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The country is in COVID-19 Alert Level 4. You have checked out MBIE’s regularly updated COVID-19 essential services list and found out that you can operate. However, before you usher essential service employees back to work, you need to ensure that the workplace meets the stringent requirements the government has put in place around health and safety in the workplace.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) requires all employers to take practical steps to mitigate risk and protect workers from workplace hazards at all times. Any infectious disease encountered in the workplace is considered a workplace hazard. WorkSafe has expressed zero tolerance for anyone using COVID-19 as an excuse to endanger workers or indeed the public through less-than-thorough attention to health and safety. You must operate in a way that eliminates or minimises the risk of COVID-19 transmission as far as is reasonably practicable.
WorkSafe has provided guidance for employers who wish to ensure they meet their workplace health and safety requirements under the HSWA. You must:
- assess the risk of COVID-19 exposure at work
- put in place a hierarchy of controls to eliminate the risk
- at all times, you should talk regularly with your essential service workers not just to ensure they know what is expected of them but to highlight any risks that aren’t apparent at the outset
Where it’s not possible to eliminate the risk, you must minimise worker exposure to COVID-19 as much as reasonably practicable with your workplace health and safety requirements. You can minimise worker exposure by doing as many of the following as possible:
- Frequently clean the premises, particularly the high-touch things like counters, EFTPOS terminals and door handles.
- Ensure only essential work is done and that only the workers essential to the job are at the workplace
- Provide all necessary personal protective equipment (masks, gloves, safety glasses etc)
- Isolate workers who can carry out their tasks alone provided those tasks don’t require specialist equipment or machinery that can’t be moved from the workplace floor
- Provide soap or hand sanitiser around the workplace to ensure staff frequently wash their hands
- Limit or eliminate physical interaction with and between customers. Examples of this include only engaging with customers online or through phone orders, implementing contactless delivery or managed entry and enforcing social distancing of at least 2 metres both inside and outside the premises
- Install a barrier between workers to enable them to stay 2 metres apart. This can be as simple as a plastic sheet dividing workers or include solid partitions (such as the cough guards many supermarkets have installed to protect their checkout operators)
- Limit close contact time to less than 15 minutes
- Reduce or eliminate contact between workers at the start and end of shifts
- Split meal breaks so everyone is not taking their break at once
- Ensure only one worker uses the restroom at a time
The above list is not exhaustive. You are obligated to assess the unique risks of your workplace and be responsive to risks as they arise.
In addition to the above, an employer who does the following can feel confident that they are meeting WorkSafe’s expectations:
- Complete a risk assessment while engaging with workers to ensure all the risks are identified and assessed and appropriate controls implemented.
- Be vigilant and revisit the risk assessment should circumstances change
- Consult, cooperate and coordinate activities with other businesses with whom you share overlapping duties, so far as is reasonably practicable
- Follow guidance from the Ministry of Health, WorkSafe and other government entities providing advice on minimising the risk of COVID-19 transmission
- Proactively engage with workers on any health and safety concerns that arise in the workplace
Reinforce with your workers that they will need to take reasonable care of the health and safety of themselves and others. They must comply with reasonable health and safety instructions, policies and procedures. Essential service worker employees must work with their employer to help develop new ways of working that are needed to stay safe