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COVID-19: Guidance and resources to manage work health and safety

For: Claimants Employers and managers Service providers Advocates Information seekers

Employers and workers need to be aware of their COVID-19 responsibilities and entitlements.


While the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic may have lessened, it is still active. The risks of exposure and transmission in the workplace will continue to change based on conditions such as emerging variants, outbreaks and the level of virus transmission in the community.

WHS duties apply to WHS risks arising from COVID-19 even when there are no public health orders or directions.

The risk of exposure to other seasonal respiratory illnesses in the workplace may also increase during winter and other periods of peak transmission. COVID-19 and respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold and influenza, share similar routes of transmission. Exposure and transmission risks can be minimised by practising COVID-safe behaviours and implementing the control measures outlined in this guidance.

Work health and safety

This guidance will assist workers and employers to meet their obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) in relation to COVID-19. For information about restrictions applicable to you, stay up to date with your state or territory information.

Incident notification

When to notify Comcare

Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) (employers) must notify Comcare of COVID-19 cases that arise from the business or undertaking of the employer, and situations where:

  • the worker dies, or
  • the worker requires immediate treatment as an in-patient in hospital, or
  • meets the prescribed serious illnesses under section 36 of the WHS Act or a prescribed serious illness under regulation 699 of the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011 (WHS Regulations).

Notification allows Comcare to consider and address risks to health and safety arising from work. Comcare will assess each notification and determine whether regulatory action is required on a case-by-case basis.

How to notify Comcare

To notify Comcare of a confirmed case of COVID-19 arising from the workplace, complete the online Incident Notification form.

Notification of incidents which occur in the home

Employers should provide instructions to their workers to notify their supervisor or manager, and/or their WHS Unit, where:

  • it is believed there may be a risk to their personal health and safety arising from their work
  • the presence of a hazard in the workplace environment that exposes all workers to a risk of injury or disease.

This also applies to workers working from home.

Only work-related incidents are required to be notified to Comcare.

Review and provide clear instructions to workers

Employers should review official information sources and provide clear instruction about what is expected of all workers, including:

  • when workers should refrain from attending the workplace
  • what symptoms to be concerned about and where to seek help and support
  • educate workers about COVID-19 in the workplace and keep them updated on new information about risk control measures.

Employers should remind workers they have a legal obligation to:

  • take reasonable care for their own health and safety and the health and safety of others; and
  • comply with any reasonable instruction, policy or procedure given by the employer in order to comply with work health and safety laws.

More information

If you are still unsure if you should notify Comcare, email whs.help@comcare.gov.au or call us on 1300 366 979 before submitting an incident notification form.

Maintaining a COVID-safe workplace

Maintaining safe workplaces is promoted by employers and workers working together to address health and safety matters relating to COVID-19.

Just as they manage other workplace risks, employers have work health and safety duties to eliminate or minimise the risks of COVID-19 at the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable, even when there are no government mandates, isolation requirements or public health orders or directions.

It is important that employers consult with workers and health and safety representatives (HSRs) on health and safety matters relating to COVID-19, including control measures in the workplace.

If a worker has been exposed to COVID-19 at the workplace or attended the workplace while unwell, employers must take reasonably practicable measures in a timely manner, which may include notifying relevant workers, to eliminate or minimise the risk to other workers, vulnerable workers and other persons from being exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace.

Physical distancing

Maintaining a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres from others will reduce the likelihood of exposure and slow the spread of COVID-19.

Employers need to undertake a risk assessment to determine if physical distancing is a reasonably practicable step you should take in your workplace, for instance because of the level of risk that activities or situations in your workplace may contract and/or spread COVID-19.

If physical distancing is identified as a reasonably practicable control measure in your workplace, practical workplace measures may include minimising the number of people at the workplace at any given time and/or having physically distanced workstations. Safe Work Australia has detailed information on measures that can be implemented by employers and workers to achieve physical distancing in the workplace

Good hygiene

An effective way to protect workers and others from the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is by encouraging workers and others to practice good hygiene.

