Author: Lehanne Bleumink, Gold Seal HR Services Manager

It has become clear that COVID-19 will be with us for some time, even if a vaccine is developed – so it’s critical that every business has a plan that is flexible and can be changed readily as restrictions and conditions continue to change. Now, the attention shifts to ‘how do I get employees back to work safely in the new normal?’ No employer wants to be responsible for their employees feeling unsafe or the cause of someone getting sick.

All Australian governments have agreed, through the National Cabinet process, to a set of National COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles to guide us and ensure that our workplaces are healthy and safe. The implementation and monitoring of those guidelines are the responsibility of employers. Employees also have a role to play in working with their employers to adapt and promote safe work practices; and to ensure that their workplaces are ready for the physical distancing and hygiene measures that will be part of the transition.

View the principles on the Safe Work Australia website here

In order to develop a plan tailored to your own business, you can utilise the workplace guide prepared by the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission, which will help your business to plan for the different phases of the pandemic, it’s called ‘My Business’s COVID-19 Safe Plan’. It is a detailed online toolkit, which aligns with the COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles on the Safe Work Australia website.

Key areas in the guide are as follows:

  1. Keeping people safe
    This includes employers, employees and visitors to the office (e.g. associates from outside the business, clients, and any members of the public). This section provides guidance to help you understand how your business risks have changed because of COVID 19 and how to make a plan to manage them.
  2. Maintain good hygiene and cleaning
    This section encourages you to think about your business’ hygiene and cleaning practices (e.g. do we have enough supplies? Are frequently used areas cleaned regularly?). There are a number of great, easy to follow checklists based on Safe Work Australia’s (SWA) advice:

    • The Safe Work Australia cleaning check list
    • The Safe Work Australia health, hygiene and facilities check list
  3. Stay Physically Distant
    This section helps you to think about how people interact in your business. It contains SWA guidelines on what appropriate physical distancing is, and a checklist to help you implement it. Plus, it offers signs and posters on how to ensure physical distancing. The checklists contain the detail of the considerations and provide the standard to which they should be performed.

Most important of all – if you or any member of staff, or their families are unwell with fever or a respiratory tract infection (sore throat, cold, cough, aches or shortness of breath) tell them not to come into work and encourage them to get tested for COVID-19.

The post-COVID-19 lockdown return to the office will be a challenge for everyone. While there isn’t a one-model-fits-all procedure, there are many things employers can do to ensure they have the right approach – and this starts with communication. It is important to understand employee concerns and work together to ensure your workplace is COVID Safe. It will also be important that you continue to plan and adapt as circumstances change, so make sure you stay up to date with current advice and guidelines.

Although some States are returning people to work more quickly than others, remember the default advice at this time – ‘continue to work from home if you can’.

For assistance on any of your HR/IR requirements –  email Gold Seal at  hrservices@goldseal.com.au