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COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles – The 10 Commandments

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As a lot of workplaces have closed their offices and employees have spent several weeks in relative isolation adjusting to challenges of working from home, focus is starting to turn to what happens once we have been able to sufficiently “flatten the curve”.  The respective States and Federal Governments have started to discuss gradually removing restrictions allowing people to return to the workplace, considering:

  • What will it mean for employers?
  • What will our employees day-to-day look like?
  • What are employers required to do for the workplace and employees?

On Friday, the Federal Government in consultation with union representatives, the COVID-19 Commission and Industrial Relations Minister, Christian Porter, announced the National COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles, which are a set of guiding principles designed to assist employers in meeting their obligations to provide a safe and healthy place to work during, and following, the Coronavirus pandemic.

There are 10 initiatives that have been put in place which are listed below. It is anticipated that as we start to understand what a return to work looks like, further industry specific guidelines will be developed. For now, these principles will give employers an understanding of the challenges that they will face as employees start to return to normal working conditions. Employers of all sizes and in all industries will need to understand their obligations with regard to these principles.

National COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles

  1. All workers, regardless of their occupation or how they are engaged, have the right to a healthy and safe working environment.
  2. The COVID-19 pandemic requires a uniquely focused approach to work health and safety (WHS) as it applies to businesses, workers and others in the workplace.
  3. To keep our workplaces healthy and safe, businesses must, in consultation with workers, and their representatives, assess the way they work to identify, understand and quantify risks and to implement and review control measures to address those risks.
  4. As COVID-19 restrictions are gradually relaxed, businesses, workers and other duty holders must work together to adapt and promote safe work practices, consistent with advice from health authorities, to ensure their workplaces are ready for the social distancing and exemplary hygiene measures that will be an important part of the transition.
  5. Businesses and workers must actively control against the transmission of COVID-19 while at work, consistent with the latest advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), including considering the application of a hierarchy of appropriate controls where relevant.
  6. Businesses and workers must prepare for the possibility that there will be cases of COVID-19 in the workplace and be ready to respond immediately, appropriately, effectively and efficiently, and consistent with advice from health authorities.
  7. Existing state and territory jurisdiction of WHS compliance and enforcement remains critical. While acknowledging individual variations across WHS laws mean approaches in different parts of the country may vary, to ensure business and worker confidence, a commitment to a consistent national approach is key, including a commitment to communicating what constitutes best practice in prevention, mitigation and response to the risks presented by COVID-19.
  8. Safe Work Australia (SWA), through its tripartite membership, will provide a central hub of WHS guidance and tools that Australian workplaces can use to successfully form the basis of their management of health and safety risks posed by COVID-19.
  9. States and Territories ultimately have the role of providing advice, education, compliance and enforcement of WHS and will leverage the use of the SWA central hub in fulfilling their statutory functions.
  10. The work of the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission will complement the work of SWA, jurisdictions and health authorities to support industries more broadly to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic appropriately, effectively and safely.

Not sure of your obligations?

If you’d like to know more about the application of these principles, or need advice on how to respond to the impact of Coronavirus in your workplace, we are here to help.  Contact us here with HELP in the subject line and a Mapien Consultant will be in touch ASAP!

Written By
Jamie Paterson
With more than 15 years experience working as a human resources professional within large multi-national organisations, Jamie provides employment relations solutions across geographically diverse operations. His ability to understand each client’s cultural environment and business drivers, allow Jamie to partner with leaders on business improvement activities, organisational restructures and change management routines.