COVID-19 for Workplaces Pack
For the Worker in the My industry isn't here industry

Total supporting material in this pack: 23

Date of print/download 23 June 2024

About COVID-19

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease that is caused by a newly discovered form of coronavirus.  

COVID-19 is a respiratory infection that was unknown before the outbreak that started in Hubei Province, China, in December 2019. Other known forms of coronaviruses include Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). 

What are the symptoms of COVID-19? 

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever and respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, sore throat and shortness of breath. 

Other symptoms can include runny nose, acute blocked nose (congestion), headache, muscle or joint pains, nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, loss of sense of smell, altered sense of taste, loss of appetite and fatigue.

Most people infected with COVID-19 will recover without special medical treatment. Some people, such as those with underlying medical problems or disease and older people, are more likely to suffer from more serious symptoms of the diseases. See also our website on  vulnerable workers

How is COVID-19 spread? 

The virus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted through respiratory droplets, smaller particles (aerosols), direct physical contact with an infected individual, and indirectly through contaminated objects and surfaces. People may be infectious for several days before they develop symptoms. 

Respiratory droplets and aerosols that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Droplets may also come into contact with the person’s eyes, nose or mouth or be inhaled. Airborne transmission of COVID-19 through small particles called aerosols can also occur through coughing, sneezing, breathing and talking, with the greatest risk in indoor, crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces. Aerosols can remain suspended in the air and travel further than 1 metre (longer range). 

A person may also be infected if they touch a surface contaminated with the COVID-19 virus and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes before washing their hands. Research shows that the COVID-19 virus can survive on some surfaces for several hours to a few days, depending on the surface type and environmental conditions. 

More information 

For more information about COVID-19 please see the resources available from the Australian Government Department of Health.  

You can also call the National Coronavirus Help Line on 1800 020 080 if you have questions about COVID-19. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  

If you require translating or interpreting services, please call 131 450. 

Cleaning

The main way COVID-19 spreads from person to person is through contact with respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets may fall directly onto the person’s eyes, nose or mouth if they are in close contact with the infected person. Airborne transmission of COVID-19 can also occur, with the greatest risk in indoor, crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces. A person may also be infected if they touch a surface contaminated with the COVID-19 virus and then touch their own mouth, nose or eyes before washing their hands. Research shows that the COVID-19 virus can survive on some surfaces for prolonged periods of time.

A key way you can protect workers and others from the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is by implementing appropriate cleaning and disinfecting measures for your workplace.

A combination of cleaning and disinfection will be most effective in removing the COVID-19 virus.

Workplaces must be cleaned at least daily. Cleaning with detergent and water is usually sufficient.  Once clean, surfaces can be disinfected. When and how often your workplace should be disinfected will depend on the likelihood of contaminated material being present. You should prioritise cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that many people touch.

Alternatively, you may be able to do a 2-in-1 clean and disinfection by using a combined detergent and disinfectant.

How to clean and disinfect

Cleaning means to physically remove germs (bacteria and viruses), dirt and grime from surfaces using a detergent and water solution. A detergent is a surfactant that is designed to break up oil and grease with the use of water. Anything labelled as a detergent will work.

Disinfecting means using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. It’s important to clean before disinfecting because dirt and grime can reduce the ability of disinfectants to kill germs. Disinfectants containing greater than equal to 70% alcohol, quaternary ammonium compounds, chlorine bleach or oxygen bleach are suitable for use on hard surfaces (that is, surfaces where any spilt liquid pools, and does not soak in): alcohol in a concentration of at least 70%, chlorine bleach in a concentration of 1000 parts per million, oxygen bleach, or wipes and sprays that contain quaternary ammonium compounds. These will be labelled as ‘disinfectant’ on the packaging.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has published a list of disinfectant products that are permitted to claim they are effective against COVID-19.

As long as you use a disinfectant of the types described above, in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions, they will be effective. They do not need to be on the TGA list.

Cleaning should start with the cleanest surface first, progressively moving towards the dirtiest surface. When surfaces are cleaned, they should be left as dry as possible to reduce the risk of slips and falls, as well as spreading of viruses and bacteria through droplets.

Before a surface is disinfected, it is important it is cleaned first because dirt and grime can reduce the ability of disinfectants to kill germs. Disinfectant may not kill the virus if the surface has not been cleaned with a detergent first. 

The packaging or manufacturer’s instructions will outline the correct way to use disinfectant. Disinfectants require time to be effective at killing viruses. If no time is specified, the disinfectant should be left for ten minutes before removing.

Your employer should provide you with suitable cleaning and disinfecting products and personal protective equipment, and ensure you are trained on how to use them.

After cleaning, put any single-use personal protective equipment (PPE), disposable cloths and covers in a plastic bag and dispose of in general waste. Launder any reusable cleaning equipment, including mop heads and reusable cloths, and completely dry before re-use.

Our cleaning guide provides more information on cleaning and disinfecting, including for specific surfaces.

What is the difference between cleaning and disinfecting?

Cleaning means to physically remove germs (bacteria and viruses), dirt and grime from surfaces using a detergent and water solution. A detergent is a surfactant that is designed to break up oil and grease with the use of water. 

Disinfecting means using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. It’s important to clean before disinfecting because dirt and grime can reduce the ability of disinfectants to kill germs. Disinfectants containing ≥ 70% alcohol, quaternary ammonium compounds, chlorine bleach or oxygen bleach are suitable for use on hard surfaces (that is, surfaces where any spilt liquid pools, and does not soak in). 

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has published a list of disinfectant products that are permitted to claim they are effective against COVID-19.

As long as you use a disinfectant of the types described above, in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions, they will be effective. They do not need to be on the TGA list.

How do I use cleaning and disinfecting chemicals safely?

Always be aware what chemicals you are handling. Read the product label and safety data sheet (SDS) before use, and make sure you understand the instructions and follow all recommendations. For information on how to read labels and SDS, see the Safe Work Australia SDS webpage.

Make sure you only use chemicals in well ventilated areas, as many release fumes that can irritate your eyes and lungs and cause nausea or headaches. Be especially careful when diluting concentrated cleaners. Use eye protection and gloves, preferably elbow-length. The SDS will tell you more information about how to use the product safely.

Never mix different chemicals together, unless the product label explicitly tells you to do so. Some common cleaning chemicals react when combined to create toxic gas that can be fatal if inhaled.

More information can be found on the Department of Health’s website.

Which areas should be cleaned and disinfected, and how often?

Any surfaces that are frequently touched should be prioritised for cleaning. These include tabletops, counters, door handles, light switches, elevator buttons, desks, toilets, taps, TV remotes, kitchen surfaces and cupboard handles, phones, EFTPOS machines and workplace amenities. Any surfaces that are visibly dirty, or have a spill, should be cleaned as soon as they are identified, regardless of when they were last cleaned.

You should regularly clean and disinfect surfaces that many people touch. At a minimum, frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected at least once daily. If your workplace has many customers or others entering each day, more frequent cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces is recommended. If your workplace is only attended by the same small work crew each day and involves little interaction with other people, routine disinfection in addition to daily cleaning may not be needed.

Which areas should I prioritise for cleaning?

Any surfaces that are frequently touched should be prioritised for cleaning and disinfection. These include tabletops, counters, door handles, light switches, elevator buttons, desks, toilets, taps, TV remotes, kitchen surfaces and cupboard handles, phones, EFTPOS machines and workplace amenities. You should also prioritise cleaning and disinfecting surfaces which are visibly soiled (dirty) and which are used by multiple people (e.g. trolleys, checkouts, EFTPOS machines).

