Safe Work Australia does not regulate or enforce WHS laws or COVID-19 restrictions on business operations. If you want to know how WHS laws apply to you or need help with what to do at your workplace, contact the WHS regulator in your jurisdiction.

What is physical distancing and how does it prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Physical distancing (also referred to as ‘social distancing’) refers to the requirement that people distance themselves from others.  

The virus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted through respiratory droplets, smaller airborne particles (aerosols), direct physical contact with an infected individual, and indirectly through contaminated objects and surfaces. Aerosols containing virus can remain airborne for several hours.

Keeping a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres between people, wherever possible, is one of the ways to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. The more space between people, the harder it is for the virus that causes COVID-19 to spread.

Physical distancing can also include limits on the number of people allowed in enclosed spaces (for example, one person per 2 or 4 square metres of space) as well as limits on gathering sizes. These requirements differ across states and territories, industries, business sizes and types of premises.

Physical distancing as part of a combination of control measures

Physical distancing, on its own, will not eliminate or minimise the risks of COVID-19 at the workplace. As an employer, you must also continue to implement all reasonably practicable control measures to minimise the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace, such as:

  • encouraging or ensuring vaccination, where applicable
  • ensuring your workers do not come to work when unwell or test positive for COVID-19
  • relocating work tasks to different areas of the workplace, off-site or supporting workers to work from home
  • improving air quality
  • practising good hygiene
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance
  • staggering your workers’ start, finish and break times
  • reducing the number of situations where workers come into close proximity with others, for example in lunchrooms and other shared spaces, and
  • wearing face masks.

For more information about physical distancing requirements applicable to your business, go to your relevant state and territory government website. You can also go to our Public health directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to enforceable government directions.

Do I need to implement physical distancing measures in my workplace?

It is your duty under work health and safety laws to manage the risk of a person in your workplace contracting and spreading COVID-19, so far as is reasonably practicable. Physical distancing is one of the key ways to lower the risk of COVID-19 being contracted or spread at your workplace.  

The risk of COVID-19 should be treated in the same way as any other workplace hazard – by applying a risk management approach. 

In consultation with your workers, including volunteers, and their health and safety representatives  (HSRs), if any, you will need to assess the likelihood and degree of harm people may experience if exposed to COVID-19 and then implement the most effective control measures that are reasonably practicable to manage the risk. The control measures you implement should include outcomes that support physical distancing and operate alongside measures encouraging good hygiene amongst workers and others, as well as regular and thorough cleaning of the workplace.

To meet your WHS duties you should be continually monitoring and reviewing the risks to the health and safety of workers and others, as well as the effectiveness of control measures put in place to eliminate or minimise these risks. You must also assess any new or changed risks arising from COVID-19, for example customer aggression, high work demand or working in isolation.

Further guidance on the risk management process is available in the Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks.

You must also comply with any physical distancing measures issued under public health orders or directions in your state or territory. Each state and territory has directions that reflect local circumstances. For more information about physical distancing requirements, go to your relevant state or territory government website. You can also go to our public health directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to government health directions. 

How do the public health directions in my state or territory interact with my WHS duty?

You must comply with your state or territory’s public health orders or directions that apply to your business. 

Your WHS duty is to do all that you reasonably can to manage the risks of a person contracting and/or spreading COVID-19 in your workplace. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to implement control measures in order to meet your WHS duty that go beyond the minimum requirements stated in public health orders or directions or advised by public health authorities. For example, public health orders or directions may state you can have up to 10 customers in your shop at any one time. However, in undertaking your risk assessment you may determine that due to the layout of the workplace and your work processes, having 10 customers in the store would not allow effective physical distancing. Instead, limiting your store to 8 customers at a time would ensure everyone can maintain a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres from each other.

Your WHS duties apply even when there are no public health orders or directions.

How do I determine if physical distancing is a reasonably practicable control to implement to minimise the risk of COVID 19 spreading in my workplace?

You will need to undertake a risk assessment to determine if physical distancing measures  will be reasonably practicable in your workplace.

A risk assessment is part of the risk management process which involves identifying where the risk arises in your workplace, assessing the risks (including the likelihood of them happening), controlling the risks and reviewing these controls regularly. These steps remain the same whether you are conducting a risk assessment in relation to work health and safety generally, or specifically in relation to COVID-19.

To determine the most effective physical distancing measures you will need to: 

  • identify all activities or situations where people in your workplace may be in close proximity to each other,
  • assess the level of risk that people in these activities or situations may contract and/or spread COVID-19 in your workplace, and
  • determine what control measures are reasonably practicable to implement based on the assessed level of risk. 

