Aged care and other residential care facilities: Minimising the risk of exposure to COVID-19 coronavirus
The Western Australian occupational safety and health laws require employers to take care of the safety and health of their workers and others at the workplace.
- providing and maintaining a work environment that is without risk to occupational health and safety; and
- providing adequate facilities for workers to carry out their work in a safe manner.
The WA Health Department has released the following advice: COVID-19 information for aged care and community care providers.
The Australian Federal Government has released the following advice: Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for people in aged care facilities.
Managing the risks
As an employer, you must identify hazards at the workplace, and where practicable remove the hazards or minimise the risks from those hazards.
Aged care and other residential care facility operations have been identified as essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to the nature of the work, residential care workers cannot always physically distance from those that they are caring for. It is vitally important for all residential care facilities to strictly follow and apply the highest standards of infection control practices during the COVID-19 epidemic. These standards extend to all workers at the facility and each role should be risk-assessed, managed and controlled to reduce infection. A public health order will come into effect in September 2021 in relation to worker vaccination requirements – more details here.
Additionally, government directives and WA Health Department advice must be continually monitored for updates to reduce the risks and protect the occupational safety and health of staff.
Infection control at the highest standards
Employers are to implement all reasonably practicable control measures to minimise the spread of COVID-19 and protect the safety and health of workers, contractors and others. This is a requirement under the Western Australian Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984.
Where it is not possible for workers who provide direct care to physically distance from residents in a residential or home care setting, the highest possible levels of infection control standards are to be maintained in the facility.
This includes the appropriate use of personal protective equipment and protective wearables (e.g. gloves, face protection, protective suits, eye protection) and proper disposal to prevent potential contamination.
The physical distancing information below is broken into three parts:
- Resident care.
- Interactions between workers and others.
- The importance of physical distancing between residents.
Physical distancing – keeping workers and others at least 1.5 metres physically apart where practicable – will be challenging, but it is a key measure to minimise the spread of COVID-19.
Clearly identify the workers and contractors (e.g. therapists or other professionals) required to provide direct and close contact with residents.
Understand each individual role and consider if tasks can be done by a worker who must have direct contact, or if the task can be postponed. This is to reduce the number of people interacting on a close physical basis with residents.
This is challenging because the residents, who are often vulnerable, must receive a good standard and level of care.
Interactions between workers and others
- Limit physical interactions between workers.
- Workers who can work from home (e.g. office staff) should work from home.
- Review tasks and processes usually requiring close interaction and identify ways to modify these to increase physical distancing between workers where practical and safe to do so.
- Postpone non-essential gatherings or training.
- For essential gatherings, conduct in spaces that enable workers to keep the required physical distance of at least 1.5 metres, ideally outdoor spaces.
- Split workers’ shifts to reduce the number of workers onsite at any given time.
- Allow additional time between shifts to limit staff interaction and enable time for cleaning.
- Use methods such as mobile phone or radio to communicate.
- Reduce the number of workers utilising common areas at a given time (e.g. by staggering meal breaks and start times, and encouraging workers to eat and take breaks outside where possible).
- Spread out furniture in common areas.
- Put policies in place to eliminate close contact between delivery workers, and essential visitors (e.g. contactless collections and deliveries, using email or photographs instead of requiring signatures for acceptance of collections and delivery).
- Manage visitors – e.g. ask visitors to ring ahead if possible to control and allow physical distancing, ensure visitors follow hand washing routines. Note the requirement to comply with WA directions for visitor vaccination.
- Place signage about physical distancing around the workplace and on the entry points.
- Conduct meetings by phone call or video conference.
- Consider limiting worker interactions (e.g. reduce non-essential daily tasks, postpone non-essential work where possible, use equipment to reduce the number of workers interacting).
The importance of physical distancing between residents
Residents are to be physically distanced where reasonably practicable. Consider:
- Serving food in residents’ rooms instead of common rooms.
- Spacing the seating in common rooms.
- Staggering the times of breaks.
- Conducting social activities in outside areas and in small groups.
- Keeping any resident with flu-like symptoms isolated until they are cleared by a doctor.
If physical distancing measures introduce new safety and health hazards (e.g. because they impact communication, introduce fatigue or higher stress levels), you need to assess those hazards too.
The Australian Government Department of Health has a range of posters and other resources aimed at educating the public about COVID-19. These posters can be placed in client-facing work environments (e.g. workplace entrances and loading areas).
Health checks and quarantine
Follow the WA Department of Health guidance when managing any staff or residents with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, and to screen new or transferred residents for COVID-19.