How often should I do a routine clean?

Regular cleaning is key to minimising the build-up of dust and dirt and allows for effective disinfecting when required.

Cleaning of frequently touched surfaces must be undertaken at least once per day. Cleaning should be more frequent if surfaces become visibly dirty, there is a spill, or if they are touched by a different people (for example, if your workplace has a high volume of workers, customers or visitors that are likely to touch surfaces such as tabletops, counters, door handles, light switches, elevator buttons, desks, toilets, taps, TV remotes, kitchen surfaces and cupboard handles, phones, EFTPOS machines and workplace amenities.). If your workplace operates in shifts, it should be cleaned between shifts. If equipment is shared between workers, it may also be cleaned between uses, where practicable.

For more information, refer to our cleaning guide.

Cleaning and disinfecting should also be done after a person with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID 19 has recently been at the workplace, in line with advice from your state or territory’s health authority. For more information, including thecontact details for your local health authority please see What to do if a worker has COVID-19.

How often should I do a routine disinfection?

You should regularly clean and disinfect surfaces that many people touch. You should consider disinfecting frequently touched surfaces at least once daily. 

All surfaces should be cleaned with detergent prior to disinfection. Alternatively, you may be able to do a 2-in-1 clean and disinfection by using a combined detergent and disinfectant. 

What’s the difference between frequently touched and infrequently touched surfaces?

A frequently touched surface is a surface that is touched multiple times each day, regardless of whether it is touched by the same person or different people. Door handles and taps are examples of frequently touched surfaces.

An infrequently  touched surface is any surface that is not touched more than once each day. If you are unsure, you should treat your surface as if it is frequently touched.

Does every surface need to be cleaned and disinfected?

You don’t need to clean and disinfect every surface. The virus is transmitted by breathing in droplets produced by an infected person coughing or sneezing, or contact with contaminated surfaces, so you only need to clean surfaces that are touched. This is true whether the touching is deliberate (e.g. a door knob) or incidental (e.g. brushing a door when reaching for the door knob). There are some surfaces that are never touched (e.g. ceilings and cracks and crevices in machinery) and these do not need to be cleaned and disinfected.

Do I need to clean and disinfect areas or equipment daily if no one has entered the area or used the equipment recently?

Not necessarily. If a surface has not had human contact for several days, it is less likely to be a potential source of infection. You may wish to consider how frequently a particular surface is touched or otherwise comes into human contact when deciding how often an area or equipment needs to be cleaned and disinfected. However care should be taken, as research shows that the COVID-19 virus can survive on some surfaces for prolonged periods of time. If there is any doubt, it is better to clean and disinfect an area rather than risk infection.

You can refer to our cleaning guide for more detailed information on how to clean a range of different surfaces and items, as well as for assistance on how to clean if there is a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 in your workplace.

What about personal items I bring into work?

Personal items used in the workplace, such as glasses and phones, should be cleaned and disinfected regularly using disinfectant wipes or spray.

Do I need to wear protective equipment when cleaning?

In most circumstances, it will not be necessary to wear protective clothing to clean your workplace. If personal protective equipment (PPE) is required, your employer should provide the PPE and train you on how to use it safely. 

For routine cleaning (when there has not been a known or suspected case of COVID-19), you should wear appropriate gloves and any other protective equipment recommended when using your cleaning product.

More information about selecting and using PPE can be found on the COVID-19 and Personal Protective Equipment Webpage.

Additional PPE may be required if cleaning and disinfecting an area where someone with COVID-19 is present. At a minimum surgical masks should be worn. Your state or territory health should contact your employer and provide them with more advice about what needs to be done.  

What if there is a case of COVID-19 in my workplace?

If you have a case of COVID-19 in the workplace, your state or territory health authority should provide your employer with advice on what they need to do in your workplace. Follow their instructions. 

  • Using an ISO accredited cleaner is not required. 
  • Fogging is not required and is not recommended by the Australian Government Department of Health for routine cleaning against COVID-19 
  • Swabbing surfaces following disinfection is not required. 

For more information on what to do if there is a case of COVID-19 see our infographic What to do if a worker has COVID-19

What are the best products for cleaning and disinfecting?

When cleaning it is best to use detergent and warm water. This will break down grease and grime so that the surface can be wiped clean. Anything labelled as a detergent will work. Disinfectants should only be used once the surface is fully cleaned.

Disinfectants that are suitable for use on hard surfaces (that is, surfaces where any spilt liquid pools, and does not soak in) include: alcohol in a concentration of at least 70%, chlorine bleach in a concentration of 1000 parts per million, oxygen bleach, or wipes and sprays that contain quaternary ammonium compounds. These chemicals will be labelled as ‘disinfectant’ on the packaging and must be diluted or used following the instructions on the packaging to be effective.

If using a store-bought disinfectant, choose one that has antiviral activity, meaning it can kill viruses. This should be written on its label. Alternately, diluted bleach can be used. If using freshly made bleach solution, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for appropriate dilution and use. It will only be effective when diluted to the appropriate concentration. Note that prediluted bleach solutions lose effectiveness over time and on exposure to sunlight.

More information about disinfectant selection and preparing bleach solutions can be found on the Department of Health’s website.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has published a list of disinfectant products that are permitted to claim they are effective against COVID-19.

As long as you use a disinfectant of the types described above, in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions, they will be effective. They do not need to be on the TGA list.

Is a sanitiser a disinfectant?

A sanitiser is a chemical that is designed to kill some bacteria and some viruses that can cause disease in humans or animals. These chemicals are not as strong as disinfectants, which makes them safe to use on skin. If you’re disinfecting a hard surface or inanimate object, a disinfectant is the best option.

If everything is sold out, can I make my own disinfectant?

Store-bought disinfectants meet government standards, so you know they will work. However, if you don’t have store bought disinfectant available, you can prepare a disinfecting solution using bleach and water. Do not use products such as vinegar, baking soda (bicarbonate of soda), essential oil, mouthwash or saline solution – these will not kill COVID-19.

If preparing a disinfecting solution, make sure you handle chemicals carefully, as they can be dangerous. Always read and follow the instructions and safety directions on the label. If the solution is not prepared and used as described in the instructions, it is unlikely to be effective. More information about the preparation of chlorine (bleach) disinfectant solutions can be found on the Department of Health’s website.

Can I use a product that claims to clean and disinfect at the same time?

Yes, some products can be used for both cleaning and disinfecting, which can save time and effort. If using these products, make sure that you read and follow the instructions on the label to ensure they work effectively.

Does heating or freezing kill the virus?

Extreme heat will destroy COVID-19 but is not recommended as a general disinfection method. Steam and boiling water can easily burn workers and should only be used by trained personnel with specialised equipment.

Viruses are generally resistant to the cold and can survive longer if frozen than if left outside at room temperature.

Will an antibacterial product kill COVID-19?

Antibacterial products are designed to kill bacteria. However, COVID-19 is caused by a virus rather than by bacteria, so an antibacterial product may not be effective against COVID-19.

Detergent and warm water are suitable for cleaning surfaces and should be used prior to using a disinfectant.

For cleaning hands, regular soap and warm water is effective.

Can I use the same disinfecting wipe on multiple surfaces?

Disinfecting wipes are designed to be used on a single surface and then thrown out. If you use a disinfecting wipe on multiple surfaces it will lose its effectiveness and may even transfer the virus from one surface to another.

Ensure you read and follow the directions that come with the disinfecting wipes.

Should I be using hospital grade disinfectant for normal cleaning in the workplace?

The Department of Health only recommends the use of hospital grade disinfectant when cleaning in a hospital, beauty or allied health care setting where an infectious person has been present.