Good hygiene includes:

  • washing hands often for 20 seconds with soap and water
  • use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers (with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol) when soap and water is not available
  • covering coughs and sneezes with the elbow or a clean tissue (and refrain from spitting)
  • avoiding touching the face, eyes, nose and mouth
  • disposing of tissues and cigarette butts hygienically, for example in closed bins
  • washing hands before and after smoking a cigarette
  • cleaning and disinfecting shared equipment and plant after use
  • washing body, hair (including facial hair) and clothes thoroughly every day
  • avoiding intentional physical contact, for example, shaking hands.

Employers can promote these behaviours in the workplace. Employers must ensure adequate and accessible hygiene facilities are provided.

For more information, including providing facilities for temporary, mobile or remote workplaces, see Work Health and Safety (Managing the Work Environment and Facilities) Code of Practice 2015.

Workers also have a responsibility to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and not to do anything that would adversely affect the health and safety of others at work.

Workers must follow any reasonable health and safety instructions from their employer.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, it is important that workers:

  • work safely and observe any new requirements for physical distancing (even if it means performing tasks in a different way to what they are used to)
  • follow reasonable instructions (such as practicing good hygiene)
  • if unsure, ask how to perform the work safely and within any relevant restrictions
  • use personal protective equipment such as gloves in the way they were trained and instructed in their use
  • report any unsafe or unhealthy situations (such as a lack of soap in the bathroom) to a supervisor, manager or health and safety representative (HSR).

Visit Safe Work Australia for more hygiene guidance.

Maintaining a cleaning regime

Employers can maintain a regular and appropriate cleaning and disinfection regime to minimise the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace. When and how often your workplace should be cleaned and disinfected can be informed by a risk assessment, including the likelihood of contaminated material being present.

It may be necessary for hard surfaces, high touch surfaces, shared surfaces and equipment to be cleaned and disinfected regularly.

Organisations that do not have control over the ongoing cleaning regime of the workplace should consult and work closely with property managers or building landlords to ensure appropriate cleaning and disinfecting takes place.

Employers can also provide workers with cleaning products including disposable wipes to regularly clean and disinfect workstations and equipment. Rubbish bins may need to be provided to enable workers to dispose of the wipes and tissues in an appropriate manner.

Sharing equipment

Many workplaces have moved to an environment where the sharing of desks (hot desking) and IT equipment, such as keyboards, mice and headsets are standard practice. Sharing equipment should be avoided where possible. Where it is not practicable, employers should provide workers with:

  • disposable disinfectant wipes to enable them to clean these shared items on a regular basis
  • rubbish bins to dispose of the disinfectant wipes appropriately.

Workers will need to be made aware that where they share items in the workplace, it is their responsibility to ensure that they clean each item regularly.

If employers plan to have their workers sharing desks or workstations on different days or different shifts, this should be included in risk assessments to help determine reasonably practicable control measures, including whether it is appropriate to share desks and workstations.

Face masks

COVID-19 is less likely to spread when people wear masks.

Workplace risk assessments, in consultation with workers and HSRs (if any), may determine if wearing face masks is a reasonably practicable control measure to minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace.

Employers are responsible for providing a face mask to a worker, when the employer has identified, that wearing a face mask is necessary to ensure the health and safety of the worker and other people.

Workers must, so far as they are reasonably able, comply with any reasonable instruction given by the employer to wear a face mask while at work, to allow the employer to comply with their work health and safety duties.

If employers provide face masks to workers, they must also provide instruction on their safe and proper use.

Different masks and respirators offer different levels of protection from inhaling the virus. Therefore, understanding the various types of masks and the level of protection they offer can help you choose the appropriate mask for your workplace.

Visit Safe Work Australia for detailed guidance on different types of masks and how they should be used.

Watch the video on how to wear a face mask correctly
This video includes captions, which you can turn on and off.

See the transcript of the Safety and prevention in a pandemic-PPE face masks video

For more information and resources on correct use of face masks:

Vaccinations

COVID-19 vaccinations are free for everyone in Australia. Information on vaccines, including the benefits and who can be vaccinated, is available from the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care. Employers should continue to apply all reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures, even in cases where a risk assessment considers vaccinations to be an important control measure.

Visit the Department of Health and Aged Care for more information about Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine roll-out.

Risk management

Employers must consult with their workers and any health and safety representatives (HSRs) at each step of the risk management process. The workers’ experience, knowledge and ideas will assist employers to identify all hazards and choose effective control measures.

