COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Frequently asked questions

This page contains frequently asked questions on COVID-19.

Is social (physical) distancing required at work?

Social (also called physical) distancing must be followed at work as far as practicable, based on principles published by the Department of Health. The extent of social distancing will depend on the risk of community transmission at that time.  Risk assessments should be conducted and suitable control strategies implemented. Appropriate social distancing measures will depend on the workplace and work activities being conducted and may include:

  • Providing information to employees on social distancing requirements for the workplace.
  • If working with the public, providing information and guidance to the public on where to stand to ensure adequate social distancing – for example signage and/or floor markings.
  • Using barriers to reduce contact with the public, eg Perspex screens for service areas.
  • Ensure adequate space is available for meetings, or hold teleconference or videoconference meetings.
  • Stacking or removing excess chairs and use signage to indicate the safe number of occupants per room.
  • Reviewing workstation arrangements, for example in offices or call-centres or similar, and increasing space between people where practicable.
  • If employees are driving together, reduce the number of employees per vehicle, use the back seat for the passenger, and open the windows.
  • Staggering staff lunchtimes/breaks.
  • Extending operating hours so that fewer staff are at work at any point in time.
  • Implementing working from home if appropriate.

I employ vulnerable workers, what should I do?

Employers that have employees who are at increased risk of adverse outcomes if they contract COVID-19 coronavirus due to pre-existing medical conditions or age should conduct a risk assessment including the current risk of community transmission. Where there is an increased risk, consider if the worker can work from home, or if the job can be modified to reduce risk factors such as contact with the public. Vaccination may be appropriate, based on medical advice.   

Our workers may come into close contact with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 coronavirus. Should the workers use personal protective equipment (PPE)?

If a worker may come into close contact with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 coronavirus in the course of their work, employers must put controls measures in place to minimise the risk of a worker contracting the virus so far as practicable. This could involve:

  • Eliminating non-essential close tasks.
  • The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) including gloves, eye protection and P2 or higher standard respirators.  However PPE must not be the only control considered. Employees required to use PPE must be trained in its correct use and disposal. Employees required to use fitted respirators due to contact with COVID-19 cases must be clean shaven and fit tested in accordance with AS/NZS 1715.  
  • Other controls should be used where practicable (e.g. rideshare services requiring that passengers sit in the rear seat to maximise social distancing, or having a competent person modify the workplace ventilation system to maximise fresh air intake).

Can an employer direct a worker to stay away from their usual place of work?

Yes. An employer is responsible for ensuring as far as practicable that employees are not exposed to hazards. In order to meet this requirement, the employer must control hazards, and do what is practicable to eliminate/minimise the associated risks. An employee is required to comply with directions given by the employer to manage safety or health risks.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. A risk assessment based on all of the available information from health authorities and having consulted with your workers will ensure that appropriate controls are put in place.

If you know a worker is confirmed to have COVID-19, you must ensure that the worker does not return to work while they are infectious. If you notice a worker exhibiting other signs they may be unwell (e.g. frequent sneezing) and you consider they are unfit for work, you should follow your usual workplace policies and procedures. This should include directing the worker to go home.

What can be done to reduce risks from a viral outbreak such as a COVID-19?

Employers need to keep up to date with the latest health warnings from the Australian and WA governments to ensure that any action taken is measured and appropriate.

If there is concern about the risk of employees being exposed to the virus at work, a risk assessment should be carried out with reference to the latest information available at the links below. Employers should develop prevention and control strategies appropriate to the workplace, in consultation with their employees, and ensure that all employees are aware of and follow these strategies.

These strategies may include:

  • Providing clear advice about quarantine periods following at-risk travel or contact with at-risk or unwell people, in accordance with advice from the Department of Health.
  • Encouraging employees to be vaccinated.
  • Having employees and visitors use the Safe WA app to facilitate contact tracing in the event of a case.
  • Fitness for work policies and procedures, including instructions on actions employees should take if they have symptoms consistent with a virus, such as fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue, gastrointestinal disturbance or shortness of breath. 
  • Planning for contingencies such as staff shortages.
  • Minimising or eliminating the need for work travel.
  • Reviewing cleaning and hygiene protocols.
  • Implementing social distancing systems.
  • Reminding staff about the need to ensure good personal hygiene and encourage regular hand washing.
  • Using personal protective equipment where required based on risks.
  • Implementing strategies to manage workplace stress.
  • Ensuring safe systems of work are used for people working at home.
  • Providing information, instruction and training to employees on COVID-19 risks and control measures.
  • Regular communications with staff should the situation or organisational policies or procedures change.

Masks

When there are public health requirements for masks to be worn in my workplace and an employee has told me that they cannot wear a mask for medical reasons, what should I do to meet my duties as the employer?

Public health advice is that face masks are effective in helping prevent the transmission of COVID-19.  Limited exemptions do apply to mandatory mask wearing requirements under the relevant Directions, including if the person has a physical or mental illness, condition or disability which makes wearing a face masks unsuitable.

Where it is a lawful requirement to wear a mask in workplaces, employers are advised to discuss these requirements with their employees.  Employers have an obligation to ensure safe systems of work are in place for staff and visitors to their sites, and this includes reducing the risk of transmission of COVID-19.  If an employee is exempted from wearing a mask for medical reasons, the employer should request a medical certificate and consider other mitigation measures to ensure workplace safety such as moving the employee into a non-customer facing role and providing sufficient physical distancing from other persons. It should be noted that medical certificates are usually written in general terms (for example, referring to “a medical condition”) and as such do not compromise the right to medical privacy.

There are public health requirements for masks to be worn in my workplace however I have a medical certificate stating I do not have to wear a mask. Can my employer make me wear a mask?

Decisions around safe systems of work are for the employer to determine based on the evaluation of risk factors, for example, the employee interaction with high risk groups, the proximity of working with others and the current level of community transmission. Such risk factors must be considered together with the medical certificate (stating an exemption from wearing a face mask is required for medical reasons) along with the practicability of using other controls, such as physical distancing. If a safe system of work cannot be assured you may not be able to do the task.

I work in construction and/or conduct vigorous outdoor work. Do I need to wear a mask when there is a public health directive in place to do so?

Masks do not need to be worn if doing so presents a risk to your health and safety. If it has been assessed that a vigorous work activity may present a risk if a mask is used, your employer may assess that a mask is not required for that activity. However you still need to carry a mask with you and to put on the mask on completion of the vigorous work activity.

Do I need to wear a mask at work?

Yes, you must wear a mask at work when there is an applicable public health directive in place. Requirements and exceptions will be listed on WA.gov.au.

Why doesn’t my employer have to provide a mask for me when there is a public health directive to wear them?

Employers must take reasonable steps to ensure that their employees comply with applicable Directions issued under the WA State of Emergency and Public Health Emergency, however employers are not independently requiring employees to wear masks.

Will I be provided with a specific mask or respirator if I need one for my particular role?

Yes, employers have a duty to provide specific masks or respirators to all employees who need to wear them for occupational safety and health reasons (for example, exposure to chemicals or dust).

 

 

Further information

 

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