What is the difference between household grade disinfectant and hospital grade disinfectant?

Hospital grade disinfectants must meet government standards for use in health care, beauty and allied health settings. A household or commercial grade disinfectant must also meet government standards, but the testing is not as comprehensive as it is for hospital grade disinfectants and the standards to be met are lower.

Household or commercial grade disinfectant are suitable for use in workplaces that are not health care, beauty and allied health settings.

Are there any cleaning methods I shouldn’t use?

The best cleaning method is to use warm water and detergent. You should avoid any cleaning methods that may disperse the virus or create droplets, such as using pressurised water, pressurised air (including canned air cleaners), dry cloth and dusters.

Fumigation or wide-area spraying (known as ‘disinfectant fogging’) is not recommended as it does not clean surfaces and there is insufficient evidence that it is effective at killing COVID-19. Additionally, if not done correctly it can expose workers and others to hazardous chemicals.

My employer is making me do cleaning. This has never been my job until now, can they do that?

Yes. You must comply with any reasonable instruction from your employer to allow your employer to meet their health and safety duties, as long as you are reasonably able to do so. This includes an instruction from your employer to clean your work space, or to clean plant or equipment after you have used it, to manage the risk of spread of COVID-19.

The risk of catching COVID-19 when cleaning is substantially lower than any risk from close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

I prefer to use environmentally friendly or natural products, do I have to use detergent to clean?

Yes. Using only water and a cloth, or other forms of cleaning agents, such as vinegar and baking soda (bicarbonate of soda), will not be as effective as using detergent.

What is disinfectant fogging, and do I need to do it?

Disinfectant fogging (sometimes called disinfectant fumigation) is a chemical application method where very fine droplets of disinfectant are sprayed throughout a room in a fog. The disinfectant has to reach a certain concentration for a certain length of time to be effective.

Disinfectant fogging is not recommended for general use against COVID-19 and can introduce new work health and safety risks. Physically cleaning surfaces with detergent and warm water, followed by disinfecting with liquid disinfectant, is the best approach. If you are looking for a faster or easier method, consider a combined (2-in-1) cleaning and disinfecting agent.

Note that if you already use fogging as part of your normal business processes (such as in health care or food manufacturing) you should continue to do so.

The chemicals used in fogging solutions also introduce work health and safety risks which must be managed. Chlorine and hydrogen peroxide-based products are highly irritating to the skin and eyes. Alcohol based products are highly flammable, which may lead to fire or explosion if an ignition source is present.

In all cases, sufficient time must be allowed following fogging for the chemicals to disperse to ensure that workers returning to the area to ensure they are not exposed to hazardous chemicals. If fogging is undertaken, it must only be performed by trained persons and using appropriate controls in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions. It should not be undertaken as a response to, or element of a response to contamination of an area with COVID-19. 

How do I clean linen, crockery and cutlery?  

If items can be laundered, launder them in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions using the warmest setting possible. Dry items completely. Do not shake dirty laundry as this may disperse the virus through the air.

Wash crockery and cutlery in a dishwasher on the highest setting possible. If a dishwasher is not available, hand wash in hot soapy water.

More information about how to clean specific items refer to our cleaning guide.

What else can I do?

You can work with your employer to minimise the touching of surfaces at your workplace and practice good hygiene (for example, washing your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds). You should also ensure you properly dispose of used PPE and paper towel used in handwashing, following the instructions provided by your employer. 

Is there someone I can talk to for more information about Coronavirus?

The Department of Health runs the National Coronavirus Hotline - 1800 020 080.

You can call this line if you are seeking information on coronavirus. The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

You can find more contact options for the Department of Health on their website.

What about information published by other organisations?

Consultation

Does my employer have to consult with me? What about?

Your employer must talk to you about things that affect you. They must tell you what they are proposing to do to identify and manage risks to worker health, safety and wellbeing at your workplace. They must give you an opportunity to share your ideas and express any concerns. You are most likely to know about the risks of your work. Your employer must allow you to raise any work health and safety issues or concerns.  

Your employer must consult with you or your representative on health and safety matters when: 

  • assessing the risk of COVID-19 to your health and safety 
  • deciding on control measures to eliminate or minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19 
  • deciding on facilities for your welfare (e.g. whether hand washing facilities are adequate), and 
  • proposing changes to the workplace which may affect your health and safety (e.g. if you are now working from home this may affect your health and safety in other ways). 

Your employer does not have to agree with you or take your suggestions on board, but they must give genuine consideration to everything you raise with them, and let you know what their final decisions are. 

Is there any other information my employer should be sharing with me during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Yes. Your employer must also clearly explain to you: 

  1. when you must stay away from the workplace  

  1. what to do if you become unwell, and 

  1. what symptoms to be concerned about. 

Your employer should also remind you about who to talk to if you are concerned, such as your HSR, and where you can go for support services, such as employee assistance programs.  

I spoke up about my concerns and my employer did nothing 

Your employer doesn’t always have to agree with you or implement a control measure you have suggested, but they must genuinely take your views into account when making decisions about worker health and safety. They must also tell you what they decided. 

If you and your employer have agreed to procedures for consultation, they must follow them. If you are represented by an HSR they must be involved in any consultation.  

If after raising a safety concern with your manager or supervisor, you are still concerned about a risk to your health and safety you should speak to your HSR or contact the relevant WHS regulator for assistance.  

Your employer mustn’t ignore you or discriminate against you for raising a safety concern. You may also have the right to stop or refuse to carry out unsafe work. See the section Workers’ rights for more information. 

The model Code of Practice: Work health and safety consultation, cooperation and coordination can provide more information about your employer’s duties to consult. 

I’m working from home, will I miss out on being consulted? 

No. This shouldn’t happen. When you or your employer are working from home they will no longer be able to consult with you face to face but they must find other ways of consulting with you such as via email, video conference or phone. 

I’ve heard my HSR might change, can that happen? 

Yes. If working arrangements have changed (e.g. you now work shifts, have changed work groups or are working from home) your employer may need to review their procedures for consultation to reflect this. This may mean electing new HSRs for different work groups or changing procedures to allow for consultation by electronic communications. 

Duties under WHS laws

The model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws require employers to take care of the health, safety and welfare of your workers, including yourself and other staff, contractors and volunteers, and others (clients, customers, visitors) at your workplace.

This includes:

  • providing and maintaining a work environment that is without risk to health and safety
  • providing adequate and accessible facilities for the welfare of workers to carry out their work, and
  • monitoring the health of workers and the conditions of the workplace for the purpose of preventing illness or injury.

The model WHS laws have been implemented in all jurisdictions except Victoria. 

For information on WHS duties in Victoria, refer to WorkSafe Victoria –  Occupational health and safety – your legal duties.

Your safety responsibilities as a worker

A worker is a person who carries out work in any capacity for a business or employer or ‘person conducting a business undertaking’.  Workers include: 

  • employees 
  • trainees, apprentices or work experience students 
  • volunteers 
  • outworkers 
  • contractors or sub-contractors 
  • employees of a contractor or sub-contractor 
  • employees of a labour hire company. 

While at work you must: 

  • take reasonable care for your own health and safety 
  • take reasonable care for the health and safety of others 
  • comply with any reasonable instructions, policies and procedure given by your employer at the workplace. 

As a worker, you must take reasonable care of yourself and not do anything that would affect the health and safety of others at work (e.g. coming to work when you are unwell). 

You must follow any reasonable health and safety instructions from your employer. 