Assessing COVID-19 risks

All organisations must assess the risks associated with exposure to COVID-19 and implement control measures to manage those risks. They must also assess any other new or changed risks arising from COVID-19 such as customer aggression, work-related travel, high work demands or working in isolation.

Risk assessments should be reviewed periodically as the operating environment changes or when new information on workplace risks becomes available. This should include the periodic review of control measures implemented to ensure their ongoing appropriateness and effectiveness based on the latest information.

Other examples of when organisations must undertake a risk assessment with respect to COVID-19, include where an organisation:

  • changes its work practices, procedures or the work environment
  • recommences or increases operations following a shutdown or reduced operations
  • introduces workers back into the workplace following working from home or stand-down arrangements
  • is responding to workplace incidents (for example, where a worker has tested positive to COVID-19)
  • is responding to concerns raised by workers, health and safety representatives, or others at the workplace.

Safe Work Australia has published information on key considerations for undertaking a COVID-19 risk assessment. Also available is a template and example COVID-19 risk register.

Managing workplace risks

Identifying and controlling risks to workers and others in the workplace arising from exposure to COVID-19 may involve:

  • closely monitoring official advice, including updates from the Australian Government and state and territory governments
  • reviewing your organisation’s policies and measures for infection control.

Employers can:

  • consider allowing workers to work from home, where practicable
  • enable workers to practise physical distancing, by keeping 1.5 metres between people
  • remind workers to practise good hygiene
  • learn to spot the COVID-19 like symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath) and, where appropriate, encourage workers to get tested
  • consider requesting workers stay home if they are unwell
  • maintain a hygienic and clean workplace
  • train workers on how to fit and use personal protective equipment appropriately
  • improve ventilation in indoor workplaces to limit the spread of COVID-19—ventilation may need to be discussed with building owners. See advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee the role of ventilation in reducing the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

Visit the Department of Health and Aged Care for more information about:

The Australian Public Service Commission also provides:

Managing risks to the health of vulnerable workers

Certain individuals are at a higher risk of serious illness, hospitalisation, or death if they contract COVID-19. Therefore, the degree of harm that might result from the risk of exposure to COVID-19 can be very high. Employers should have processes in place to ensure a safe system of work and manage the workplace safety of any worker who may be at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, such as people who are 70 years of age or older, people with chronic medical conditions or compromised immune systems.

More information on risk factors, chronic medical conditions, and advice for groups at greater risk of illness from COVID-19 is also available at Risk factors for more serious illness and Advice for groups at greater risk.

Refer to Safe Work Australia for information about managing the risk of vulnerable workers contracting COVID-19 in a range of industries.

Employers must keep confidential all information about any worker’s medical conditions and personal information.

Ventilation as a control

Employers should consider effective ventilation along with other controls to eliminate or minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace.

Maintaining and improving ventilation is an engineering risk control that should be considered as part of a Hierarchy of Controls to reduce COVID-19 transmission, so far as is reasonably practicable. Managing risks according to the hierarchy of control measures is explained in the How to Manage Work Health and Safety Approved Code of Practice.

Employers should, where reasonably practicable, consult with mechanical or ventilation engineers, occupational hygienists, building owners and/or facility managers to assess the quality of indoor ventilation and get advice on maintaining or improving ventilation to minimise the risks of COVID-19. In indoor settings or workspaces, adequate ventilation should be provided by natural and/or mechanical ventilation methods.

Natural ventilation — Using natural forces such as wind, to circulate air to and from an indoor workspace may be achieved by:

  • opening windows, air vents, roof turrets or whirlybirds, where possible
  • removing physical restrictions that do not allow airflow around the workspace.

Using electrical fans or ceiling fans, with placement based on room configuration can be used to improve airflow and assist in avoiding accumulation of stagnant air pockets in a workspace.

