National COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles have been announced

  • COVID-19
  • Published 29.04.2020

Summary

On Friday, 24 April 2020 Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the release of National COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles. The Principles have now been published by Safe Work Australia. 

It is critical that all employers are aware of these principles, and stay up to date with recommendations and guidance from both Safe Work Australia and the respective WHS bodies in each State/Territory in which they operate.

The Principles

At the outset, Safe Work Australia notes that the principles operate subject to any measures agreed and implemented by Governments through the National Cabinet process.

The Principles are as follows:

  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.

What does this mean for employers?

It is imperative that employers adhere to the Principles. In particular, businesses need to ensure that they:

  1. Implement appropriate social distancing and hygiene measures within the workplace. 
  2. Work with their employees to control the transmission of COVID-19 at work.
  3. Have a properly considered business response plan that can be implemented immediately in the event that there is a case of COVID-19 in the workplace. 
  4. Follow advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

Whilst compliance with the Principles will be different for every business, employers must show that they have made genuine attempts to observe and implement the Principles if they are to satisfy their WHS obligations insofar as COVID-19 is concerned.

Safe Work Australia has also committed to providing a central “hub” of work, health and safety guidance for Australian workplaces to assist with the management of health and safety risks posed by COVID-19. Employers should ensure that they are keeping regularly updated, as recommendations and best practice approaches to COVID-19 are in a state of constant development. 

In addition, in NSW the State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA), Insurance and Care NSW (icare) and Safe Work NSW each have detailed guidance on their websites to assist employers and insurers in navigating their obligations in the current pandemic environment. The relevant sites can be found below:

Adele Fletcher

Partner

P: 02 8257 5708

Email Adele