Remember, you must consult with workers, including volunteers, and their health and safety representatives (HSRs), if any, on health and safety matters relating to COVID-19, including what control measures to put in place in your workplace. See also our information on consultation.   

See also our information on key considerations for undertaking a risk assessment – COVID-19

What physical distancing measures can be implemented in my workplace?

Below are some ways that you can support physical distancing in your workplace. 

Certain activities may not be permissible or there may be specific requirements in your state or territory at this time. For more information about physical distancing requirements, go to your relevant state or territory government website. You can also go to our public health orders and directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to government health directions. The Fair Work Ombudsman also has information on COVID-19 and Australian workplace laws.

Remember, you must do all that is reasonably practicable to manage the risk of people contracting and/or spreading COVID-19. See also our guidance on determining what is reasonably practicable for more information.

You must also consult with workers and their health and safety representatives (HSRs), if any, on health and safety matters relating to COVID-19, including what control measures to put in place in your workplace.  

Worker interactions and work tasks 

  • Check the physical distancing requirements on your relevant state or territory government website
  • If your jurisdiction requires businesses to limit the number of people in an enclosed area:  
    • calculate the area of the enclosed space (length multiplied by width in metres) and divide by the number of square metres allowed/recommended per person (for example, 2 or 4 square metres, depending on the advice or directions from your state or territory). This will provide you with the maximum number of people you should have in the space at any one time.  
    • where the nature of work means you are not able to comply with these requirements, you need to implement other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.    
  • You can also limit the number of workers in your workplace by:  
    • facilitating working from home, where you can 
    • reducing the number of tasks to be completed each day, where possible 
    • postponing non-essential work, and 
    • splitting workers’ shifts to reduce the number of workers onsite at any given time. Schedule time between shifts so that there is no overlap of staff arriving at and leaving the workplace or have different entrances and exits to avoid interaction. 
  • Direct workers to keep at least 1.5 metres of distance between them in accordance with general health advice. To achieve the best outcomes for physical distancing:  
    • put signs around the workplace and create wall or floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance. Your staff could wear a badge as a visual reminder to themselves and each other of physical distancing requirements 
    • limit physical interactions between workers, workers and clients, and workers and other persons at the site – for example, by using contactless deliveries and limiting non-essential visitors, and  
    • require workers to use other methods such as mobile phone or radio to communicate rather than face to face interaction.  
  • Where it is practical and safe to do so, review tasks and processes that usually require close interaction and identify ways to modify these to increase physical distancing between workers. You should also consider the effectiveness of other controls, including masks and other PPE. Where not possible, you can also reduce the amount of time workers spend working closely together. See below for further information where workers are performing tasks in close proximity, including vehicle use.  

Layout of the workplace

  • You may need to redesign the layout of the workplace and your workflows to enable workers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart to continue performing their duties. This can be achieved by, where possible:  
    • restricting workers and others to certain pathways or areas, and 
    • spreading out furniture or plant to increase distancing (spreading out furniture or plant may also help to increase airflow by allowing for cross ventilation).  
  • Consider floor and/or wall markings and signage to identify 1.5 metres distancing requirements. 
  • Determine occupancy limits for the type of building and building standards, as well as any state or territory orders or directions regarding density limits.

If changing the physical layout of the workplace, your layout must allow for workers to enter, exit and move about the workplace both under normal working conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety.  

Staff gatherings and training

  • Consider postponing or cancelling non-essential gatherings, meetings or training at times when community transmission is high. 
  • If gatherings, meetings or training are essential:  
    • use non-face-to-face options to conduct – for example electronic communication such as tele and video conferencing 
    • if a non-face-to-face option is not possible, ensure face-to-face time is limited, that is make sure the gathering, meeting, or training goes for no longer than it needs to 
    • hold the gathering, meeting or training in spaces that enable workers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart and to comply with the density requirements specified in your jurisdiction – for example, outdoors or in large conference rooms  
    • limit the number of attendees in a gathering, meeting or training. This may require, for example, multiple training sessions to be held, and 
    • ensure adequate ventilation if held indoors. 

Workplace facilities 

  • Reduce the number of workers utilising common areas at a given time – for example, by staggering meal breaks and start times. 
  • Spread out furniture in common areas. If changing the physical layout of the workplace, you must ensure the layout allows for workers to enter, exit and move about the workplace both under normal working conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable.  
  • Place signage and posters about physical distancing around the workplace. Our website has links to a range of posters and resources to help remind workers and others of the risks of COVID-19 and the measures that are necessary to stop its spread. These posters can be placed around the workplace and in client-facing work environments (for example workplace entrances). Consideration needs to be given to how to communicate with workers and others for who English is not their first language.   
  • Consider providing separate amenities, such as kitchens, bathrooms, for workers and others in the workplace – for example separate bathroom facilities for workers and visitors/clients. 