To prevent the spread of COVID-19 it is important that you: 

  • work safely and observe any new requirements for physical distancing (even if it means performing tasks in a different way to what you are used to) 
  • follow instructions (e.g. about how to wash hands thoroughly) 
  • ask if you’re not sure how to safely perform the work 
  • use personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves in the way you were trained and instructed to use it, and 
  • report any unsafe or unhealthy situations (e.g. a lack of soap in the bathroom) to your supervisor or to your health and safety representative (HSR). 

Emergency plans

Your employer must have an emergency plan in place.  

You should see if the plan has changed because of COVID-19. It may now include information on how cases of COVID-19 are to be dealt with as well as updates to procedures where there have been changes to the way the business is operating.  

Check with your employer if you think the emergency plan needs updating. 

What is an emergency plan?

An emergency plan is a written plan that sets out requirements and instructions for workers and others in the case of an emergency.  

An emergency plan must include the following: 

  • emergency procedures, including: 
    • an effective response to an emergency  
    • evacuation procedures  
    • notifying emergency service organisations at the earliest opportunity  
    • medical treatment and assistance, and  
    • effective communication between the person authorised to coordinate the emergency response and all people at the workplace  
  • testing of the emergency procedures,—including the frequency of testing, and  
  • information, training and instructions to relevant workers in relation to implementing the emergency procedures.  

See the Emergency plans fact sheet for more information on emergency plans. 

What do I need to do? 

It’s important that you are familiar with the emergency plan for your workplace, because you must know what to do in the case of an emergency. Even if you are still working from your usual workplace, the plan and procedures may have changed as a result of COVID-19.  

You should check the emergency plan to see if anything has changed. Examples of things that may have changed include contact details of key staff and the process that you should follow if there is an emergency when you are working from home, including notifying your employer.  

You should know where to find a copy of the emergency plan so that you can quickly refer to it if necessary. Speak with your employer if you do not have access to the plan. 

Your employer has an obligation to ensure the emergency plan is maintained to continue to capture the business’s circumstances. If operations have changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, your employer must review and, if necessary, update the emergency plan. The plan must include information for workers who are now working from home or another location. 

If your plan has not been updated and you believe there should be new procedures in place, then you should speak with your employer or health and safety representative. 

Training

Your employer must ensure that you have been adequately informed about, and trained in, emergency procedures. These arrangements must also be set out in the emergency plan itself.  

If procedures change significantly to align with changed business practices due to COVID-19, then you may require new or additional information and training.  

Talk with your employer if you are unsure about anything in the emergency plan. 

Family & domestic violence

See Safe Work Australia’s Information sheet: Family and domestic violence at the workplace for further guidance about duties under WHS laws and how to manage the risks of family and domestic violence at the workplace.

If you or someone you know is impacted by family and domestic violence, you can contact 1800 RESPECT, the national counselling service for family and domestic violence for advice.  

If a worker is in immediate danger, call 000. 

Family and domestic violence can become more frequent and severe during periods of emergency. Public health measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, such as self-isolation and work from home arrangements, may increase workers’ exposure to family and domestic violence. Financial pressures, increased stress and disconnection from support networks can also exacerbate the underlying conditions that lead to violence. 

What if I witness family and domestic violence at the workplace?

If a worker or anyone at your workplace is in immediate danger, call 000.  

If you witness or see signs of family and domestic violence while carrying out your work, you should contact 1800 RESPECT for advice.

Talk to your employer

Workplaces can play an important role in preventing and responding to family violence by providing a safe and supportive working environment for all workers. 

You should discuss with your employer any concerns that you have about your health and safety so your employer can manage those risks in the workplace. If you choose to disclose that you are experiencing family and domestic violence, your employer must treat this information confidentially.  

It is particularly important to talk to your employer about any concerns you have if you are being asked to work from home. If your home is not safe, you should tell your employer as they must provide alternative working arrangements so far as is reasonably practicable, such as working from a different location or allowing you to work from the office. 

Who else can I talk to?

If workers at your workplace are represented by Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) you may wish to talk to them about your concerns. In addition, if you are a member of a trade union or employee association, they may also be able to help you. 

Family and domestic violence leave 

Under national workplace laws, all workers dealing with family and domestic violence can: 

  • take unpaid family and domestic violence leave 
  • request flexible working arrangements 
  • take paid or unpaid sick or carer’s leave, in certain circumstances. 

Your employer may also offer paid leave if you are experiencing family and domestic violence. 

You should speak to your employer about your leave entitlements or contact the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94. 

WHS duties

Your employer has a duty to ensure that workers and others are not exposed to risks to their health and safety, including from family and domestic violence in the workplace.  

You also have a duty to take reasonable care of your own health and safety, and not adversely affect the health and safety of yourself or others. This includes following any reasonable instruction given by your employer to comply with a health and safety duty. 

Other resources

Gloves

Practising physical distancing and maintaining good hygiene is the best defence against the spread of COVID-19 and will usually be a better control measure than wearing gloves.

While gloves (such as disposable or multi-use) should still be used for some practices (such as food handling, cleaning, gardening and trades), washing hands with soap and water is one of the best defences to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Washing your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitiser with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol as the active ingredient can help to minimise the spread of germs.

If gloves are not used appropriately, they can pose a risk of spreading germs, putting yourself and others at risk. When you wear gloves, you may come into contact with germs which can then be transferred to other objects or your face. Gloves are not a substitute for frequent hand washing. 

Gloves should be replaced regularly. Multi-use gloves should be washed and stored according to the manufacturer’s instructions or workplace policy. Disposable gloves should not be re-used and multi-use gloves should not be shared between workers. 

Who should wear gloves to protect against COVID-19?

Your employer should consider whether using gloves or washing hands is the best measure for preventing the spread of germs in your workplace. This involves thinking about what you and other workers will touch, how long the task will take, who workers may come into contact with and the practicality of using gloves for a task. It may be more practical for workers to wash their hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser than to wear gloves. 

Your employer must undertake a risk assessment with appropriate consultation with you and other workers to help inform what gloves, if any, are appropriate for your workplace.

Your employer will also keep up to date with recommendations and directions about the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves, that apply nationally, and in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace. 

Medical gloves form part of the routine PPE for those who work in health care and patients to protect them from the spread of infection. Medical gloves protect the wearer and the patient and should be restricted to health care settings Not all gloves are medical grade. Disposable, non-sterile gloves that are not medical grade are also available. 

Information on wearing gloves in health care settings can be found at the Australian Government Department of Health website.

Do I need to wear gloves?

In most workplaces there will be no need for workers to wear gloves, unless they are already required for usual work practices and are part of the workplace’s normal gloves policy, for example, for handling food or in healthcare settings. 

Your employer must undertake a risk assessment with appropriate consultation with you and other workers to help inform what gloves, if any, are appropriate for your workplace. Your employer will also keep up to date with recommendations and directions about the wearing of PPE that apply nationally, and in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace. 

Washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, or where you cannot wash your hands, using alcohol-based hand sanitiser with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol as the active ingredient is the recommended way to minimise the spread of germs. 

How to put on and take off gloves

If you do wear gloves, either disposable or multi-use, you can follow the steps below to prevent the spread of germs: 

1. Before starting (and after finishing a task), wash your hands with soap and water or if not available, with alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

  • Wash your hands before touching a pair of gloves.  
  • When putting the gloves on try to only touch the top edge of the glove at the wrist.

2. During the task: maintain good hygiene by not touching your face and coughing or sneezing into your elbow. Monitor what you touch and replace your gloves frequently. 

  • Replace your gloves every time you would wash or sanitise your hands. 

