Vaccination Plus: Guide to COVID-Safe Workplaces

Employers have a duty under Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws to eliminate, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.

It is important that thorough risk assessments are undertaken by employers to ensure workplaces remain as safe as possible.

Download a PDF Presentation of Vaccination PLUS: Guide to COVID-Safe Workplaces

“A safe and effective vaccine is only one part of keeping the community safe and healthy. To meet your duties under WHS legislation and minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in your workplace, you must continue to apply all reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures.” 
- Safe Work Australia

The four steps to a COVID-Safe Workplace Risk Assessment

1. Identify hazards

Consider what could cause transmission of COVID in your workplace:

  • How is work designed and managed? 
  • Are people exposed to the virus going to enter your workplace?
  • How frequently are people coming and going?
  • How is work performed? Is work performed at close proximity to other people?
  • Is the physical workplace environment prone to transmission?  – hygiene standards, ventilation quality, office layout and spacing? 
  • What are the vaccination levels of staff and clients / community you support?
  • Is test, trace, isolate compliance at optimal levels in your service?

2. Assess risks

Understand the nature of the harm that could be caused by the hazard, how serious the harm could be and the likelihood of it happening

  • As lockdowns end, COVID is predicted to spread in the community. This means there is a likelihood it could enter your service. 
  • Any exposure to COVID can cause risk of infection and transmission of the virus. This could result in illness, hospitalisation, and death. These risks are significantly reduced by a COVID vaccine.
  • Even amongst those fully vaccinated, there is still a possibility of contracting and transmitting the virus (albeit much reduced than the risk if unvaccinated).

Use a risk assessment matrix to help you assess the risk to your service

3. Control risks

Consider the full range of effective control measures to eliminate or minimise the risk of COVID transmission.

Level 1 Controls: Elimination controls that prevent infection entering the service

  • excluding potentially infected workers from the premises through provision of paid Test, Trace, Isolate and Quarantine (TTIQ) leave for all workers regardless of employment status 
  • the use of Rapid Antigen Testing, especially as this control measure looks to become more readily available in Australia 
  • How you will you support your clients to TTIQ effectively, and how will staff be trained to support this work?

Level 2 Controls: Vaccinations

  • Vaccinations are effective at reducing infection and transmission of the virus but they don’t eliminate the risk entirely.
  • What measures can you put in place to support informed consent to vaccination by workers and service users? 
    • Paid time to access the vaccine and recover from any side effects of vaccination
    • Exemptions for workers who have a medical contraindication
    • Exemptions for workers who perform roles or can work in environments that do not carry risk of transmission to other workers or service users
    • Timeframes to ensure that vaccinations are a reasonably practicable measure

Download our guide: Tips for Talking about Vaccination in Community and Disability Workplaces

Level 2 Controls: Environmental controls to minimise transmission in the workplace

  • Reviews of and upgrades to ensure adequate ventilation in residential, center and office-based environments (ensuring adequate air exchanges of 6-8 per hour, CO2 levels around 600ppm and appropriate HEPA filtration) 
  • Social distancing in shared workspaces
  • Potential relocation of some workers to alternative premises to minimize risk of transmission
  • Ongoing work-from home arrangements for some roles where appropriate, and flexible work arrangements such as start and finish times to reduce the number of staff in workplaces at any one time

Level 3 Controls: Use of administrative actions and PPE

  • Minimising the use of transient workforce by promoting more secure work arrangements 
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) controls including provision of PPE and training in the appropriate use of PPE
  • Infection control measures, regular cleaning

A note on cost of control measures

Safe Work Code of Practice says, “the greater the likelihood of harm occurring or the greater the extent of that harm, the less weight should be given to the cost of controlling the hazard or risk.”

4. Review hazards and control measures to ensure they are working as planned

Once you have done your risk assessment and implemented all appropriate control measures, be sure to regularly review the control measures to ensure they are working.

  • What will be the triggers for a review? 
  • Consider minimum timeframes for review, impact of outbreaks on review, changes in public health orders.

The importance of consultation at all stages of the risk assessment process

Under WHS law, every safety control measure requires consultation with workers and their representatives. Consultation is a duty under WHS law, and the obligation is greater than under the SCHADS Award. 

“By drawing on the experience, knowledge and ideas of your workers you are more likely to identify all hazards and choose effective control measures.”
- Safe Work

The consultation should consider:

  • the measures you are proposing
  • their reasonableness in the circumstances
  • how they could be implemented,
  • and additional or alternative proposals from staff. 

Click here to see an example of a risk assessment