Lifts

  • Even if workers and others only spend a short amount of time in a lift each day, there is still a risk of exposure to COVID-19 that you must eliminate or minimise so far as reasonably practicable. Further information on the meaning of reasonably practicable can be found on our website.
  • There is no specific limit to the number of people allowed in a lift, however you must still ensure, as far as you reasonably can, that people maintain physical distancing in lifts and lift waiting areas and advise workers to wear a mask in the lift. 
  • Remember, you must consult with workers and their health and safety representatives (HSRs), if any, on health and safety matters relating to COVID-19.  This includes consulting workers and their representatives on what control measures to put in place to minimise their risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, including when using lifts.
  • You must also consult with the building owner/manager and other employers in the building about the control measures to be implemented to address the risk of COVID-19. You may not be able to implement all of the control measures yourself but must work with others to ensure those measures are put in place.

What can I do to manage the risk of COVID-19 transmission in lifts? 

  • Safe use of lifts is best achieved through a combination of measures, determined in consultation with workers, including those that control the number of people needing to use a lift at any one time. This includes: 
    • reducing the number of workers arriving and leaving buildings and using lifts in peak periods, where possible (for example stagger start and finish times for workers by 10-15 minutes per team or group)
    • maintaining working from home arrangements for some staff (where this works for both you and your workers). This could include splitting the workforce into teams with alternating days in the workplace (for example, rotate teams so they are one week in the office and the other week at home), and 
    • changing lift programming to facilitate more efficient flow of users – for example decrease the time that doors stay open on each floor (where safe to do so) or where there are multiple lifts, assign specific lifts to certain floors based on demand (for example lift A to service floors 1-5, lift B to service floors 6-8 etc). 
  • Where workers and others use lifts, it is still important that they physically distance themselves to the extent possible when waiting for a lift and when in the lift. You must do what you reasonably can to ensure crowding in and around lifts does not occur.  
  • In the lift lobby or waiting area: 
    • ensure workers and others maintain a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres, to the extent possible 
    • implement measures at waiting areas for lifts, such as floor markings or queuing systems. Also create specific pathways and movement flows for those exiting the lifts where possible (you may need to consult with your building manager or other employers in the building to ensure this occurs). You could consider engaging someone to monitor compliance with physical distancing measures where appropriate
    • place signage around lift waiting areas reminding users to practice physical distancing and good hygiene while waiting for and using lifts, including to wait for another lift if the lift is full
    • display an advisory passenger limit for each lift – these limits could be temporarily adjusted up during peak periods where additional demand is unavoidable (subject to it not leading to overcrowding in lifts) to facilitate extra movement of workers and to prevent overcrowding in waiting areas. This may result in fewer persons travelling in a lift at any one time to ensure workers and others maximise physical distance from each other, to the extent possible
  • Within lifts: 
    • users of lifts must maintain physical distancing, to the extent possible. Lifts must not be overcrowded, and users should avoid touching other users.
    • workers must practice good hygiene in lifts. If they do need to cough or sneeze during a journey they must do so into their arm or a clean tissue. 
    • place signage in the lift reminding workers and others to practice good hygiene by washing their hands, or where this is not possible, using appropriate hand sanitiser, after exiting the lift, particularly if they touched lift buttons, rails or doors – see also our information on hygiene
    • implement regular cleaning of high touchpoints such as lift buttons and railings – see also our information on cleaning.
  • Staff must not to come into work, including using lifts, if they are unwell or have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Other risks

  • In some cases, depending on the design of a building, stairs may be an option to reduce demand on lifts. If workers and others are to use stairwells or emergency exits as an alternative to using lifts, you must identify and address any new risks that may arise. For example: 
    • the increased risk of slips, trips and falls particularly if the stairs are narrow and dimly lit
    • the risk that arises when opening and closing heavy fire doors, and 
    • the risk that a person may become trapped in the stairwell.
  • You must also consider workers’ compensation arrangements and whether your contract of tenancy allows for workers to use stairs, other than in an emergency.
  • You must also consider how other existing WHS measures will be impacted if you allow workers and others to use stairwells or emergency exits. For example  
    • does increased use of emergency exits and stairwells impact your emergency plans and procedures? See also our information on emergency plans
    • will stairwell usage increase the risk of fire doors being left open? 