All workers should be checked for key symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever. Prohibit staff from working if they are displaying symptoms. Workers who have contracted COVID-19 should be prohibited from returning to the workplace until they provide medical evidence that they are clear of the virus.
Direct all workers (whether they are at the workplace or not) to report to you if:
- they are experiencing any symptoms
- they have been, or have potentially been, exposed to a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is suspected to have COVID-19 (even if the person who is suspected to have COVID-19 has not yet been tested)
- they have undertaken, or are planning to undertake, any travel
- they observe another worker who is displaying symptoms.
Cleaning and hygiene
Usual cleaning schedules will need to be increased. Use the DMIRS cleaning checklist for general safety and health advice and the Safe Work Australia guidance on cleaning to reduce COVID-19 risks.
Frequently touched surfaces (such as handrails, scanners, plant controls and doors) should be cleaned frequently using appropriate detergent or disinfectant solutions.
Workplace amenities including kitchens, lunch rooms, common areas, change rooms, toilets, drink fountains and vending machines, should be cleaned thoroughly and the frequency of this cleaning should increase.
Also consider reducing the number of touch points for workers. For example, leaving access doors open, where appropriate.
Workers in residential care should already be provided with cleaning agents and trained to clean down surfaces and equipment immediately after use.
Gloves and alcohol-based hand sanitiser should be made available throughout the workplace. If possible, make hand sanitiser available at entry and exit points for workers and visitors to use when arriving and leaving.
To minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19, workers doing laundry should wear gloves, use hot water (or the warmest water suitable for the item) and detergent, and use alcohol-based hand sanitiser before and after wearing gloves. To prevent dispersing the virus, do not shake dirty laundry.
Workers must practise good hygiene. This includes:
- covering coughs and sneezes with an elbow or a tissue;
- immediately disposing of tissues properly;
- washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, including before and after eating and after going to the toilet;
- using alcohol-based hand sanitisers;
- cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and shared equipment after use;
- washing body, hair (including facial hair) and clothes thoroughly every day;
- reporting and staying home if experiencing any symptoms;
- avoiding touching their face;
- avoiding handshakes or any other close physical contact;
- refraining from spitting; and
- putting cigarette butts in the bin.
Deliveries and contractors attending the workplace
Non-essential business visits to the workplace should be cancelled or postponed.
People making deliveries, and other contractors who need to attend the workplace, should be given clear instructions of your requirements while they are on site.
Minimise the number of workers attending to deliveries and contractors as much as possible. Make alcohol-based hand sanitiser available for workers after physically handling deliveries.
Direct visiting truck drivers to remain in vehicles and use contactless methods such as mobile phones to communicate wherever possible.
Use, and ask deliveries and contractors to use, electronic documentation where possible to minimise physical interaction. Establish alternatives to requiring signatures. For instance, see whether a confirmation email or a photo of the loaded or unloaded goods can be accepted as proof of delivery or collection (as applicable).
Consultation and communication
You should consult with workers on health and safety matters relating to COVID-19. Allow workers to express views before you make decisions.
Also consult with other duty holders who have potential to or regularly work on site.
Workers are most likely to know about the hazards of their work. Involving them will help build worker commitment to this process and any changes, and may also provide greater insight into what control measures may be most effective.
The Guidance note Formal consultative processes at the workplace can provide more information about your duties to consult.
Communicate clearly with workers about control measures. Provide clear direction and guidance about what is expected of workers.
Workers should know:
- when to stay away from the workplace;
- what action to take if they become unwell; and
- what symptoms to be concerned about.
Remind workers they have a duty to take reasonable care for their own safety and health and to not adversely affect the safety and health of others.
Provide workers with a point of contact to discuss their concerns, and access to support services, including employee assistance programs. Additional support may be necessary for workers in higher risk categories.
Western Australia has put in place strict controls which prohibit entry into the State and movement between some regions unless granted an exemption. Any quarantine requirements must be complied with.
You should stay up to date on the latest travel restrictions and requirements from the Commonwealth, state and territory governments and provide that information to your workers.
The Australian Government Department of Health has published a range of specific resources on COVID-19 for health and aged care providers and workers, including those providing in-home care.
- Western Australian Health Department - COVID-19 (coronavirus)
- Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission - COVID-19 (Coronavirus) information
- Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - Responding to COVID-19
- Public Health Act 2016 (WA) Sections 157(1)(K) And 190(1)(P) Visitors to Residential Aged Care Facilities Directions (No 2)
Safe Work Australia has published general information for workplaces and workers relating to COVID-19 and work health and safety:
Posters and other resources
- Australian Government Department of Health - Publications
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