The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee advises that where vulnerable workers undertake essential work, a risk assessment must be undertaken. Risk needs to be assessed and mitigated with consideration of the characteristics of the worker, the workplace and the work. The model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws require you to take care of the health, safety and welfare of your workers, including yourself and other staff, contractors and volunteers, and others (clients, customers, visitors) at your workplace.
This includes providing and maintaining a work environment that is without risk to health and safety, providing adequate and accessible facilities for the welfare of workers to carry out their work, and monitoring the health of workers and the conditions of the workplace for the purpose of preventing illness or injury.
Physical distancing (also referred to as ‘social distancing’) refers to the requirement that people distance themselves from others. The current advice from the Department of Health is that everyone must keep at least 1.5 metres apart from others (outside of their family unit) where possible. In addition, in a given space, there must be a 4 square metres of space per person where possible.
Why Is Physical Distancing Important?
Physical distancing is necessary because the most likely way of catching the virus is by breathing in micro-droplets from another person sneezing, coughing, or exhaling. By ensuring there is 4 square metres of space per person and maintaining a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres from others where possible, you will reduce the likelihood of exposure to micro-droplets of others.
Current health advice is that everyone, including people at workplaces, must implement physical distancing measures wherever possible. Work Health and Safety laws apply even when the workplace is a private home or dwelling. The client’s home is a workplace when you or your worker is there to perform work. You or your worker should talk to the client to ensure they understand the risks of COVID-19 and about the control measures you must implement – including physical distancing - to minimise the risk of exposing them and your worker to the virus.
Four Square Metre Rule
To achieve the 4 square metre ‘rule’ you need to calculate the area of the room (e.g length of room in metres x width of room in metres = area of room in square metres), and divide the area of the room by 4. For example, if you had a room that was 8 square metres in size, you should only allow up to 2 people in the room, to allow each person to have 4 square metres of space.
You should consider and make adjustments to the layout of the workspace and your workflows to enable workers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart to continue performing their duties wherever possible. For example, this could be achieved by, working at different ends of a room or area.
You should also review tasks and processes that usually require close interaction and identify ways to modify these to increase physical distancing between workers where it is practical and safe to do so. You need to do what you can to make sure there is 4 square metres in the workspace per person and keep everyone apart at least 1.5 metres, where possible.
It will not always be possible for workers and others to keep 1.5 metres apart at all times at the workplace. For example, workers may have to work closely with each other or others because of the nature of the task, such as: a plumber and an apprentice working in a small bathroom. Working in close contact increases the risk of workers being exposed to COVID-19. You must consider whether the work task must be completed or could be rescheduled to a later date. If the task must be completed and your workers will be in close contact, you must undertake a risk assessment to determine what control measures are reasonably practicable in the circumstances to eliminate or minimise health and safety risks from COVID-19.
Source: Safe Work Australia
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