Mechanical ventilation — An active process of supplying air to, or removing air from, an indoor space by powered air movement components may be achieved by:

  • using heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, collectively or individually, in a building or a portion of a building. To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission employers, in consultation with subject matter experts, should consider:
    • reducing or eliminating HVAC air recirculation and increase the introduction of outdoor air by opening outdoor air dampers beyond the minimum settings.
    • rebalancing or adjusting HVAC systems to increase total airflow to occupied spaces, where possible.
    • running the HVAC system at maximum outside airflow for two hours before and after the building is occupied.
    • turning off any demand-controlled ventilation (DCV) controls that reduce air supply based on occupancy or temperature during occupied hours.
    • in buildings where the HVAC fan operation can be controlled at the thermostat, setting the fan to the 'on' position instead of 'auto', which will operate the fan continuously, even when heating or air-conditioning is not required.
  • improving central air filtration
  • using and maintaining window, restroom, and kitchen exhaust fans
  • using air purifiers or cleaners with HEPA filters. Factors such as rate of flow, the number of devices installed (taking into account the population density in the area) and whether the system impacts areas with poor air movement are important in determining their effectiveness and whether they are going to make a significant difference. Expert advice should be sought on the suitability and use of these devices in the intended workplace.

For more information and guidance, visit these websites:

Managing working from home risks

An employer owes health and safety duties to workers while they work at home. Employers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that workers' home workplaces are safe and without risks to health and safety. Our Working from Home checklist (PDF, 672.4 KB) provides employers and workers with basic guidance and measures to consider.

As people are now working from home for longer periods, we have additional work health and safety guidance that employers and workers should consider when managing working from home risks, including:

  • determining if the worker has any pre-existing injuries or risk factors
  • communication frequency and type between the employer and worker, including phone calls, emails, videoconference, and daily or weekly check-ins or meetings
  • management of the work program, workload, and activities, including timeframes, expectations and work schedules, and review of workload
  • workstation set up such as desk, chair, monitors, keyboard mouse and computer.

Workers also have health and safety obligations when working from home including to:

  • follow procedures about how work is performed
  • keep work equipment in good working order
  • use equipment provided by the workplace as per the instructions given
  • maintain a safe work environment such as a designated work area, moving furniture to ensure comfortable access, providing adequate lighting and ventilation, repairing any uneven surfaces or removing trip hazards
  • manage their own in-house safety, such as maintaining electrical equipment and installing and maintaining smoke alarms
  • notify the employer about risks or potential risks and hazards
  • report any changes that may affect their health and safety when working from home
  • notify their supervisor, manager and/or WHS Unit of health and safety incidents which occur while working from home.

For practical tips to overcome any challenges of working from home:

Domestic and Family violence

Working from home may not be the safest workplace for some workers. It is important that workers advise their manager, supervisor and/or WHS Unit of any risks associated with working from home.

While employers have a duty to ensure workers and others are not exposed to risks to their health and safety while working from home, it is difficult for an employer to assist the worker if the worker has not disclosed the existence of, or potential risk of, domestic and family violence.

While workers may have reasons for not wanting to disclose domestic and family violence, they also need to be aware of their duties to take reasonable care for their own and others’ health and safety while they are at work.

When communicating with workers, employers can proactively advocate the use of support services such as the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and local domestic and family violence support organisations.

For more information:

Road transport and freight

Drivers and operators should take all reasonably practicable measures to minimise the risks of exposure to COVID-19. Drivers are encouraged to follow relevant health protocols while operating across jurisdictions.

For more information:

National guidance

For the latest information about current restrictions in your state or territory, travel and border arrangements and government resources, visit these websites:

Workers' compensation

Claims queries related to COVID-19

If you have any questions or queries related to COVID-19 and your claim, please contact your claims manager or go to Claims and rehabilitation for more information.

Information for service providers

COVID-19 and support to provide services

Telehealth item codes

Comcare has item codes to support allied health providers to deliver services via telehealth. These item codes can be used for the reasonable treatment of an employee with a work-related injury or illness.

See the Telehealth Allied Health Rates and Codes guide (PDF, 150.3 KB) for upper limit fees for allied health treatment via telehealth. For other provider services, see rates for allied health treatment.

Advice on personal protective equipment (PPE)

Comcare has issued scheme guidance on what it will pay for the provision of medical treatment. Each case is decided on its own facts.

Where it is determined that the use of PPE is appropriate and necessary to provide medical treatment to an employee, the claims manager will pay for the reasonable cost of the PPE.

Page last reviewed: 17 November 2023

Comcare
GPO Box 9905, Canberra, ACT 2601
1300 366 979 | www.comcare.gov.au

Date printed 23 Feb 2024

https://www.comcare.gov.au/safe-healthy-work/prevent-harm/coronavirus