3. After completing the task, think about what you’ve touched and consider whether there is a risk of spreading the germs from your gloves if you start a new task. Your work task may not vary much but could involve touching different objects or attending to different customers or people. Consider whether using a new pair of disposable gloves or hand washing or using hand sanitiser is the best measure for the next task.

4. Taking off gloves: 

  • Carefully remove the first glove by gripping at the wrist edge without touching the skin and pull downwards away from the wrist, turning the glove inside out.  
  • With the ungloved hand, slide your fingers into the glove and peel the glove downwards away from the wrist, turning the glove inside out.   
  • If you are wearing disposable gloves dispose of them in a closed bin (refer below for information on disposal).  
  • If you are wearing multi-use gloves clean and store them according to the manufacturer’s instructions or your workplace policy. 
  • Wash your hands with soap and water (for at least 20 seconds), or if not available, with alcohol-based hand sanitiser. 

There is an infographic for putting and removing gloves on the Australian Government Department of Health website. 

How to dispose of gloves

Unless contaminated, disposable gloves can be disposed of with the general waste, preferably a closed bin. A closed bin is a bin with a fitted lid. 

Where the gloves are contaminated, they should be disposed of in a closed bin, preferably one that does not need to be touched to place contaminated gloves inside. A bin with a foot pedal or other hands-free mechanism to open the lid would be appropriate. 

The bin for contaminated gloves should contain two bin liners to ensure the waste is double bagged. Double bagging minimises any exposure to the person disposing of the waste.

Gloves would be considered contaminated if:

  • they have been worn by a symptomatic worker or visitor to the workplace, or
  • they have been worn by a close contact of a confirmed COVID case, or 
  • the wearer has touched a potentially contaminated surface.

Where a closed bin is not available, the contaminated gloves should be placed in a sealed bag before disposal into the bin. The sealed bag and a single bin liner are considered equivalent to double bagging.

It is important to follow good hand hygiene after removing and disposing of your gloves. Hands should be cleaned thoroughly with soap and water (for a minimum of 20 seconds) or hand sanitiser. 

If you have a case of COVID-19 in the workplace, your state or territory health authority should provide you with advice on what you need to do in your workplace. Follow their instructions. 

For information about the disposal of gloves in health care settings, you will need to refer to the Australian Government Department of Health and state and territory health authorities.
 

 

 

Health monitoring

You must follow your employer’s policies and procedures relating to COVID-19, including directions about what you must do if you are diagnosed or suspect you may have COVID-19.  

You must report to your employer as soon as possible, even if you are working from home: 

  • if you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19  
  • if you have been, or have potentially been, exposed to a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is suspected to have COVID-19 (even if the person who is suspected to have COVID-19 has not yet been tested), or 
  • if you have undertaken, or are planning to undertake, any travel. 

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever and cough. 

Other symptoms include headache, sore throat, fatigue, shortness of breath, aches and pains, loss of smell, altered sense of taste, runny nose, chills and vomiting.

Your employer must consult with you and your relevant health and safety representative before implementing health monitoring measures. 

COVID-19 in the workplace

You will need to leave the workplace, if you are not working from home, if you are displaying symptoms of COVID-19. Follow the information in our Suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 at work infographic and see also our information on COVID-19 in your workplace. 

You are entitled to access available entitlements, including leave under relevant workplace laws, (e.g. Fair Work Act 2009 Cth), and a relevant industrial instrument such as an enterprise agreement, award, contract of employment or associated workplace policy.  

For information about workplace entitlements and obligations: 

If you have been isolated after having tested positive for COVID-19, you must not return to the workplace (that is not your home) until you are cleared of the virus and have received any necessary clearances from state or territory health authorities.   

If you have completed a specified quarantine period and did not develop symptoms during quarantine, you do not need a medical clearance to return to work. 

Can I work from home while in isolation?

Yes - if you are fit for work and this is consistent with advice from your treating clinician.  

Asymptomatic workers can work from home during the isolation period, with appropriate measures in place for household members, subject to the direction or advice of their treating clinician. 

If you are unfit for work you are entitled to access available entitlements, including leave according to relevant workplace laws (e.g. Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) or a relevant industrial instrument). For information about workplace entitlements and obligations: 

Can my employer conduct temperature checks on me?

Your employer may want to monitor the health of their workers through administering temperature checks, as a preventative measure in managing a COVID-19 outbreak in your workplace. There may be times where this is required or reasonable. For example, 

  • where workers live together in accommodation such as FIFO or agricultural workers
  • in workplaces where vulnerable people are present, such as hospitals and aged care facilities, or
  • if directed or recommended by a state or territory (e.g. under public health orders).

Some states and territories may issue directions for temperature checks to be conducted in specific industries based on the local situation. Your employer will need to keep up to date with recommendations and directions that apply nationally, and in your state and territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace. 

It is important to understand temperature checks alone will not tell your employer whether a person has COVID-19. It will only identify symptoms. It is possible that a person may be asymptomatic or be on medication that reduces their temperature. It is also possible that the person may have a temperature for another reason unrelated to COVID-19.  

Your employer must consult with you and your relevant health and safety representative if they are considering implementing temperature checks. 

How do I know I am cleared to return to the workplace after having COVID-19 or being subject to quarantine requirements?

If you have been isolated after having been tested positive for COVID-19, you can return to your workplace (when not working from home) when you have fully recovered and have met the criteria for clearance from isolation. The criteria may vary depending on circumstances of the workplace and states and territories may manage clearance from isolation differently. Clearance may need to be given by the state and territory public health authority or your treating clinician.  

If you have completed a specified quarantine period (either after returning from travel or because of close contact with a confirmed case) and did not develop symptoms during quarantine, you do not need a medical clearance to return to the workplace. Your employer should not ask you to be tested for COVID-19 in order to return to work. However, you should closely follow the instructions provided by the state or territory public health authority, which in some cases may include being tested for COVID-19.

Drug and alcohol testing

Drug and alcohol testing poses an additional risk of COVID-19 transmission and infection. If your employer decides to continue testing, additional safety considerations are required.

Employers must ensure that appropriate risk assessments are carried out to identify and control the risks arising from drug and alcohol testing during the COVID-19 pandemic and they must consult with you about how to carry out testing safely. If you are represented by Health and Safety Representatives your employer must also include them in the consultation process. 

Can I be directed to continue workplace drug and alcohol testing?

When considering how to manage the risk of COVID-19, your employer must review and amend drug and alcohol related policies and procedures. Testing for alcohol and illicit substances may be required by law in some industries. Your employer must manage the risks of COVID-19 and if needed, use alternative systems or approaches for drug and alcohol testing.

Will my employer consult with me about drug and alcohol testing?

Your employer must consult with you about health and safety matters relating to COVID-19. This includes any decisions about workplace drug and alcohol testing. When consulting with you, your employer must provide you with the opportunity to express your views and raise any concerns you have. Your employer must take your views into account and advise you of the outcome of consultation.

If your employer decides to continue with drug and alcohol testing, you should be clearly informed about the control measures being implemented that will allow testing to continue safely. 

How will my employer make sure drug and alcohol testing is safe?

Your employer must make sure that any testing carried out is done safely. This may mean that certain procedures are followed to ensure that physical distancing and good hand hygiene are practised. As part of consultation, your employer will inform you of any special control measures that are being implemented or any additional steps that are needed to conduct drug and alcohol testing safely.

 

Hygiene

The main way COVID-19 spreads from person to person is through contact with respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets may fall directly onto the person’s eyes, nose or mouth if they are in close contact with the infected person. Airborne transmission of COVID-19 can also occur, with the greatest risk in indoor, crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces. A person may also be infected if they touch a surface contaminated with the COVID-19 virus and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes before washing their hands. Research shows that the COVID-19 virus can survive on some surfaces for prolonged periods of time.

