QR Code check-in has become a major part of most Business’s Risk Assessments and Covid- Safe Plans.
- As vaccination levels approach targets, WHS obligations need to be maintained.
- A thorough risk assessment feeding into a Covid Safe Plan should be developed
- Use the tools available from Fair Work Australia (FWO) and trusted Government sources
- Keep up to date with the latest WHS advice and any Health Orders
As coronavirus restrictions begin to ease across the country in line with vaccination targets, most workplaces will attempt to return to what could be considered normal operations.
And as governments shift focus from containment to living with the virus; businesses will bear much of the brunt of minimising much of its spread in the community.
Businesses will need to be compliant with work health and safety (WHS) obligations, as well as health orders in some jurisdictions. There are a number of issues that will now need to be considered by businesses and employers including:
– Adhering to National Cabinet’s previously developed COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles
– Carrying out a risk assessment and develop a COVID Safe Plan
– The Fair Work Ombudsman’s (FWO) updated Guidelines for Workplace Vaccinations
– Collection of health information will need to have regard to privacy obligations
The National COVID-19 safe workplace principles are available from Safe Work Australia(SWA) and identify the measures businesses should have in place to operate throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Most small businesses have been working hard in line with these principles to manage the risk of exposure to COVID-19 at the workplace. Some state authorities already require that a Covid Safe Plan and State sanctioned QR Code Check In be implemented in order for businesses – no matter what the size – to remain operational.
You’ll need to continue to do all that you have been doing in your workplace to stop the spread of COVID-19 including physical distancing, good hygiene, regular cleaning and maintenance and using personal protective equipment. Continue to make sure workers do not to attend work if they are unwell and comply with any public health orders that apply to you and your workplace.
To also be compliant with WHS obligations, as well as health orders in some jurisdictions, businesses should look to carrying out a risk assessment and develop a COVID Safe Plan in preparation for workers and visitors returning to the workplace.
Risk assessment is the four-step process used to identify hazards, assess the risk of the hazard and the risk level, put controls in place and conduct ongoing reviews. See the SWA COVID-19 risk register to help track of this.
Ongoing management of Covid-19 WHS risks will either eliminate or minimise the risks to people and ensure a safe working environment.
Developing a Covid Safe Plan off the back of the risk assessment will depend on your state authority; however, most will require that you address the matters identified in the assessment.
The plan will set out what you will need to do to fulfil your obligations under WHS and public health orders and minimise risk of transmission of COVID-19 on your premises or the process of your work.
You should look to update your plan on an ongoing basis and assess any other new or changed risks arising from COVID-19, such as customer aggression, high work demand or working in isolation.
Essentially, a business needs to demonstrate that they have considered all matters that could impact the health and safety of all people. SWA has an extensive workplace checklist resource to help with the key considerations.
Another aspect for businesses to also consider also is that the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has recently updated its Guidelines for Workplace Vaccinations.
The FWO has developed a sliding-scale of requirements for workplace vaccinations. On its current advice, most small businesses won’t need to mandate workers be vaccinated to meet their WHS duties. However, you are strongly encouraged to consult with workers on this matter and should seek legal assistance before implementing a mandatory vaccination policy.
There are many other rights and responsibilities for employers and workers under other laws in relation to COVID-19 vaccines, including workplace relations, anti-discrimination and privacy laws.
The issue of privacy becomes apparent with the storage of employee vaccination status records and any medical evidence exempting employees from vaccination or mask wearing.
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has developed privacy guidance (available on its website) to assist employers with best practice methods to properly handle information once it has been collected.
You should collect the minimum information to comply with your WHS obligations and remove the records once not required by health orders.
A new set of ‘National COVID-19 Privacy Principles’ released by the Australian Privacy Commissioner, promotes the adopting of such a data-minimisation approach. In determining who is and isn’t vaccinated, employers may avoid issues with privacy laws by simply sighting proof of vaccination without collecting or recording any information.
As has been the case from the start of the pandemic, things will continue to change as we progress through different stages, however you need to keep in mind your obligation to your WHS duties.
Changes will come again in coming weeks when it comes to visitors, contractors, delivery drivers and others that may have interaction with your operation. The soon-to-be-implemented guidelines from state governments that will assess access vaccination status in these circumstances will dictate next steps for businesses in this regard.
With trials currently underway to link QR Code Check-ins to vaccination status, businesses will have clearer guidance around the legalities of refusing entry or access for those that can’t comply with the entry requirements.
Again, a change in circumstances will require a renewed risk-assessment. You may find yourself conducting more frequent risk-management processes during the coronavirus pandemic, but the bottom-line is for your operation to ensure the health and safety of all people.
Important information regarding the latest workplace advice, including links for differing jurisdictions can be found at the Safe Work Australia Website: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/covid-19-information-workplaces