Yesterday the Australian Federal Government activated its Emergency Response Plan. While the virus is yet to hit our shores, the likelihood of a world-wide pandemic is increasing every day.
Now is the time to plan and prepare
Australian employers need to be planning and preparing for a potential Coronavirus outbreak here in Australia – determining exactly how you will respond to and manage the impact, and how you will respond to your staff’s questions, concerns and requests.
Where to begin
Some Australian businesses may have a Pandemic or Infectious Diseases Plan in place, that sets out how the business will manage safety and operations in the event of an outbreak. If your business does have a plan in place, start by reviewing it and assessing how it would apply to Coronavirus.
If you’re like most businesses and don’t have a specific plan or policy in place you need to conduct a thorough risk assessment now – looking at your workforces activities, the likelihood and consequence of exposure and the steps that can be taken to mitigate or minimise the risks.
You also need to make sure you are stay up to date and informed of the facts relating to Coronavirus. We recommend checking the following websites daily:
The Australian Department of Health’s Coronavirus Alert page which is updated daily.
Smart Traveller website for up to date travel alerts and warnings.
The Australian Department of Health’s Coronavirus information page which provides information about the virus.
What you should be doing right now
As an employer you have a duty to protect your employees and are required to actively reduce or eliminate potential risks to their health and safety. While an outbreak is yet to occur here, now is a good time to reassure your people that your business is planning and preparing for a potential outbreak and if one does occur, will put their safety first.
Your employees, like most of us, will be concerned about the potential for an outbreak and the repercussions of one. For this reason, we recommend you keep your people informed and provide:
Regular updates of the status of the virus – based on information from the government and WHO.
Advice about good hygiene practices in the work environment – it’s basic, but now is a good time to emphasise the importance of it.
Reminders about importance of staying home if you are unwell.
Access to hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes – for wiping phones, keyboards, computers and other shared equipment.
Information about how the business will manage if there is an outbreak – your people will be worried and have questions, providing clear, consistent information is important.
What you need to be thinking about right now
If an outbreak does occur here in Australia, the government may issue orders that require people to wear masks or work from home. There is the potential for schools and child care centres to be closed, which may mean that many of your employees simply won’t be able to come to work.
Right now, you should be looking at:
The necessity of overseas travel – given the current spread of virus, you may look to restrict or discontinue overseas travel. If staff are travelling overseas, review their travel insurance arrangements immediately, as Insurers have set 21 January 2020 as the cut-off date for COVID-19 related claims.
The risks of people working in the event of an outbreak – you should be assessing the exposure risk levels of different roles in your business and putting plans in place accordingly – these may include safety measures such as requiring staff to wear mask, different duties for those who normally work in busy public spaces, working from home, paid or unpaid leave or other alternatives.
Who will be able to work from home – what roles will be able to be performed from home and what roles won’t be able to.
What will people need to work from home – prepare as much as possible, plan and where practical ensure that your IT systems network connections, login’s and equipment are ready for this possibility.
Who won’t be able to work from home – there are some roles that simply aren’t able to be performed from home. You should have a plan in place for how you will manage leave and entitlements if staff are too concerned to work, or the government orders people to stay home.
What you will do if your operations are affected by supply-chain issues or a down-turn – will you be standing people down, offering unpaid leave, or providing paid leave (for what period).
You need to establish a clear position on how you will respond to employees requesting or having to take leave. You should have a clear position as to how you will handle different scenarios, including leave entitlements, if an employee:
suspects they could have, or at risk of having the Coronavirus.
has been quarantined, or are unable to return from overseas.
has been in an affected areas
has been diagnosed with the Coronavirus.
is worried and wants to stay home to prevent exposure.
is unable to work as a result of school or childcare closures.
Meeting your Health and Safety obligations
If Australia does have an outbreak of the Coronavirus, your duty as an employer to protect your employees and actively reduce or eliminate risks to their health and safety, should you guide your decision making. Regardless of whether or not the government issues orders for people to work from home, by law you are required to assess the potential risk to your employees and act accordingly.
The team at Risk Strategies can help you to both prepare and ensure you comply with OHS requirements. Get in touch if you would like advice about your obligations or assistance performing a thorough risk assessment and developing a Safety Management Plan to assist with managing a Coronavirus outbreak.