Businesses must have measures in place to protect workers at risk from coronavirus

Australia is closely monitoring an outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

There have been a limited number of confirmed cases of this strain of coronavirus in Australia to date.

In Australia, the model WHS laws require a person conducting a business or undertaking to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace. This includes providing and maintaining a work environment that is without risks to health and safety.

Businesses must identify hazards at the workplace, and the associated risks, and do what is reasonably practicable to eliminate the risks, or to minimise the risks if elimination is not reasonably practicable. Coronavirus is a hazard. You can identify when this hazard may be present at your workplace, and the level of risk it might pose to workers, by monitoring the expert advice (for example, from the Chief Medical Officer or your local state or territory health department), and by talking to your workers.

Whether a control measure is reasonably practicable for you to implement involves consideration of what is able to be done to manage a risk and whether it is reasonable in the circumstances for you to do so. The likelihood of the risk occurring, the degree of harm that might result and the availability and suitability of a control measure are key considerations in determining what measures are reasonable to implement in your circumstances.

If your business involves direct contact with sick or ill patients/customers, you should monitor the coronavirus situation as it develops and review your infection control policies, procedures and practices, to ensure they are effective and are being followed.

If you or your workers are planning to travel overseas for work, particularly to China, monitor the latest Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) travel advice on the Smartraveller website.

Workers also have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and to not adversely affect the health and safety of others. Workers should always practice hygiene and other measures to protect against infections, including by:

  • washing their hands often, with soap and water, or carrying hand sanitiser and using it as needed
  • covering their mouth while coughing or sneezing
  • seeing a health care professional if they start to feel unwell.

Workers who consider they are at risk of infection of coronavirus should raise this with their manager immediately, to enable the business to consider whether additional control measure might be needed (for example, requesting the employee seek medical clearance, or requesting the employee work from home, if possible, during the risk period). Eligible workers would be entitled to personal leave if they are not fit for work due to contracting coronavirus.


Safe Work Australia

January 30, 2020