Deliveries, contractors and visitors attending the workplace

  • Consider postponing or cancelling non-essential visits to the workplace should be at times when community transmission is high.   
  • Minimise the number of workers attending to deliveries and contractors as much as possible. 
  • Delivery drivers and other contractors who need to attend the workplace, to provide maintenance or repair services or perform other essential activities, should be given clear instructions of your requirements while they are on site.  
  • Ensure handwashing facilities, or if not possible, alcohol-based hand sanitiser, is readily available for workers after physically handling deliveries. 
  • Direct visiting delivery drivers and contractors to remain in vehicles and use contactless methods such as mobile phones to communicate with your workers wherever possible.  
  • Direct visiting delivery drivers and contractors to use alcohol-based hand sanitiser before handling products being delivered. 
  • Use, and ask delivery drivers and contractors to use, electronic paperwork where possible, to minimise physical interaction. Where possible, set up alternatives to requiring signatures. For instance, see whether a confirmation email or a photo of the loaded or unloaded goods can be accepted as proof of delivery or collection (as applicable). If a pen or other utensil is required for signature you can ask that the pen or utensil is cleaned or sanitised before use. For pens, you may wish to use your own. 

On-going review and monitoring

  • If physical distancing measures introduce new health and safety risks (for example because they impact communication or mean that less people are doing a task), you need to manage those risks too. 
  • Put processes in place to regularly monitor and review the implementation of physical distancing measures to ensure they are being followed and remain effective 

My workers need to travel in a vehicle together for work purposes. How do they practice physical distancing?

Ideally, numbers should be limited to one person per vehicle trip where possible. If that is not possible, the number of people in a vehicle per trip need to be minimised.

When minimising numbers, employers need to consider:

  • the size of the vehicle, the number of rows of seats, and how distances can be maximised in the space (for example, the driver with a passenger sitting in the back)
  • the duration of the trip
  • the additional control measures in this guidance.

These measures may mean: 

  • more of your vehicles are on the road at one time  
  • more workers are driving and for longer periods than usual (if driving by themselves).  

Because of this, you should review your procedures and policies for vehicle maintenance and driver safety to ensure they are effective and address all possible WHS risks that arise when workers drive for work purposes.  

If workers are required to travel together for work purposes, air conditioning should be set to external airflow rather than to recirculation or windows should be opened for the duration of the trip.  

You must also clean vehicles more frequently, no matter the length of the trip, but at least following each use by workers. For more information, go to Cleaning to prevent the spread of COVID-19.   
 

The information below provides guidance on physical distancing during step 2 of the 3-step framework for a COVIDSafe Australia. For more information about physical distancing requirements, go to your relevant state and territory government website. You can also go to our Public health directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to enforceable government directions.

Watch our video for information on physical distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in your small business. 

Watch video on YouTube Download Transcript

Safe Work Australia does not regulate or enforce WHS laws or COVID-19 restrictions on business operations. If you want to know how WHS laws apply to you or need help with what to do at your workplace, contact the WHS regulator in your jurisdiction.

What is physical distancing and how does it prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Physical distancing (also referred to as ‘social distancing’) refers to the requirement that people distance themselves from others.  

The virus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted through respiratory droplets, smaller airborne particles (aerosols), direct physical contact with an infected individual, and indirectly through contaminated objects and surfaces. Aerosols containing virus can remain airborne for several hours.

Keeping a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres between people, wherever possible, is one of the ways to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. The more space between people, the harder it is for the virus that causes COVID-19 to spread.

Physical distancing can also include limits on the number of people allowed in enclosed spaces (for example, one person per 2 or 4 square metres of space) as well as limits on gathering sizes. These requirements differ across states and territories, industries, business sizes and types of premises.

Physical distancing as part of a combination of control measures

Physical distancing, on its own, will not eliminate or minimise the risks of COVID-19 at the workplace. As an employer, you must also continue to implement all reasonably practicable control measures to minimise the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace, such as:

  • encouraging or ensuring vaccination, where applicable
  • ensuring your workers do not come to work when unwell or test positive for COVID-19
  • relocating work tasks to different areas of the workplace, off-site or supporting workers to work from home
  • improving air quality
  • practising good hygiene
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance
  • staggering your workers’ start, finish and break times
  • reducing the number of situations where workers come into close proximity with others, for example in lunchrooms and other shared spaces, and
  • wearing face masks.

