Education: Minimising the risk from COVID-19
The Western Australian work health and safety laws require Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBUs) to provide for the safety and health of workers and others at the workplace.
This includes providing and maintaining, so far as is practicable, a working environment in which people at the workplace are not exposed to hazards.
PCBUs must assess risks at the workplace, and where practicable, eliminate or minimise those risks.
Teachers and school support workers in the education industry
The number of teachers, students, parents and other school support workers in a typical school environment can vary significantly between schools and from day to day.
To reduce the risk of COVID-19 in a school environment it is important that all reasonably practicable actions are taken to identify hazards, assess the risks and put in place control measures.
Control measures to minimise the spread of COVID-19 and to address well known work safety and health risks must continue to be implemented. This is the case even if implementing control measures results in delays to schedules or causes other disruptions.
Managing the risks of exposure to COVID-19
Physical distancing on school sites assists in reducing risks from COVID-19 and should be used where practicable. Children do not have to maintain the same level of physical distancing as adults, however the available space should be used to maximise opportunities for physical distancing.
Measures to provide physical distancing may include:
- Stagger meal and break times to limit the number of students and staff congregating in one area.
- Spread out furniture in classrooms and other rooms including staff offices and meal areas.
- Carry out classes in open spaces or in well ventilated areas.
- Maintain smaller class sizes.
- Practice non-contact greetings.
- Manage queues by spacing – e.g. mark the ground at 1.5m spacing.
- Place signage about physical distancing around the school to remind workers and promote safe distancing.
Follow WA Health Department and Department of Education advice in relation to student and teaching facilities e.g. playgrounds, gymnasiums, and swimming pools.
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 staff and student-facing work environments like workplace entrances.
Managing symptomatic people
Symptomatic staff should not attend the workplace.
- Advise staff not to attend the workplace if they feel unwell. If they become unwell during the day they should be encouraged to go home.
- Whether staff are at the workplace or not, direct them to tell you if:
- they are experiencing any symptoms or
- they are a close contact for someone with COVID-19
- Encourage staff to report if they observe other staff members or students displaying any symptoms.
- Follow the Department of Health requirements in terms of returning to work after having had COVID-19 or after isolating as a close contact.
- Advise students to tell their parent, guardian or teacher if they are feeling sick.
Students who are unwell should be collected by their parent or guardian and taken home.
- Parents who are unwell should not visit the school grounds.
- Unwell children must not attend school.
- Parents of vulnerable children with complex medical needs should follow the advice of their medical practitioner regarding on-site education.
The time COVID-19 survives on objects and surfaces will vary. Environmental cleaning is one way to remove COVID-19 particles.
Teaching and the school’s work inevitably require regular touching of objects and surfaces. This means that usual cleaning schedules at schools will need to be increased.
- Frequently touched surfaces, including desks, chairs, equipment, handrails and doors, should be cleaned frequently using appropriate detergent or disinfectant solutions.
- Site amenities, including lunch rooms, site offices, change rooms, toilets, showers, drink fountains and vending machines, should be thoroughly and frequently cleaned.
To minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19, the person cleaning should wear gloves and use alcohol-based hand sanitiser before and after wearing gloves.
Staff should be trained to clean down equipment immediately after use.
Workplaces should consider limiting or reducing recirculated air-conditioning in common areas.
See the Department of Health information sheet on Environmental cleaning and disinfection-principles for COVID-19 for further information.
Staff should be required to practise good hygiene to reduce the risk. This includes:
- covering coughs and sneezes with an elbow or a tissue
- 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
- washing body, hair (including facial hair) and clothes thoroughly every day
- staying more than 1.5 metres away from others, and
- staying home if sick.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, staff should also:
- avoid touching their own face
- avoid handshakes or any other close physical contact
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), for example face masks, is not required to provide regular care for children or young people who are well, unless such precautions are usually adopted in the routine care of an individual child or young person, however may be used as an additional precaution should the staff member choose.
Standard procedures and recommended hygiene procedures are to be strictly followed for:
- the care of students who require routine assistance – e.g. students with disabilities or those with complex needs, and
- the delivery of first aid.
Washroom facilities at schools must have adequate supplies for good hygiene, such as adequate supply of soap, water and toilet paper. Washroom facilities must be kept clean, properly stocked and in good working order.
Schools should make alcohol-based hand sanitiser available to teachers and students in classrooms and in areas away from proper or convenient handwashing facilities. For example, so that staff and children may use the sanitiser before entering a classroom or a class activity.
- Remind staff and students (with posters or through training) to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or sanitise their hands.
- Inform staff of workplace hygiene standards expected when utilising common areas. For example, cleaning up after yourself, placing rubbish in bins provided or avoiding putting items such as phones on meal surfaces.
- Consider reducing the number of touch points for staff. For example, leaving access doors open, where appropriate.
Deliveries and other contractors attending the workplace
Make alcohol-based hand sanitiser available after physically handling deliveries.
Where practicable, use contactless payment or receipt methods and make use of mobile phones to communicate with contractors.
Where possible, use electronic documents to minimise physical interaction and set up alternatives to requiring signatures. For instance, confirmation emails or a photo of the loaded or unloaded goods might be accepted as proof of delivery or collection.
Keep staff and the school community informed
You should provide staff and the broader school community with information about the risks of exposure to COVID-19. Where required, staff should be trained in infection control.
Where required, staff should be trained in infection control.
The Australian Government Department of Health has a range of posters and other resources aimed at educating the public about COVID-19.
Consultation and communicating with staff
You should consult with staff on safety and health matters relating to COVID-19.
You should also consult with other duty holders working on site.
Staff are most likely to know about the risks of their work. Involving them will help build commitment to this process and any changes.
The guidance on consultative processes provides more information about consultation in your workplace.
Communicate clearly with staff about control measures. Provide clear direction and guidance about what is expected of staff.
Remind staff 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 staff with appropriate contacts to discuss their concerns, and provide access to support services, including worker assistance programs.
Vaccination is the primary control used to reduce risks from COVID-19. Vaccination is mandatory under public health requirements for some staff in the education sector. More details are available here.
Further information and resources
- Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety – Managing COVID-19 risks in the workplace | Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (commerce.wa.gov.au)
- Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety – Mentally Healthy Workplaces
- Australian Government Department of Health - Head to Health
- Australian Government Department of Health - Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) advice on reducing the potential risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools
- Australian Government Department of Health - Coronavirus (COVID-19) information for universities, higher education and vocational education facilities, their students and staff
- Fair Work Ombudsman - Coronavirus and Australian workplace laws
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