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What employers must do if a COVID-19 case is identified at work

Published January 24, 2022 (last updated on November 29, 2023) | Adam Wyatt - Content Writer

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Health vigilance in the workplace has never been more important now that Australia has switched from trying to eliminate COVID-19 to living with it.

Cases have exploded in the weeks since most of the country relaxed domestic borders and COVID restrictions. Many of these cases are being identified in businesses with employees who work indoors or in tight spaces. One of the main questions business owners are asking as a result, is what steps must be taken if a suspected, or confirmed case is identified in the workplace?

“If a worker receives a positive test result while in the workplace, the first step an employer must take is to isolate the person from others and provide them with a mask, should a mandate requiring one be worn not already be in place,” said Larry Drewsen, health and safety manager at Employsure, Australia’s largest workplace relations advisor.

“Next, the employer should call the national COVID-19 hotline and follow the advice of health officials. Removing the infected employee from the workplace and ensuring the employee has transport to their home will be crucial. Workers assisting the positive employee must be provided with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and a mask, and follow hand hygiene procedures.

“Consideration is required as to whether the employer should notify their Health and Safety Regulator. In most jurisdictions, a notification to the relevant state or territory Health and Safety Regulator is usually required.

“Cleaning the area where the infected employee has been working should be a priority, and PPE should be worn when doing so.  Those who have worked with the infected employee should be identified and all necessary state or territory health authority advice followed, and their workspaces also cleaned.

“The employer should also use this time to look at their existing infection control policies, and review if any changes need to be made, such as shifting employees to working from home if applicable. Any changes should be communicated with employees to keep them up to date on what is happening.”

Employers must understand the privacy and confidentiality of the person who tested positive for COVID-19 must always be maintained.

Employers may also be faced with the scenario of an employee testing positive to COVID-19 when they are not in the workplace. However, if that employee has still recently been in the workplace, the same steps of identifying those who have worked with the employee, cleaning workspaces and common areas, and reviewing infection control policies should still occur.

Due to Australia’s high vaccination rate, it is no longer a requirement to completely close down an entire workplace for deep cleaning, especially if an infected employee has only worked in part of the building.

Nevertheless, employers should continue to enforce the wearing of masks (that fit securely to the face and cover the nose and mouth) if there is a health direction to do so, and ensure routine environmental cleaning and disinfecting takes place regularly, and that employees follow all personal hygiene guidelines.

Implementing the right strategies can be hard, particularly for those in high-risk settings, but if it isn’t done right it can cost lives. Ensuring a safe workplace is a year-long commitment and employers must get it correct. If they have doubts on how to best manage their health and safety obligations, they should refer to government health advice or contact Employsure.

 

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