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  • Back to business: Returning to the workplace once restrictions ease
  • Written by Rhiannon Mason
  • Last modified on 03 May 2021

Back to business: Returning to the workplace once restrictions ease

As restrictions are rolled back week by week throughout Victoria, it comes as a sigh of relief for many small businesses. The easing of restrictions is important for businesses who have been financially struggling for the past few months due to COVID-19 and the resulting lockdown. With the lifting of some restrictions and gradual reopening of the local economy, many small businesses are finally returning to the workplace after COVID.

Both Regional Victoria and Melbourne Metro have been prescribed their separate roadmaps for reopening. These roadmaps are based on the number of active cases in the respective communities. Hence, it is important for business owners to be well aware of the specific guidelines they must adhere to. This article is designed to provide a general overview of the regulations for small businesses returning to work in Victoria.

 

 Man in full hazmat suit reading a newspaper and holding a coffee mug.

Small businesses returning to the workplace after COVID

As the government has proceeded with easing of COVID-19 restrictions, small business owners are preparing workplaces, not only to get back to trading but also to protect their customers and provide their workers with a safe working environment. If you are a small business owner or employer, the following steps will provide you with a pathway for returning to workplace after COVID19:

1. Adhere to relevant and current health advice.

Acquaint yourself with the applicable health and safety advisory issued by your local state or territory. For busines
Therefore, in order to learn more about regulations for small businesses returning to work in Victoria, visit here.

2. Assess risks to ensure safety in the workplace.

If you are a small business owner, then you should be conducting a thorough risk assessment in order to determine the risks of the alterations that you are implementing at the workplace due to COVID. You can formulate new work practices and procedures after discussing it with employees, and/or elected Health and Safety Representatives(HSRs) if any. While assessing risks, do factor in the following:-

  • Local health advisory issued by state and territory governments.
  • Any restrictions that are specific to Victoria, given you are a small business operating in Victoria. For instance, if a localised outbreak has been detected and therefore, revised restrictions are being imposed, only in the affected region, i.e Victoria.
  • Your usual work environment, including the surface area of your business premises, and the nature of work being undertaken by the employees.
  • Specific situation pertaining to workers. For instance, if an employee of yours, is classified as vulnerable, or is responsible for caring for a vulnerable person, or if he/she has a vulnerable person in their home.
  • New risks emerging from the alterations and changes made in the workplace environment, procedures and mechanisms.

3. Discuss contingency plans with your employees.

Communicate and consult with your employees about what the plan would be in case of an emergency. You must discuss in detail how will you be managing and responding in the case of a potential outbreak.

4. Communicate with your landlord/building owner.

Discuss the precautions that you might have to undertake in the event of an emergency, in advance, with your landlord or building owner. If you share your premises with some other businesses, then consult with them as well, to arrive at a plan that can ensure risk minimisation. For instance, you can try to formulate and operate according to an agreed-upon arrangement regarding the use of lifts, shared breakrooms, etc.

5. Provide specific instructions to employees regarding COVID.

Tell your employees to inform you immediately if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID, and/or if they have been in close contact with a person who is coronavirus positive or being tested. Ensure they have correct PPE and access to hand washing facilities and sanitiser.

6. Instruct infected employees to work-from-home.

If any employee(s), displays symptoms of COVID-19, or has been in close contact with any COVID positive person, then instruct them to get tested immediately, and then stay at home and practice self-quarantine. Advise them to contact the National Coronavirus Help Line (1800 020 080).

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What are the responsibilities of employees regarding Work Health and Safety?

As employees/workers are returning to the workplace after COVID, there are several responsibilities that they should be aware of, in regard to their own safety and well-being.

1.  Implement changes in the workplace

Employees must make sure to redesign the workplace and processes by implementing the alterations and changes required for a COVIDSafe workplace in alignment with local health directives.

2. Adhere to physical distancing guidelines

According to the current health regulations for small businesses returning to work in Victoria, all workplace are required to adhere to physical distancing guidelines.

