a certain period, including their contact details.
This process can change what happens if you do have a case of coronavirus in your business. It means you have the required information ready for the government’s contact tracing, and it means that you can start work on your risk-management plan straight away.
“Having it automated through the app means it’s quality data, and it’s accessible data,” says Borowsky. “It’s a powerful piece of technology helping you take control of your environment and keeping your business running.”
In large workplaces, some of our clients are not just checking in at the front door, but into specific zones so there’s a clearer picture of staff and visitor crossover.
We’ve all gotten used to washing our hands more than usual. This remains an easy and important way to slow the spread of the virus.
Wash your hands with liquid soap and water:
- before and after eating
- after going to the toilet
- after sneezing, blowing your nose or coughing
- after touching a surface that is frequently touched by others.
Place hand sanitiser in key areas around your workplace for use when hand washing isn’t possible.
Does this sound extremely basic? A report from the US Department of Agriculture found that up to 97% of us don’t wash our hands correctly before meals. So, consider staff training and communication around when and how to wash your hands an essential part of your work health and safety approach. You can also put hygiene posters up in key areas such as kitchens and bathrooms.
Reiterate the “stay home when sick” message
Encourage your workers to stay home when sick – even with mild symptoms. This communication must be clear and repeated so you know everyone has understood it.
Explain entitlements such as flexible working options or sick leave, or what happens if workers don’t have sick leave available.
Screen staff for symptoms
It’s important to monitor your staff for symptoms of coronavirus.
Screening staff for symptoms is important in every workplace, but is harder to implement in larger workplaces. It’s important to have a reliable, efficient and easy-to-use system that has a high level of data security.
Through MOHR’s Daily Health Check app you can easily monitor staff for symptoms and assess their risk. With the app, you can ask your staff a list of customisable questions every day. This could include questions about symptoms, recent travel, and if they’ve been in contact with a confirmed case. If there are any concerns about the answers, managers are notified immediately to follow up.
Although it’s not the primary form of transmission, you can become infected by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. It’s not clear how long COVID-19 remains on surfaces, but it could be up to several days.
Clean and disinfect common surfaces regularly. Depending on your workplace, this might include desks, doorknobs, phones and computers, or other shared equipment such as EFTPOS machines, tools or machinery.
Safe Work Australia recommends that your workplace is cleaned at least once daily. The organisation outlines how different surfaces can be cleaned.
Check in on mental health
It has been an unsettling year for us all. Check in with your employees regularly and make sure they know help is available if they need it.
For employees who have been working from home, returning to work during COVID-19 may cause anxiety or stress. Their manager should respond to any concerns and offer support. That might be in the form of regular chats with their manager or another point of contact, an employee assistance program, or referring them to the government’s Head to Health website or Beyond Blue’s Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service.
Keep up to date
For specific information relating to your industry, visit Safe Work Australia.
Check the latest advice from your state or territory and see whether there’s particular guidance for your industry.
Remember, you cannot “set and forget” your COVID-safe plan. It’s something that will need to adapt as circumstances change.