Lockdown sparks employer fears about WHS obligations – Support calls rise 39%

Published September 03, 2021 -
WHS Calls

Employsure, workplace relations advisor to more than 27,000 SMEs across Australia has seen a sharp spike in calls in the past two months from employers concerned over their WHS responsibilities.

Health and safety related calls to Employsure’s employer advice line jumped 39% in July / August, compared to May / June, due to the uncertainty caused by lockdowns, working from home safety obligations and COVID-19 restrictions.

More than 2,400 calls specifically relating to WHS issues were recorded in August – the highest number since August 2020, and a huge surge over the 1,100 recorded in January 2021.

“These figures aren’t just a result of the ongoing lockdown in New South Wales, but are also a consequence of snap lockdowns that have occurred in almost every other Australian state and territory since the end of June,” said Employsure health and safety manager Larry Drewsen.

“The main WHS concern employers have been experiencing during this time relates to risk management. This includes concerns over whether or not they are liable if an employee or customer catches COVID-19 in the workplace, and also extends to the topic of mandatory vaccinations for employees.

“We have previously stated that a decision to introduce a COVID-19 vaccination program in the workplace should be based upon a valid risk assessment that is undertaken in consultation with employees, and employers must ultimately be cautious if they decided to introduce such a policy into the workplace.

“With the New South Wales lockdown now in its third month, the lockdown in Victoria further extended and vast amounts of Aussie employees working from home, Employsure expects the trend to continue. Higher health and safety scrutiny post-reopening is likely to drive small business concerns beyond the current lockdown.”

What Should Employers Do About It?

Employers should consider introducing a detailed infection control policy which addresses vaccinations. Staff should be reminded of existing infection control measures already in place, such as physical distancing, routine environmental cleaning, and the use of hand-sanitiser, face coverings and other personal protective equipment. A ‘Working From Home Policy’ that outlines WHS obligations is also essential in this new working environment.

Employers should also monitor the health of employees over the coming months, and keep track of their COVID-19 vaccination status. Employee management software like BrightHR includes a Vacctrak feature, which lets employers monitor who is fully, partially, or not vaccinated against COVID-19. Workers do not however, have to tell their employer if they have been vaccinated, and the employer must ensure all medical information remains confidential.

“Employers have an obligation to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure a safe workplace, and the overwhelming health advice indicates vaccinations are a critical component if we are to successfully come out of this pandemic,” Mr. Drewsen concluded.


Further enquiries:

Matthew Bridges

[email protected]

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