Resuming retail operations during COVID-19 - WHS considerationsBY Amy Towers
With restrictions slowly easing across the country, businesses are planning the recommencement of services and, for some, the reopening of their business.
While we are not yet at the end of the pandemic, it is important to begin to envision what post-COVID-19 retail life is going to look like. Ensuring the work health and safety of workers, customers, and others who enter the workplace is a critical component of resuming operations during and after COVID-19.
As you resume business, you must manage the health and safety risks of COVID-19. Prior to resuming operations, you should develop a plan in consultation with your workers. The plan should detail how you will operate safely.
Due to the changing nature of the direct and indirect risks, COVID-19 presents in the workplace; the plan should be reviewed and updated regularly. COVID-19 safety planning is imperative in ensuring the effective implementation of risk control measures, and the health and safety of workers, customers, and others aren’t put at risk from changes that are made to work arrangements because of this pandemic.
“As COVID-19 restrictions are gradually relaxed, businesses, workers and other duty holders must work together to adapt and promote safe work practices, consistent with advice from health authorities, to ensure their workplaces are ready for the social distancing and exemplary hygiene measures that will be an important part of the transition.” - Safe Work Australia
As many factors need to be considered when it comes to ensuring the health safety of workers and others throughout the pandemic, it can be difficult for the businesses to know what to review and where to start. The following are ten key considerations.
1. Keeping informed and up-to-date
The retail business must continually monitor relevant information sources and keep up to date with the latest COVID-19 information and advice to ensure that any action taken is appropriate.
Retailers will need to think about and put in place actions to:
- closely monitor the information provided by the Australian Government Department of Health, the Smartraveller website, and advice from state or territory government agencies, including health departments and WHS regulators
- discuss COVID-19 updates at senior management meetings and WHS committee meetings (where applicable)
- determine what actions need to be taken by the business to meet the primary duty of care under health and safety law
- continue to provide information to workers, including changes to risk control measures, as the situation develops
- provide workers with continued access to official government sources for current information and advice
2. Identifying the risk
To keep workers and others protected from COVID-19 in the workplace, retailers should assess how the work is carried out to identify and understand the risks. A practical way of doing this is to identify each key operation within the business and breakdown the tasks. For each operation/task, consider health and safety factors (under normal circumstances), including:
- how close do people interact with each other
- does the task involve interaction with the public
- what facilities are in place to promote good hygiene practices
- what is the cleaning standard
- are there groups of workers or individuals who might be at a higher risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus
Businesses must consult with their workers, when planning for the recommencement of operations and returning workers to the workplace. This includes consulting with health and safety representatives where appointed.
Consultation is a collaborative process and involves sharing information about health and safety. The businesses must consult with workers when:
- assessing the risk COVID-19 presents to the health and safety of workers
- deciding on the control measures to put in place to eliminate or minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19
- deciding on the adequacy of facilities for the welfare of workers (e.g., hand-washing facilities), and
- proposing other changes to the workplace as a result of COVID-19, which may affect health and safety.
The process must allow workers a reasonable opportunity to express their views or raise issues about COVID-19 in the workplace.
Determine the most practical ways to communicate COVID-19 risk control measures with workers, suppliers, customers, clients, and others who may be a risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.
5. Risk control measures
The business must identify what can be done to manage risks from resuming operations and returning workers to the workplace. The business will need to consider:
- how to manage the direct risks of infection through:
- social distancing
- hygiene and use of personal protective equipment
- appointing a resource in the business or engage an external resource to direct preparation activities and manage the implementation of risk control measures
- control entry to the workplace
- managing the situation when a worker becomes ill at work
- ensuring the ventilation and air conditioning system is properly designed and maintained
- how to manage the indirect risks as a result of changes to usual work arrangements:
- psycho-social risks that may lead to stress and anxiety among workers, for example, increased workload, changed rosters
- ensuring methods of communication remain effective
- keeping workers informed on the pandemic, the associated risks, and risk control measures.
- program to support workers mental health at work
- other hazards that may present a greater risk to workers as a result of the situation, for example, the risk of exposure to occupational violence and aggression may be higher than usual
6. Adequate resources and processes
Once risk control measures have been decided, it is important the business has the right resources and processes in place and uses those resources and processes to manage the risks of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.
7. Ensure workers know how to keep themselves safe from COVID-19
The business will need to ensure that workers know how to keep themselves safe from exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. The business will need to consider:
- how new workers will be informed on the measures, they need to comply with and take to keep themselves safe from exposure to COVID-19, for example, at the induction stage
- how to communicate and discuss distancing and hygiene in the workplace
- consultation mechanism to ensure workers understand the risk control measures and feedback is sought on the effectiveness of these measures
- how to provide ongoing guidance to the workforce
8. Monitor workers health and safety
Consider practical ways for the business to monitor the health, safety, and well-being of workers to ensure they are safe to work. This may include:
- daily health checks
- discussing options with workers
- procedures for identifying and responding to situations of workers who are, or become ill at work
9. Responding to a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 in the workplace
The business will need to consider how it will respond if a worker is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, including how the business will support that worker, and the steps that need to be taken to ensure the workplace remains safe for other workers and others. The process will need to identify under what circumstances the health and safety regulator would be notified.
10. Review the COVID-19 risk control measures
The business will need to have a process in place to ensure COVID-19 risk control measures remain relevant and effective. The business will need to consider:
- how to determine if the work processes/risk controls are effective
- how to ensure workers are raising concerns and solutions
- who will be responsible for reviewing the plan
- how often the plan should be reviewed
- how changes to the plan will be communicated
For further guidance on managing health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers are encouraged to access Safe Work Australia’s COVID-19 resource kit. The resource kit provides retail industry-specific information, for example, a COVID-19 cleaning guide for retail.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy Towers is a Culture & Engagement Risk Expert, who helps senior managers and decision-makers identify their people and culture risks and enable positive practice. With 15 years’ experience solving complex people and workplace problems, Amy delivers the most practical worker engagement and culture risk management programs in Australia and New Zealand.