For more information about physical distancing requirements applicable to your business, go to your relevant state and territory government website. You can also go to our Public health directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to enforceable government directions.

Do I need to implement physical distancing measures in my workplace?

It is your duty under work health and safety laws to manage the risk of a person in your workplace contracting and spreading COVID-19, so far as is reasonably practicable. Physical distancing is one of the key ways to lower the risk of COVID-19 being contracted or spread at your workplace.  

The risk of COVID-19 should be treated in the same way as any other workplace hazard – by applying a risk management approach. 

In consultation with your workers, including volunteers, and their health and safety representatives  (HSRs), if any, you will need to assess the likelihood and degree of harm people may experience if exposed to COVID-19 and then implement the most effective control measures that are reasonably practicable to manage the risk. The control measures you implement should include outcomes that support physical distancing and operate alongside measures encouraging good hygiene amongst workers and others, as well as regular and thorough cleaning of the workplace.

To meet your WHS duties you should be continually monitoring and reviewing the risks to the health and safety of workers and others, as well as the effectiveness of control measures put in place to eliminate or minimise these risks. You must also assess any new or changed risks arising from COVID-19, for example customer aggression, high work demand or working in isolation.

Further guidance on the risk management process is available in the Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks.

You must also comply with any physical distancing measures issued under public health orders or directions in your state or territory. Each state and territory has directions that reflect local circumstances. For more information about physical distancing requirements, go to your relevant state or territory government website. You can also go to our public health directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to government health directions. 

How do the public health directions in my state or territory interact with my WHS duty?

You must comply with your state or territory’s public health orders or directions that apply to your business. 

Your WHS duty is to do all that you reasonably can to manage the risks of a person contracting and/or spreading COVID-19 in your workplace. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to implement control measures in order to meet your WHS duty that go beyond the minimum requirements stated in public health orders or directions or advised by public health authorities. For example, public health orders or directions may state you can have up to 10 customers in your shop at any one time. However, in undertaking your risk assessment you may determine that due to the layout of the workplace and your work processes, having 10 customers in the store would not allow effective physical distancing. Instead, limiting your store to 8 customers at a time would ensure everyone can maintain a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres from each other.

Your WHS duties apply even when there are no public health orders or directions.

How do I determine if physical distancing is a reasonably practicable control to implement to minimise the risk of COVID 19 spreading in my workplace?

You will need to undertake a risk assessment to determine if physical distancing measures  will be reasonably practicable in your workplace.

A risk assessment is part of the risk management process which involves identifying where the risk arises in your workplace, assessing the risks (including the likelihood of them happening), controlling the risks and reviewing these controls regularly. These steps remain the same whether you are conducting a risk assessment in relation to work health and safety generally, or specifically in relation to COVID-19.

To determine the most effective physical distancing measures you will need to: 

  • identify all activities or situations where people in your workplace may be in close proximity to each other,
  • assess the level of risk that people in these activities or situations may contract and/or spread COVID-19 in your workplace, and
  • determine what control measures are reasonably practicable to implement based on the assessed level of risk. 

Remember, you must consult with workers, including volunteers, and their health and safety representatives (HSRs), if any, on health and safety matters relating to COVID-19, including what control measures to put in place in your workplace. See also our information on consultation.   

See also our information on key considerations for undertaking a risk assessment – COVID-19

What physical distancing measures can be implemented in my workplace?

Below are some ways that you can support physical distancing in your workplace. 

Certain activities may not be permissible or there may be specific requirements in your state or territory at this time. For more information about physical distancing requirements, go to your relevant state or territory government website. You can also go to our public health orders and directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to government health directions. The Fair Work Ombudsman also has information on COVID-19 and Australian workplace laws.

Remember, you must do all that is reasonably practicable to manage the risk of people contracting and/or spreading COVID-19. See also our guidance on determining what is reasonably practicable for more information.

You must also consult with workers and their health and safety representatives (HSRs), if any, on health and safety matters relating to COVID-19, including what control measures to put in place in your workplace.  