A key way you can protect workers yourself and others from the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is by practicing good hygiene. Below are measures to ensure good hygiene in your workplace.  

A combination of cleaning and disinfection will be most effective in removing the COVID-19 virus.

Workplaces must be cleaned at least daily. Cleaning with detergent and water is usually sufficient.  Once clean, surfaces can be disinfected. When and how often your workplace should be disinfected will depend on the likelihood of contaminated material being present. You should prioritise cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that many people touch.

Alternatively, you may be able to do a 2-in-1 clean and disinfection by using a combined detergent and disinfectant.

Good hygiene requires washing your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and drying them completely, preferably with clean, single-use paper towels. If paper towels are unavailable, other methods such as electric hand dryers can be used, however, hands will still need to be dried completely.

You must wash and dry your hands: 

  • before and after eating 
  • after coughing or sneezing 
  • after going to the toilet, and  
  • when changing tasks and after touching potentially contaminated surfaces.  

When it is not possible to wash hands, an alcohol-based hand sanitiser with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol as the active ingredient must be used as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Good hygiene also requires you to, at all times: 

  • cover coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a clean tissue (and no spitting) 
  • avoid touching your face, eyes, nose and mouth 
  • dispose of tissues and cigarette butts hygienically, e.g. in closed bins 
  • wash and dry your hands completely before and after smoking a cigarette  
  • clean and disinfect shared equipment and plant after use 
  • wash body, hair (including facial hair) and clothes thoroughly every day, and 
  • have no intentional physical contact, for example, shaking hands and patting backs. 

Masks

This page provides information about your obligations as a worker, and your employers’ obligations, under the model WHS laws and how these relate to the use of masks in the workplace. This includes information  on whether the use of masks for workers, including contractors and labour-hire, is a reasonably practicable control measure to manage the risks of COVID-19 at work. 

You will need to review this assessment from time to time. 

Further, the use of masks is only one control measure for COVID-19 that may be required under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws for your workplace. Your employer must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable control measures in your workplace such as encouraging or ensuring up to date vaccination, physical distancing and good hygiene to minimise the risks from COVID-19. Further information on other control measures is provided on this page.

You must comply so far is you are reasonably able with a reasonable instruction given by your employer about WHS matters (including about managing the risks of COVID-19. In addition to the obligations under the model WHS laws, you and your employer must also comply with any public health orders or directions made by governments that apply to you and your workplace. This guidance does not affect any obligations you may have regarding the use of masks that apply under public health orders and directions.

This guidance does not change, remove or reduce any existing rights or obligations under the model WHS laws.

As Victoria has not adopted the model WHS laws, this guidance is not applicable to Victoria. Up-to-date guidance applicable to responding to COVID-19 in Victorian workplaces can be found on the WorkSafe Victoria website.

As a worker, you must take reasonable care for your own health and safety, and that of other persons who may be affected by your acts or omissions. You must comply, so far as you are reasonably able, with any reasonable instruction that is given by your employer so they comply with the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws. You must also cooperate with any reasonable policy or procedure that has been notified and provided to you.

Your employer has a duty under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws to eliminate risks, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable. The hierarchy of control measures, ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest level of protection, is one way to eliminate and minimise the risks of COVID-19. In the hierarchy of control measures masks are a low-level control measure as they rely on human behaviour and supervision to ensure that the masks are worn and used to help minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace.

Some states and territories have issued public health directions or orders that require masks to be worn for specific activities and in certain workplaces. If public health directions or orders  are made, you must follow them. 

Wearing masks helps prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. If the person wearing the mask is unaware that they are infected with COVID-19 virus, wearing a mask will reduce the chances of them passing the virus on to others. Masks can also protect people from inhaling the virus. 

Masks can be a critical part of protecting against COVID-19. However, even if your employer determines that the use of masks is reasonably practicable for your workplace, it should not be relied on as the only control measure. To ensure your employer meets their duties under the model WHS laws and to minimise the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace, your employer must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures, such as:

  • encouraging or ensuring up to date vaccination,, where applicable,
  • ensuring you do not come to work when unwell,
  • improving air quality,
  • practising physical distancing and adhering to density limits (check occupancy limits for the type of building and building standards),
  • relocating work tasks to different areas of the workplace, off-site or supporting workers to work from home,
  • practising good hygiene,
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance,
  • staggering your start, finish and break times, and
  • reducing the number of situations where you would come into close contact with other workers, for example in lunchrooms and other shared spaces.

When deciding how to control the risks of COVID-19, your employer has a duty to consult with workers and any Health and Safety Representatives about how to use control measures to manage the risks. This includes having administrative workplace policies and procedures related to the use of masks. 

Does my employer need to undertake a risk assessment and consult with workers?

Under the model WHS laws, your employer has a duty to manage the health and safety risks, so far as reasonably practicable, in the workplace. You should always aim to eliminate risks. If your employer can’t eliminate the risks of COVID-19, they must minimise the risks so far is reasonably practicable. This requires a risk assessment to identify what type of reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measure, such as masks, are needed to protect workers from exposure to the COVID-19 virus. The use of masks will be based on determining the risks of becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus and the type of mask best suited to minimise the risks of COVID-19 for your workplace. 

The use of masks in the workplace to manage the risks of COVID-19 may not be the same for all businesses and will depend on a range of factors, including whether public health directions or orders apply (e.g. use of masks), the type of business, the level of customer interaction, the level of community transmission of the virus in the geographic area, business layout (including ability to physical distance) and worker demographics (e.g. people at higher risk of COVID-19 illness). 


Your employer must consult with you and any Health and Safety Representatives when identifying the risks and when proposing the use of masks as a control measure. Remember that prolonged use of masks in the workplace may cause physical discomfort, heat-related illnesses and psychological risks that should be considered in the risk assessment and the consultation.

More information about controlling the risk of heat-related illnesses can be found in Safe Work Australia’s guide on Managing the risks of working in heat.

The risk assessment will assist your employer to:

  • identify which workers are at risk of COVID-19,
  • determine what sources and processes are causing the risk of COVID-19, 
  • identify the control measures that are required to minimise the risk of COVID-19, which may include masks, and
  • check the effectiveness of your control measures. 

Your employer must review your workplace risk assessment and control measures periodically, including when new COVID-19 variants emerge and/or as your workplace situation changes, to ensure their ongoing appropriateness and effectiveness based on the latest advice from your state or territory health department and Australian Health Protection Principal Committee

Even if wearing a mask is no longer required under public health directions or orders, your employer still has a duty to review the risks and implement all control measures that are required to ensure the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace are minimised so far as is reasonably practicable. This may mean you continue to require masks to be worn in your workplace. 

Does my employer need to provide masks to workers?

As a result of the risk assessment and consultation with you and any Health and Safety Representatives, your employer may determine that masks are a reasonably practicable control measure to minimise the risks of COVID-19. In these circumstances, your employer must provide masks to you.

However, public health directions or orders can be issued by governments for workplaces to wear face masks. If so, your employer must provide them to workers. It is important that your employer keeps up to date with the public health directions or orders that apply in your state or territory, and ensures that these are followed at the workplace.

