Male and female office workers in a meeting.

Protecting your people and business from COVID-19

As we learn to live with COVID and continue to work through the challenges of new variants and outbreaks, managing the risks is important for the future of your business and safety of your people.

Your workplace plays an important role in the prevention of harm to your people and, by extension, the broader community.

If unprepared, one positive case in your workplace could send your entire workforce into quarantine, or worse, become infected. This could leave your business financially vulnerable with your business unable to operate.

COVID infection is a reasonably foreseeable risk. This means that you must consider the risks of COVID exposure as part of your duty of care as an employer. The best and most effective method of meeting this obligation is to perform a risk assessment. Follow the steps below to help assess your risks and put the appropriate controls in place for your business.

Perform a risk assessment

Treat COVID-19 like any other safety risk at your workplace, starting with a risk assessment. Some important points to consider in your risk assessment could include:

  • What is the risk of exposure (from internal and external sources such as your customers)?
  • What are the risks of transmission? Consider what contact people have with customers or clients, the general community, and colleagues.
  • What Government regulations apply to you and your industry? Information is available from SafeWork SA.
  • What entry requirements are in place for worksites and customer interactions (e.g. mandatory vaccinations for entry to facilities)?
  • Risks of aggression from customers, clients, and members of the public.
  • Business continuity (in the event of infections, staff on leave, business closures, etc.)?

For more information on assessing risks and templates, visit SafeWork SA.

Apply the appropriate controls

Once you have identified your risks, it’s time to put some controls in place using the hierarchy of controls: Elimination, substitution, isolation, engineering, administrative and PPE (personal protective equipment). Some examples of possible controls include:

  • Work from home arrangements where possible (and ensuring that each person has performed a risk assessment of their working from home arrangements)
  • Social distancing of workstations
  • Hygiene and cleaning
  • PPE (more information on PPE is below)
  • Rapid Antigen Testing for high risk environments
  • Training and education on COVID risks and internal requirements
  • Vaccination and boosters (note that this lessens the risk of infection and reduces severity but does not eliminate the risk)
  • Procedures to support any extra control arrangements (e.g. wearing of PPE)
  • Ongoing monitoring of controls and risk assessments.

More information on applying the hierarchy of controls is available from SafeWork SA.

PPE (personal protective equipment) considerations

PPE is the last line of defence when there are no other practical or effective ways to eliminate risk. As the last line of defence, there are a number of important considerations for using PPE that will help ensure it works as intended:

  • Not all masks are equal and you may require different masks (e.g. N95) where the risk is higher. Seek SA Health advice for which masks are required for your workplace
  • Consider Government regulations which specify the type of PPE to be used in certain industries
  • Think beyond face masks: You may also need to consider gowns, goggles, face shields, gloves, etc.
  • Fit check and ensure face masks are worn properly. This relies on individual workers so training should be provided on how to do this. Advice on proper fitting is available from SA Health
  • Where there is a high risk of infection or transmission, thorough fit testing of face masks should be done. This tests the seals and leakage of the mask. Your mask manufacturer should have advice for how to do this
  • Know what PPE is single use and what isn’t so you can put the proper processes in place for disposal or cleaning
  • Train all staff in your requirements and procedures.

How you handle PPE is just as important. A procedure telling workers when and where to put on and take off their PPE adds an extra layer of protection to reduce the risk of exposure. This is known as ‘donning and doffing’. Don’t forget to include hand sanitisation and other hygiene controls directly after handling PPE.

Keeping records

Keeping records of your risk management process can assist in demonstrating your compliance with work health and safety legislation. It can also help you to monitor the health and safety performance of your business.

The detail and extent of recording will depend on the size of your workplace and your level of risk.

More information

For more information on managing risks or for industry-specific information, visit SafeWork SA.

For more information regarding the use of masks and other PPE, visit SA Health.