Worker interactions and work tasks 

  • Check the physical distancing requirements on your relevant state or territory government website
  • If your jurisdiction requires businesses to limit the number of people in an enclosed area:  
    • calculate the area of the enclosed space (length multiplied by width in metres) and divide by the number of square metres allowed/recommended per person (for example, 2 or 4 square metres, depending on the advice or directions from your state or territory). This will provide you with the maximum number of people you should have in the space at any one time.  
    • where the nature of work means you are not able to comply with these requirements, you need to implement other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.    
  • You can also limit the number of workers in your workplace by:  
    • facilitating working from home, where you can 
    • reducing the number of tasks to be completed each day, where possible 
    • postponing non-essential work, and 
    • splitting workers’ shifts to reduce the number of workers onsite at any given time. Schedule time between shifts so that there is no overlap of staff arriving at and leaving the workplace or have different entrances and exits to avoid interaction. 
  • Direct workers to keep at least 1.5 metres of distance between them in accordance with general health advice. To achieve the best outcomes for physical distancing:  
    • put signs around the workplace and create wall or floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance. Your staff could wear a badge as a visual reminder to themselves and each other of physical distancing requirements 
    • limit physical interactions between workers, workers and clients, and workers and other persons at the site – for example, by using contactless deliveries and limiting non-essential visitors, and  
    • require workers to use other methods such as mobile phone or radio to communicate rather than face to face interaction.  
  • Where it is practical and safe to do so, review tasks and processes that usually require close interaction and identify ways to modify these to increase physical distancing between workers. You should also consider the effectiveness of other controls, including masks and other PPE. Where not possible, you can also reduce the amount of time workers spend working closely together. See below for further information where workers are performing tasks in close proximity, including vehicle use.  

Layout of the workplace

  • You may need to redesign the layout of the workplace and your workflows to enable workers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart to continue performing their duties. This can be achieved by, where possible:  
    • restricting workers and others to certain pathways or areas, and 
    • spreading out furniture or plant to increase distancing (spreading out furniture or plant may also help to increase airflow by allowing for cross ventilation).  
  • Consider floor and/or wall markings and signage to identify 1.5 metres distancing requirements. 
  • Determine occupancy limits for the type of building and building standards, as well as any state or territory orders or directions regarding density limits.

If changing the physical layout of the workplace, your layout must allow for workers to enter, exit and move about the workplace both under normal working conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety.  

Staff gatherings and training

  • Consider postponing or cancelling non-essential gatherings, meetings or training at times when community transmission is high. 
  • If gatherings, meetings or training are essential:  
    • use non-face-to-face options to conduct – for example electronic communication such as tele and video conferencing 
    • if a non-face-to-face option is not possible, ensure face-to-face time is limited, that is make sure the gathering, meeting, or training goes for no longer than it needs to 
    • hold the gathering, meeting or training in spaces that enable workers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart and to comply with the density requirements specified in your jurisdiction – for example, outdoors or in large conference rooms  
    • limit the number of attendees in a gathering, meeting or training. This may require, for example, multiple training sessions to be held, and 
    • ensure adequate ventilation if held indoors. 

Workplace facilities 

  • Reduce the number of workers utilising common areas at a given time – for example, by staggering meal breaks and start times. 
  • Spread out furniture in common areas. If changing the physical layout of the workplace, you must ensure the layout allows for workers to enter, exit and move about the workplace both under normal working conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable.  
  • Place signage and posters about physical distancing around the workplace. Our website has links to a range of posters and resources to help remind workers and others of the risks of COVID-19 and the measures that are necessary to stop its spread. These posters can be placed around the workplace and in client-facing work environments (for example workplace entrances). Consideration needs to be given to how to communicate with workers and others for who English is not their first language.   
  • Consider providing separate amenities, such as kitchens, bathrooms, for workers and others in the workplace – for example separate bathroom facilities for workers and visitors/clients. 

Lifts

  • Even if workers and others only spend a short amount of time in a lift each day, there is still a risk of exposure to COVID-19 that you must eliminate or minimise so far as reasonably practicable. Further information on the meaning of reasonably practicable can be found on our website.
  • There is no specific limit to the number of people allowed in a lift, however you must still ensure, as far as you reasonably can, that people maintain physical distancing in lifts and lift waiting areas and advise workers to wear a mask in the lift. 
  • Remember, you must consult with workers and their health and safety representatives (HSRs), if any, on health and safety matters relating to COVID-19.  This includes consulting workers and their representatives on what control measures to put in place to minimise their risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, including when using lifts.
  • You must also consult with the building owner/manager and other employers in the building about the control measures to be implemented to address the risk of COVID-19. You may not be able to implement all of the control measures yourself but must work with others to ensure those measures are put in place.

What can I do to manage the risk of COVID-19 transmission in lifts? 

