COVID19 and your business, preparing yourself and your employees
The coronavirus, or as it is correctly called COVID-19, has ensued global panic with the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring that the virus is now a pandemic on 12 March 2020.
We are right to be concerned as this virus poses significant risk to those that are elderly or have underlying health conditions. However the concerns also drift towards the economy and also businesses.
What is COVID19?
According to the WHO, COVID-19 is part of a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from; the common cold to more severe diseases such as MERS and SARS. COVID-19 is a new strain within this family that causes similar symptoms of influenza. COVID-19 symptoms include fever, tiredness and dry cough. Some patients may also have aches and pains, sore throat, runny nose, nasal congestion and difficulties breathing, this can lead to more severe cases of infection as well. The incubation period for this virus is between 1-14 days, with symptoms commonly being displayed after five days.
From current indications, COVID-19 is spread similarly to influenza, it can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth through coughing, sneezing and exhales. These droplets can then land on surfaces or objects around the person. Other people can then catch the virus by touching these surfaces or objects and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also become infected by breathing in the droplets from an infected personal who coughs or exhales.
What can I do to prepare for the COVID19 in my workplace?
As employers are aware, Workplace Health and Safety Act 2011 section 19 requires that a person conducting a business must ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of its employees. This means that employers must attempt to eliminate or minimise the risk for their employees.
When considering COVID-19, employer should make certain that they are aware and up to date on information relating to the escalating situation of the virus. It is recommended that depending on the workplace, an appropriate range of actions may include:
Closely monitoring official Government sources for current information and advice;
- Ensuring workers are aware of the isolation/quarantine periods in accordance with advice from the Australian Government Department of Health;
- This includes information on when staff should not attend work;
- Providing clear advice to workers about actions they should take if they become unwell or think they may have the symptoms of coronavirus, in accordance with advice from the Australian Government Department of Health and state or territory health department;
- Eliminating or minimising international work travel, in line with the travel advice on the Australian Government’s Smartraveller website;
- Providing regular updates to workers about the situation and any changes to organisational policies or procedures;
- Contingency planning to manage staff absences; and
- Providing workers with information and links to relevant services should they require support.
As advised in recent times, government advice pertaining to social distancing should also be followed.
Others measure should also be considered depending on your business situation in relation to providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and regular cleaning of areas that are frequented by workers or others. This includes high touch areas such as, but not limited to, eftpos equipment, handrail, elevator buttons, tables, counter tops, door knobs and sinks.
Psychological health of employees also applies to Work Health and Safety and employers must do what they can to reduce the psychological risks to their employees.
It is noted that employees should also have a duty to take reasonable care of their health and safety and to not adversely affect other employees. Employees should be advised to practice good hygiene and other measure to protect themselves against infection, this includes:
Washing their hands often, with soap and water, or carrying hand sanitiser and using it as needed;
- Covering their mouth when coughing or sneezing, but not using their hands to do so;
- Seeing a health care professional if they start to feel unwell; and
- If unwell, avoiding contact with others (including shaking hands or other touching, such as hugging).
If this article has raised any concerns for you or your organisation please do not hesitate to contact either John Hayward or Kate Smith on (07) 4046 1124, for advice specific to your circumstances.
This article has been prepared with the assistance of Ruby Hedrick, law graduate.