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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.

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

From 1 December 2022

Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) 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.

There may be further changes to notification requirements based on health advice and other factors as the situation continues to evolve.

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, of any work health and safety incident 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.

It is important for workers to be aware that only work-related incidents are required to be notified.

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 employees 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 or call us on 1300 366 979 before submitting an incident notification form.

Maintaining a COVID-safe workplace

Maintaining safe workplaces depends on employers and employees working together to observe the essential safety messages around good personal hygiene, physical distancing and staying home if unwell.

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 to remember that employers must 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, including 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.

Employer WHS duties apply even when there are no public health orders or directions. You will need to undertake a risk assessment to determine if physical distancing measures will be reasonably practicable in your workplace.

To determine the most effective physical distancing measures you will need to:

  • identify all activities or situations where people in your workplace may be in close proximity to each other
  • assess the level of risk that people in these activities or situations may contract and/or spread COVID-19 in your workplace
  • determine what control measures are reasonably practicable to implement based on the level of risk.

Employers must consult with workers, including volunteers, and health and safety representatives (HSRs), if any, on health and safety matters relating to COVID-19, including what control measures to put in place at the workplace.

Practical workplace measures may include:

  • Maintaining plans to limit the number of people in the workplace such as continuing remote working arrangements, postponing non-essential work and splitting worker shifts (where available) to reduce the number of workers onsite.
  • Redesigning the layout (if possible) to enable workers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart in order to continue to perform their duties. This could include moving desks to allow adequate spacing between workers.

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 requiring workers and others to practice good hygiene.

Good hygiene requires everyone at the workplace to:

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

Employers must also 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 (for example, coming to work when unwell).

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 instructions (such as about how to wash hands thoroughly)
  • 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 should 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 will depend on the outcome of your risk assessment, including the likelihood of contaminated material being present.

Hard surfaces, high touch surfaces, shared surfaces and equipment should 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 regular cleaning and disinfecting takes place.

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

Promote staying home if unwell

Employers and workers are both responsible for maintaining physical distancing and good hygiene practices, and for promoting a safe and healthy work environment. This includes workers not attending the office when showing any signs of illness.

If a worker is feeling unwell, they should:

  • contact their immediate supervisor or manager and remain at home
  • advise their manager if they are experiencing COVID-19 like symptoms.

If a worker has cold or flu-like symptoms, they should:

  • seek medical advice and get tested for COVID-19
  • get tested even if the symptoms are mild.

If a worker has tested positive to COVID-19, they should isolate for at least five days.

For more information see Department of Health and Aged Care: Testing positive for COVID-19.

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. Wearing a mask will lessen the possibility of someone spreading the COVID-19 virus to others if they are not aware that they have the infection and could also protect workers from inhaling the virus.

Employers should consider the use of face masks when conducting and updating their workplace risk assessments in consultation with workers and HSRs (if any) to 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 while at work, including travelling for work or between workplaces, when:

  • the wearing of a face mask is required by law, or
  • the employer has identified, through a risk assessment, that the wearing of 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.

An employer is not responsible for providing a face mask to a worker at any other time, including travelling between home and their usual place of work. 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:

Encourage vaccination

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.

Where employers consider vaccination to be a reasonably practicable measure to reduce the risk of serious illness from COVID-19 in their workplace, they should consult workers on the introduction of workplace policies relating to vaccination.

Whether vaccination requirements are considered reasonably practicable should be determined based on a risk assessment and on a case-by-case basis.

There may be specific health orders or directions in your state or territory that require your workers to be vaccinated to perform certain types of work. If this is the case, employers should discuss with workers what the orders or directions require and what employers and workers need to do to comply.

While vaccinations are considered an important control measure, employers should continue to apply all reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures.

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 (for example, in response to changes in COVID-19 cases or changes to public health orders) 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 should also:

  • consider allowing workers to work from home, where practicable
  • ensure workers practise physical distancing, by keeping 1.5 metres between people
  • remind workers to practise good hygiene such as frequently washing their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or by using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser
  • learn to spot the symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath)
  • request 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 on how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

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.

Based on current evidence, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) considers that the following people are or are likely to be at a higher risk of serious illness if they are infected with COVID-19:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years and older with one or more chronic medical conditions
  • People 65 years and older with chronic medical conditions
  • People 70 years and older
  • People with compromised immune systems.

These categories of vulnerable people may vary depending on emerging evidence, and employers should keep up to date on the latest AHPPC information from the Department of Health and Aged Care website.

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.

Visit Safe Work Australia for more information on how to determine what is reasonably practicable to meet a health and safety duty.

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.

The Hierarchy of Controls is an effective system for health and safety risk management in the workplace. Maintaining and improving ventilation is an engineering control that should be considered as part of a hierarchy of risk controls to reduce COVID-19 transmission, so far as is reasonably practicable. The focus should be on applying the most effective and achievable strategies. 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 necessary and reasonably practicable, consult with mechanical or ventilation engineers, occupational hygienists, building owners and 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 minimal guidance and measures on how they can meet their respective work health and safety obligations.

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

  • determining if the worker has any pre-existing injuries
  • 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 or manager of any incidents which occur in the 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 so alternative working arrangements can be made, such as working from the usual workplace or another location.

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 offer alternative work arrangements where 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.

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: 25 July 2023

GPO Box 9905, Canberra, ACT 2601
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Date printed 29 Sep 2023