  • Safe use of lifts is best achieved through a combination of measures, determined in consultation with workers, including those that control the number of people needing to use a lift at any one time. This includes: 
    • reducing the number of workers arriving and leaving buildings and using lifts in peak periods, where possible (for example stagger start and finish times for workers by 10-15 minutes per team or group)
    • maintaining working from home arrangements for some staff (where this works for both you and your workers). This could include splitting the workforce into teams with alternating days in the workplace (for example, rotate teams so they are one week in the office and the other week at home), and 
    • changing lift programming to facilitate more efficient flow of users – for example decrease the time that doors stay open on each floor (where safe to do so) or where there are multiple lifts, assign specific lifts to certain floors based on demand (for example lift A to service floors 1-5, lift B to service floors 6-8 etc). 
  • Where workers and others use lifts, it is still important that they physically distance themselves to the extent possible when waiting for a lift and when in the lift. You must do what you reasonably can to ensure crowding in and around lifts does not occur.  
  • In the lift lobby or waiting area: 
    • ensure workers and others maintain a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres, to the extent possible 
    • implement measures at waiting areas for lifts, such as floor markings or queuing systems. Also create specific pathways and movement flows for those exiting the lifts where possible (you may need to consult with your building manager or other employers in the building to ensure this occurs). You could consider engaging someone to monitor compliance with physical distancing measures where appropriate
    • place signage around lift waiting areas reminding users to practice physical distancing and good hygiene while waiting for and using lifts, including to wait for another lift if the lift is full
    • display an advisory passenger limit for each lift – these limits could be temporarily adjusted up during peak periods where additional demand is unavoidable (subject to it not leading to overcrowding in lifts) to facilitate extra movement of workers and to prevent overcrowding in waiting areas. This may result in fewer persons travelling in a lift at any one time to ensure workers and others maximise physical distance from each other, to the extent possible
  • Within lifts: 
    • users of lifts must maintain physical distancing, to the extent possible. Lifts must not be overcrowded, and users should avoid touching other users.
    • workers must practice good hygiene in lifts. If they do need to cough or sneeze during a journey they must do so into their arm or a clean tissue. 
    • place signage in the lift reminding workers and others to practice good hygiene by washing their hands, or where this is not possible, using appropriate hand sanitiser, after exiting the lift, particularly if they touched lift buttons, rails or doors – see also our information on hygiene
    • implement regular cleaning of high touchpoints such as lift buttons and railings – see also our information on cleaning.
  • Staff must not to come into work, including using lifts, if they are unwell or have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Other risks

  • In some cases, depending on the design of a building, stairs may be an option to reduce demand on lifts. If workers and others are to use stairwells or emergency exits as an alternative to using lifts, you must identify and address any new risks that may arise. For example: 
    • the increased risk of slips, trips and falls particularly if the stairs are narrow and dimly lit
    • the risk that arises when opening and closing heavy fire doors, and 
    • the risk that a person may become trapped in the stairwell.
  • You must also consider workers’ compensation arrangements and whether your contract of tenancy allows for workers to use stairs, other than in an emergency.
  • You must also consider how other existing WHS measures will be impacted if you allow workers and others to use stairwells or emergency exits. For example  
    • does increased use of emergency exits and stairwells impact your emergency plans and procedures? See also our information on emergency plans
    • will stairwell usage increase the risk of fire doors being left open? 

Deliveries, contractors and visitors attending the workplace

  • Consider postponing or cancelling non-essential visits to the workplace should be at times when community transmission is high.   
  • Minimise the number of workers attending to deliveries and contractors as much as possible. 
  • Delivery drivers and other contractors who need to attend the workplace, to provide maintenance or repair services or perform other essential activities, should be given clear instructions of your requirements while they are on site.  
  • Ensure handwashing facilities, or if not possible, alcohol-based hand sanitiser, is readily available for workers after physically handling deliveries. 
  • Direct visiting delivery drivers and contractors to remain in vehicles and use contactless methods such as mobile phones to communicate with your workers wherever possible.  
  • Direct visiting delivery drivers and contractors to use alcohol-based hand sanitiser before handling products being delivered. 
  • Use, and ask delivery drivers and contractors to use, electronic paperwork where possible, to minimise physical interaction. Where possible, set up alternatives to requiring signatures. For instance, see whether a confirmation email or a photo of the loaded or unloaded goods can be accepted as proof of delivery or collection (as applicable). If a pen or other utensil is required for signature you can ask that the pen or utensil is cleaned or sanitised before use. For pens, you may wish to use your own. 

On-going review and monitoring

  • If physical distancing measures introduce new health and safety risks (for example because they impact communication or mean that less people are doing a task), you need to manage those risks too. 
  • Put processes in place to regularly monitor and review the implementation of physical distancing measures to ensure they are being followed and remain effective 

My workers need to travel in a vehicle together for work purposes. How do they practice physical distancing?

