Although the building and construction industry avoided any COVID-19 shut-down directives or other restrictions, there are still new COVID-19 safety principles that all businesses will need to consider regardless of whether they are about to go back to business, or have remained in business.

These principles have been approved by the National Cabinet as part of it’s three step "roadmap" plan to re-open business doors and transition workers back to the workplace. The first step in the plan is to ensure workplaces become what the Government called "COVIDSafe workplaces" and each future step is subject to social distancing arrangements and "COVID Safe plans" being developed and implemented in workplaces.

All workplaces, regardless of whether they have been shut down, forced to close, continued as normal or have had staff working from home, will need to develop a plan to manage and implement control measures to manage the risks of COVID-19 and ensure that any future outbreaks are controlled and spread potential minimised.

The 10 National COVID-19 safe workplace principles will underpin the development of further nationally consistent, industry-specific WHS guidance on COVID-19. Much work has already been undertaken to produce this guidance, with Master Builders having input to ensure construction materials is practical and effective. The 10 principles are:

  • All workers, regardless of their occupation or how they are engaged, have the right to a healthy and safe working environment.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic requires a uniquely focused approach to work health and safety (WHS) as it applies to businesses, workers and others in the workplace.
  • To keep our workplaces healthy and safe, businesses must, in consultation with workers, and their representatives, assess the way they work to identify, understand and quantify risks and to implement and review control measures to address those risks.
  • As COVID-19 restrictions are gradually relaxed, businesses, workers and other duty holders must work together to adapt and promote safe work practices, consistent with advice from health authorities, to ensure their workplaces are ready for the social distancing and exemplary hygiene measures that will be an important part of the transition.
  • Businesses and workers must actively control against the transmission of COVID-19 while at work, consistent with the latest advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), including considering the application of a hierarchy of appropriate controls where relevant.
  • Businesses and workers must prepare for the possibility that there will be cases of COVID-19 in the workplace and be ready to respond immediately, appropriately, effectively and efficiently, and consistent with advice from health authorities.
  • Existing state and territory jurisdiction of WHS compliance and enforcement remains critical. While acknowledging individual variations across WHS laws mean approaches in different parts of the country may vary, to ensure business and worker confidence, a commitment to a consistent national approach is key, including a commitment to communicating what constitutes best practice in prevention, mitigation and response to the risks presented by COVID-19.
  • Safe Work Australia (SWA), through its tripartite membership, will provide a central hub of WHS guidance and tools that Australian workplaces can use to successfully form the basis of their management of health and safety risks posed by COVID-19.
  • States and Territories ultimately have the role of providing advice, education, compliance and enforcement of WHS and will leverage the use of the SWA central hub in fulfilling their statutory functions.
  • The work of the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission will complement the work of SWA, jurisdictions and health authorities to support industries more broadly to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic appropriately, effectively and safely.

The COVID Safe plans will mean business are to put in place a system to:

  • Manage the risks of a person contracting or spreading COVID-19 in the workplace
  • Implement and maintain a cleaning schedule across the workplace
  • Have good hygiene procedures and practices (such as washing and/or sanitising of hands)
  • Ensure workers who have been instructed to quarantine or self-isolate don’t come to the workplace
  • Make sure physical distancing requirements are met by workers, contractors and others entering, leaving or moving around the workplace.
  • Provide information, training and supervision on how the risks of COVID-19 are to be managed and ensure all processes and procedures are applied by the workers.
  • Provide information and instruction to other people who attend the workplace about how they are to comply with your processes and procedures, and make sure they apply them.

For many building and construction industry workplaces, there is unlikely to be a material change as they have likely already implemented measures to continue operations. Those measures should be reviewed given potential heightened interactions as other businesses they deal with reopen.

Regardless, each plan should assess the unique risks posed to workers in their own business and work environment, and those workers at greatest risk due to their duties or being in a vulnerable worker category. They should clearly identify how the risks of exposure of workers to COVID-19 arise, their likelihood, the control measures for dealing with those risks, and how the measures will be reviewed and adjusted either periodically or by a trigger event.

While Safe Work Australia continues to develop nationally consistent work health and safety guidance on COVID-19, we encourage you to consult the raft of very useful resources for business to assist them in ensuring they’ve done everything necessary to protect workers and minimise the risk of future problems.

Regardless of whether you are getting back to business, or have remained in business, everyone has a role to play stop the COVID-19 spread and facilitate the easing of restrictions.

Shaun Schmitke

National Director, Safety, Contracts, Workplace Relations

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