Inside the workplace, employees/workers should maintain a minimum distance of 1.5 meters from other people, be it other employees, customers, or anyone else. The employer/Business owner should try to provide 4 square meters of space to every person within the premises. These precautions are incremental in alleviating the spread of COVID-19. There are some other workplace measures to be undertaken by employers and employees regarding physical distancing:

      • There should be proper management and allocation of work tasks, so as to minimise employee interaction.
      • A detailed transition plan must be thought-out. This plan would include restricting the number of staff members by allowing as many employees as possible, to continue working from home. It will also include delaying non-essential work and dividing work shifts among employees to minimise the number of employees on-premise.
      • Instead of in-person interactions, conversations should be had via phone or digital technologies, such as video conferencing, teleconferencing, or virtual meetings.

For further information regarding implementing physical distancing measures in the workplace, watch the video.

Young person on video call with 3 other people

3. Practice good hygiene

One of the most important ways in which employees can protect themselves from contracting COVID infection is by exercising proper hygiene. Employees/workers must thoroughly wash their hands, and do it quite frequently. They must wash hands with soap and water for the minimum of 20 seconds and dry them with the help of a clean paper towel, that is to be discarded immediately.

In the event that it is not practical to wash hands from soap and water, employees must use alcohol-based hand sanitiser, that has a minimum of 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol as an active ingredient.  Some other hygiene measures that are to be taken within the workplace environment are as under:

      • Employees must make sure to cover their mouth with an elbow while coughing or sneezing.
      • Employees must not spit.
      • Workers should not touch their face, eyes, nose and mouth.
      • Tissues are to be hygienically disposed of in closed bins, and hands should be thoroughly cleaned afterwards.
      • There must be proper cleaning and disinfection of shared equipment and plant after usage.
      • Employees must wash their body, head and facial hair, and clothing, as a daily routine.
      • Employees/workers are expected to understand that it is imperative for them to take proper care of their health and hygiene. So that they do not pose any threat to the health and safety of others.
      • Most importantly, they must follow all the instructions provided to them by their employer and must inform immediately if they experience any symptoms of infection.

You can access more information about implementing hygienic practices in the workplace, through this informative video.

Pizza delivery being paid for

What can employers do to smoothen the process of returning to workplace after COVID?

By taking the below-mentioned steps, as a small business owner, you will be able to seamlessly transition back to business as usual:-

      • Provide PPE

Facilitate your employees with cleaning supplies, disinfectants, sanitisers, and other such hygiene products. By delivering sufficient PPE, and proper training and instruction, your staff will be able to properly utilise these cleaning resources and protect themselves and others from exposure to COVID-19.

      • Limit in-person visitation of clients/customers

For tasks such as making deliveries, consider hiring contractors, so as to arrange contactless deliveries that restricts the number of customers, physically visiting your premises. Try and limit non-essential visitations.

      • Be clear about the workload

Be clear and straightforward about the expectations employees should have, or what their workload maybe, going forward. Closely supervise the tasks being provided and how employees are performing. If they are anxious about returning to the workplace, it would reflect in their work performance. Thus, make sure to consult employees, or HSRs regarding any changes that they may want. Also, try and provide some flexibility.

      • Encourage communication among employees

Constantly remain in touch with your employees, and routinely communicate with them. Motivate them to create camaraderie among themselves as well. Encourage them to communicate, not in person, but through phone, messages, or social media. This can prove immensely helpful in elevating their spirits.

      • Keep yourself updated with the latest information

The only way you can keep your employees well-informed is if you are well-informed yourself. So stay up to date with the latest developments and official sources, and routinely share the information with your employees.

      • Let employees know they can avail entitlements pertaining to COVID

You must inform your staff about the workplace entitlements that they may be eligible to access, such as paid leave for the purpose of self-quarantine.

Shop owner wearing face mask giving food to delivery driver without mask

Conclusion

These are some of the measures that both small business owners and their employees can implement, to ensure their safety and the safety of others. The above-mentioned steps will also keep your workplace well-aligned with the regulations for small businesses returning to work in Victoria.

If you are seeking any kind of information, guidance, or assistance regarding reopening and returning to workplace after COVID, feel free to contact us so we can put you in touch with an expert in our network.

We at Victorian Small Business Network are constantly working to support and assist small business owners by connecting them with each other. You can find further information regarding joining our ever-growing network of businesses here:https://vsbn.com.au/