Ideally, numbers should be limited to one person per vehicle trip where possible. If that is not possible, the number of people in a vehicle per trip need to be minimised.

When minimising numbers, employers need to consider:

  • the size of the vehicle, the number of rows of seats, and how distances can be maximised in the space (for example, the driver with a passenger sitting in the back)
  • the duration of the trip
  • the additional control measures in this guidance.

These measures may mean: 

  • more of your vehicles are on the road at one time  
  • more workers are driving and for longer periods than usual (if driving by themselves).  

Because of this, you should review your procedures and policies for vehicle maintenance and driver safety to ensure they are effective and address all possible WHS risks that arise when workers drive for work purposes.  

If workers are required to travel together for work purposes, air conditioning should be set to external airflow rather than to recirculation or windows should be opened for the duration of the trip.  

You must also clean vehicles more frequently, no matter the length of the trip, but at least following each use by workers. For more information, go to Cleaning to prevent the spread of COVID-19.   
 

Safe Work Australia does not regulate or enforce WHS laws or COVID-19 restrictions on business operations. If you want to know how WHS laws apply to you or need help with what to do at your workplace, contact the WHS regulator in your jurisdiction.

What is physical distancing and how does it prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Physical distancing (also referred to as ‘social distancing’) refers to the requirement that people keep their distance from others in public places including workplaces.

The virus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted through respiratory droplets, through airborne transmission from smaller particles (aerosols), direct physical contact with an infected individual, and indirectly through contaminated objects and surfaces. Fine virus containing aerosols can remain airborne for several hours.

Keeping a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres between you and others, wherever possible, is one of the ways to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. 

Physical distancing can also include limits on the number of people allowed in enclosed spaces (for example, one person per 4 square metres of space) as well as limits on gathering sizes. These requirements differ across states and territories, industries, business sizes and types of premises. 

Physical distancing, on its own, will not eliminate or minimise the risks of COVID-19 at the workplace. Businesses must also continue to implement all reasonably practicable control measures to minimise the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace, such as:

  • encouraging or ensuring vaccination, where applicable
  • ensuring your workers do not come to work when unwell or test positive for COVID-19
  • relocating work tasks to different areas of the workplace, off-site or supporting workers to work from home
  • improving air quality
  • practising good hygiene
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance
  • staggering your workers’ start, finish and break times
  • reducing the number of situations where workers come into close proximity with others, for example in lunchrooms and other shared spaces, and
  • wearing face masks.

For more information about physical distancing requirements applicable to your business, go to your relevant state and territory government website. You can also go to our Public health directions and COVIDSafe plans page for links to enforceable government directions.

What if I cannot always maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres?

It may not always be possible for you to keep at least 1.5 metres apart from other people at the workplace. Some tasks will also require workers to be in close proximity in order to be carried out safely, such as lifting and moving heavy objects. Where physical distancing it is not possible, and/or ventilation is inadequate, workers should consider wearing a mask.

Working in close proximity with others increases your risk of being exposed to COVID-19. In these situations, your employer may consider delaying the task, modifying the task or implementing other controls such as masks and/or other PPE. Your employer must consult with you and your health and safety representative/s (HSRs) (if any) on how to perform the work task safely, including where maintaining a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres is not possible.

For information on the measures your employer should be implementing see our employer information for your industry.

When working in close proximity with others, you must practice good hygiene by washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or by using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser (with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol as the active ingredient), cover your coughs and sneezes. Wearing a mask can also help protect you and those around you. 

Does my employer need to provide me with personal protective equipment if I am required to work within 1.5 metres of others?

You must comply with any physical distancing requirements where possible. In circumstances where the nature of the task requires you to work within a distance of 1.5 metres with others, your employer must put control measures in place that minimise the time you spend with other people.

You may need to wear a mask or other personal protective equipment (PPE), where it is available and safe to do so. Wearing PPE is likely to be a reasonably practicable control measure to minimise the risk of COVID-19 in a workplace, even in situations where physical distancing of at least 1.5 metres is possible. 

Your employer must consult you and your relevant health and safety representative about the use of PPE and any WHS risks that may arise from using it.

Your employer must provide you with information and training on how to use and wear PPE.

Do I need to practice physical distancing when on a lunch break or when travelling to and from work?

Yes. You must always comply with any state or territory public health directions or orders. This includes maintaining a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres between people in public places and when travelling to and from work.

In some states and territories there may be strict limitations on gatherings in public places. This means that in some circumstances, workers cannot eat lunch together in a park or travel together in a vehicle to and from work.

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