The Australian Government Department of Health has published information on when masks should be worn in the community and general COVID-19 information on face masks and who should use them

If you are required to wear masks, then your employer must provide them to you. Single use masks, disposable masks (e.g. utility and surgical masks) or properly constructed cloth masks may be used. Your employer must provide you with appropriate training and instruction on how to put on, wear, remove, clean and maintain (as necessary) or dispose of the mask. Checking that the mask forms a close fit with the face is very important to ensure that the mask used is effective. In some workplace settings, a risk assessment may identify that a P2/N95 respirator is required to minimise the risk to the COVID-19 virus. If a P2/N95 respirator is required, it must be approved for medical use and users must be trained in the correct method of fitting, fit testing, fit checking and removing of P2/N95 respirators.

If you have been provided training and instruction about using a mask, you must comply with that training and those instructions. 

Can workers be directed to wear a mask?

Your employer can direct you or other workers to wear a mask if, following consultation with workers and Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs; if any), they decide it is necessary to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Be aware that the inappropriate or incorrect use of masks may increase the risk of COVID-19 and may result in new work, health and safety risks. If you are required to wear a mask, you must be trained in how to wear, remove and dispose of masks, including performing good hand hygiene (washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using alcohol-based hand sanitiser with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol) before fitting the mask, and before and after taking it off. Masks need to be replaced frequently and, for re-usable cloth masks, stored correctly between uses. 

Your employer will need to ensure that appropriate facilities are provided if masks are used at the workplace. This includes appropriate hand washing or sanitising facilities and a bin to dispose of used disposable masks.

Single use, disposable masks may be a good option for most workplaces. However, cloth masks may be considered if they are replaced frequently, and appropriate laundering arrangements are in place. Single use masks should not be washed and reused. 

Types of masks

Wearing masks helps prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. If the person wearing the mask is unaware that they are infected with COVID-19 virus, wearing a mask will reduce the chances of them passing the virus on to others. 

Masks and respirators provide the wearer with differing levels of protection from inhaling the virus. It is important to understand the different type of masks and the level of protection they provide, to ensure the appropriate mask is used for your workplace setting. 

Cloth and utility masks are not medical grade masks and provide the wearer the least protection from viruses carried in respiratory droplets and aerosols. However, they can still help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. 

Surgical masks are medical grade masks that must comply with the relevant national standards (or equivalent). They are graded as level 1, 2 and 3 based on the level of protection, or fluid resistance, they provide the wearer. Surgical masks help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus and provide greater protection from infection for the wearer.

P2/N95 respirator masks that are designed for medical use must comply with the relevant national standards (or equivalent). They are required when there is a high-risk of exposure to body fluids, respiratory droplets and aerosols in higher-risk workplace settings such as health care, aged care and disability sectors, quarantine, police and security.

Surgical and P2/N95 respirator masks for medical use are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your surgical or P2/N95 respirator mask is approved for medical use.

P2/N95 masks intended for non-medical purposes, such as in construction and other industrial workplace settings, are not medical grade and are not regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

For more information and guidance about using masks in health and aged care settings can be found on the Infection Control Expert Group and Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care websites. 

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has also published advice and recommendations for health care professionals on the use of surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and the types of face masks that are regulated as medical devices

For further information see our Comparison of mask types for COVID-19 web page.

What are cloth masks? How should they be used? 

A cloth mask is a non-sterile, reusable mask covering the nose and mouth to create a physical barrier between the wearer and the environment. Cloth masks are not medical grade masks and are not regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. When cloth masks are properly constructed and fitted correctly, they help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. They may also provide some protection to the wearer from inhaling the virus.

A cloth mask can be made with one type or a combination of fabrics including washable woven and non-woven fabrics such as cotton, cotton/synthetic blends, polyesters and breathable, spun bond polypropylene. The effectiveness of a cloth mask to prevent spreading respiratory droplets will vary, depending on the thickness of the weave and the number of layers. They should be properly constructed with the appropriate fabrics and have a minimum of three layers

A scarf or bandana or any other single layer cloth mask does not provide effective protection from spreading the COVID-19 virus and is not recommended.

Cloth masks can be purchased from pharmacies, supermarkets, retail and online suppliers or homemade

Cloth masks are not recommended for high-risk COVID-19 settings but may be suitable for indoor or outdoor settings where there is a low-risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus. 

How to put on a cloth mask

  • Before putting on the mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Hold the mask by the side straps and place a loop around each ear.
  • Put the mask over your mouth, nose and chin.
  • Check there are no gaps on the sides of the mask.
  • Check the ear loops do not cross-over as this widens the gap between the face and mask.
  • Avoid touching and adjusting the front of the mask. This can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Avoid using the same mask continuously throughout the day.
  • Replace your mask regularly and when it becomes visibly soiled or feels damp. 

How to remove a cloth mask

  • Before touching and removing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Always use the side straps when removing the mask. 
  • Lean forward, lift the side straps over the ears and pull the mask away from your face.
  • Store used dry cloth masks in a clean plastic bag.
  • Avoid touching the front of the mask as this can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • After removing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Wash used cloth masks once a day.

Do not reuse a cloth mask the next day unless it has been washed.

Cloth masks should be washed once a day in the washing machine (water temperature at least 60 degrees), or handwashed using soap and the warmest appropriate water setting for the cloth. Dry the cloth mask in the clothes dryer or in fresh air. Store in a clean plastic bag. 

The Australian Government Department of Health has instructions on how to make your own cloth face mask, and how to wear and wash them.

What are utility masks? How should they be used?

A utility mask is a non-sterile, single use mask covering the nose and mouth to create a physical barrier between the wearer and the environment but does not achieve a close seal to the wearer’s face. When utility masks are fitted correctly, they help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. A utility mask looks similar to a surgical mask, however, utility masks are not medical grade masks and not regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. They may also provide some protection to the wearer from inhaling the virus, although the level of protection may not be that of a surgical mask.

Utility masks can be purchased from pharmacies, supermarkets, and online suppliers.

How to put on a utility mask

  • Before putting on the mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Check that the mask does not have tears, holes and the straps are not broken.
  • Identify the top of the mask (has a metal strip).
  • Hold the mask by the side straps and place a loop around each ear.
  • Put the mask over the mouth, nose and chin with the metal strip on the top of the nose.
  • Check there are no gaps between the face and mask.
  • Check the ear loops do not cross-over as this widens the gap between the face and mask.
  • Squeeze the metal strip across the top of the nose to create a seal.
  • Avoid touching and adjusting the front of the mask. This can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Avoid using the same mask continuously throughout the day. 
  • Replace your mask regularly during the day (every 3 to 4 hours) or when it becomes visibly soiled or feels damp. 

How to remove a utility mask

  • Before touching and removing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Always use the side straps when removing the mask. 
  • Lean forward, lift the side straps over the ears and pull the mask away from your face.
  • Avoid touching the front of the mask as this can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Dispose the used mask immediately into a closed bin.
  • After removing and disposing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

What are surgical masks? How should they be used?

A surgical mask is a non-sterile, single use, medical grade mask regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration that covers the mouth and nose but does not achieve a close seal to the wearer’s face. They can help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus to others

The Therapeutic Goods Administration advises that surgical masks do not provide the wearer complete protection from viruses in airborne droplets. However, they can help protect the wearer from splashes, large droplets and aerosols reaching their mouth or nose.

Surgical masks have different grades of filtration that must comply with the Australian Standards 4381:2015 and/or equivalent international standards. They are graded as level 1, 2 or 3 based on the level of protection and fluid resistance. The grading level would be clearly labelled on the packaging. Level 1 surgical masks are acceptable for general use/patient care and level 2 or 3 surgical masks are used when there is a higher risk of exposure to body fluids. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for surgical masks. This has resulted in poorly made and non-compliant masks entering the Australian market. See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your surgical mask is approved for medical use.

Surgical masks are available for purchase at pharmacies, supermarkets, and online suppliers, including manufacturers and suppliers of scientific equipment.

