Education: Minimising the risk from COVID-19 coronavirus
The Western Australian occupational safety and health laws require employers to take care of 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.
Employers 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 will be challenging at times but is a key measure to minimise the spread of COVID-19. 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 include:
- Limit physical interactions between teachers, school support workers, parents and other people attending the school (e.g. deliveries).
- Consider alternate methods of communication with your daily adult contacts, such as using mobile phones or email.
- Limit worker numbers on site where possible and facilitate work from home where appropriate.
- Create specific walkways through the school to maintain physical separation.
- 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 wide 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 appropriate 1.5m spacing.
- Postpone non-essential training or provide training through online applications.
- Place signage about physical distancing around the school to remind workers and promote safe distancing.
- If physical distancing measures introduce new safety and health risks (e.g. because they impact communication), these risks need to be managed too.
Nominate a responsible person at school to encourage staff to follow the rules for physical distancing.
Follow WA Health Department and Education Department 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.
Health checks and quarantine
Staff should be checked for key symptoms of COVID-19, such as a fever.
- Direct staff to identify themselves if they fall into a vulnerable person category. Work with the vulnerable staff to redirect them to appropriate roles and tasks to reduce the risk of COVID-19.
- Prohibit staff from school if they feel sick or are in a vulnerable person category.
- Whether staff are at the workplace or not, direct them 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), or
- they have undertaken, or are planning to undertake, any travel.
- Encourage staff to report if they observe other staff members or students displaying any symptoms.
- Prohibit staff who have contracted COVID-19 from returning to the workplace until they provide evidence, they are clear of the virus.
- Advise students to tell their parent, guardian or teacher if they are feeling sick.
- Parents who are unwell should not visit the school grounds.
- Sick children must not attend school and must stay at home, away from others.
- Parents of vulnerable children with complex medical needs should follow the advice of their medical practitioner regarding on-site education.
- Parents should try to limit visits to the school and maintain physical distancing if they must attend the school site.
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 medical 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.
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.
- Adequately define the teaching area and student areas.
- 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 etiquette and 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
Non-essential visits to the workplace should be cancelled or postponed. If contractors must visit the school they should be given clear instructions of the requirements while they are at the school.
Minimise the number of workers attending to deliveries and contractors as much as possible.
Make alcohol-based hand sanitiser available after physically handling deliveries.
Direct visiting drivers to remain in vehicles and wherever practicable, use contactless payment or receipt methods and make use of mobile phones to communicate with contractors wherever possible.
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 informed
You should provide staff with information about the risks of exposure to COVID-19. 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. Allow staff views to be expressed, upon which, you can make informed decisions.
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 note: formal consultative processes at the workplace 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 employee assistance programs.
Further information and resources
- 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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