When using a surgical mask, ensure you always follow the manufacturer’s instruction for use. If you do not have these, see the general instructions below for how to put on a surgical mask.

How to put on a surgical mask 

  • Before putting on the mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser (or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Check that the mask does not have tears, holes and the straps are not broken.
  • Identify the top of the mask (has a metal strip) and the inside of the mask (usually the white side) towards the face. If available, read the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Hold the mask by the ear loops and place a loop around each ear.
  • Put the mask over the mouth, nose and chin with the metal strip on the top of the nose.
  • Check there are no gaps between the face and mask.
  • Check the ear loops do not cross-over as this widens the gap between the face and mask.
  • Squeeze the metal strip across the top of the nose to create a seal.
  • Avoid touching and adjusting the front of the mask. This can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Avoid using the same mask continuously throughout the day. 
  • Replace your mask regularly during the day (every 3 to 4 hours) or when it becomes visibly soiled or feels damp. 

How to remove a surgical mask

  • Before touching and removing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Always use the side straps when removing the mask. 
  • Lean forward, lift the side straps over the ears and pull the mask away from your face.
  • Avoid touching the front of the mask as this can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Dispose the used mask immediately into a closed bin.
  • After removing and disposing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

What are respirator masks? How should they be used?

A respirator mask is a P2/N95 (or equivalent) medical grade mask that provides protection against airborne contaminants such as viruses and bacteria in aerosols or respiratory droplets. P2/N95 medical grade respirator masks must meet the Australian/New Zealand Standards 1716:2021 and/or equivalent international standards and are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

P2/N95 respirators should form a very close seal around the nose and mouth and are recommended for use in high-risk workplace settings such as health care and quarantine sites.

Surgical P2/N95 respirators must meet the same performance requirements as a standard P2/N95 respirator but also meet the Standards for fluid resistance against bodily fluids, which may occur during high-risk medical procedures. Surgical P2/N95 respirators are also regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your P2/N95 respirator or surgical P2/N95 respirator is approved for medical use.

It is essential that a P2/N95 respirator is properly fitted to the wearer’s face by performing a fit test and fit check. 

Fit testing

The purpose of a P2/N95 respirator fit test is to match the correct size and style of the respirator to the individual. Fit testing of a P2/N95 respirator masks must be done in accordance with Australian/New Zealand Standard 1715:2009 and should be repeated each time a new style of P2/N95 respirator is used. A fit test can be carried out by a competent person, manufacturer, supplier, or service provider. A correct facial seal ensures that the respirator fits the individual’s face without gaps between the skin and the respirator that could allow respiratory particles to bypass the filter.

Fit testing methods are either:

  • Qualitative - relies on the individual’s ability to taste or smell a test agent. The chosen respirator should fit snugly on the face to create a seal, which can be checked by gently inhaling and exhaling. If the mask is not drawn towards the face, or there are air leaks around the face seal or nose, readjust the mask and repeat the fit test until no leaks can be felt.
  • Quantitative - requires using specialised equipment used by a trained operator to measure how much air leaks into the respirator.

Facial hair, including a 1-2-day beard growth, can affect the seal between the respirator and the wearer’s face. The face must be smooth and/or clean shaven to achieve a tight seal. NSW Health has published more information about facial hair and respirator fit.

The Infection Control Expert Group advises that a fit test does not guarantee that the chosen P2/N95 respirator will not leak during future use because of changes in facial shape. Therefore, a fit check should be done each time it is used. 

Fit checking

A fit check ensures the P2/N95 respirator fit the individual’s face snugly against the skin, creating a seal to minimise exposure to airborne biological particles. A fit check should be carried out each time a P2/N95 respirator is worn by gently inhaling. If the mask is not drawn in towards the face, or air leaks around the face seal, readjust the mask and repeat process or check for defects in the mask.

If available, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to carry out a fit check.

More information about P2/N95 respirators is available on the Infection Control Expert Group website.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for P2/N95 respirators for medical use. This has resulted in fake or non-compliant P2/N95 respirators entering the Australian market. See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your P2/N95 respirator is approved for medical use.

Read SafeWork NSW and WorkSafe Qld alerts about what to check to ensure that P2/N95 respirator meet the required standards and what to do if you come across one that is not fit for purpose.

How do I put on and remove a mask?

If a mask (single use or cloth mask) is going to be used at your workplace, your employer must provide you with instruction and training on how to use them safely. If you are also wearing gloves,  you will need to put on your mask before putting on the gloves. 

It is important to be mindful of how you put on, remove and dispose (e.g. single use mask) or store (e.g. cloth mask) your mask. Your mask may have been contaminated with the COVID-19 virus carries in respiratory droplets and aerosols. This is when you could accidently infect yourself or others.

When using masks, you should:

  • Have a consistent sequence so that this can become routine.
  • Take your time, don’t rush.
  • Always perform hand hygiene prior to putting on, after removing, and disposing or storing your mask.
  • Ensure your mask avoids contact with other surfaces when disposing or storing.

Follow all instructions for effective use of the mask that is provided by the manufacturer. If you do not have these, see instructions for how to use a:

  • cloth mask,
  • utility mask, 
  • surgical mask, or
  • P2/N95 respirator.

How to dispose of single use masks?

Single use, disposable masks can be disposed of with the general waste, preferably into a closed bin containing two bin liners to ensure the waste is double bagged. Double bagging minimises any exposure to the person disposing the waste. 

A closed bin is a bin with a fitted lid, preferably one that does not need to be touched to place the mask inside. A bin with a foot pedal or other hands-free mechanism to open the lid would be appropriate. Where a closed bin is not available, masks should be placed in a sealed bag before disposal into the bin. The sealed bag and a single bin liner are considered equivalent to double bagging. 

It is important to follow good hand hygiene after removing and disposing of your masks. Hands should be washed with soap and water for 20 seconds or cleaned with alcohol-based hand sanitiser containing at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol. 

For information about the disposal of masks in health care settings, you will need to refer to the Australian Government Department of Health and state and territory health authorities.

Can masks that are past their shelf-life date be used?

The Therapeutic Goods Administration provides advice on surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and recommends not using surgical masks that are past their shelf life. However, if there is low supply and high demand, these masks can be used if they are past their shelf life if: 

  • the ear loops, ties or bands are intact, and
  • there are no signs of visible damage.
  •  

Mental Health

WHS laws apply to managing risks to psychological (mental) health too. You have a duty to take reasonable care of your own health and safety, and to not adversely affect the health and safety of others.  

You need to follow any reasonable policies or directions your employer has put in place in response to COVID-19. This includes if you are working from another location, such as working from home. 

See also our mental health information for employers for details about their duties under WHS laws.  

What causes psychological injury? What are psychosocial hazards?

A psychosocial hazard is anything in the design or management of work that causes stress. Stress is the physical, mental and emotional reaction a person has when we perceive the demands of their work exceed their ability or resources to cope. Work-related stress if prolonged or severe can cause both psychological and physical injury. Stress itself is not an injury. 

For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced and increased a range of psychosocial hazards in the workplace, at a time when a range of other non-work related psychosocial risks are also occurring (uncertainty about future employment, social isolation etc.).  

Psychosocial hazards arising from COVID-19 include: 

  • Exposure to physical hazards and poor environmental conditions 
    • concern about exposure to COVID-19 at work 
    • poor management of WHS risks, lack of equipment and resources, such as insufficient appropriate PPE 
    • exposure to poor conditions such as heat, cold or noise in temporary workplaces 
  • Exposure to violence, aggression, traumatic events and discrimination 
    • increased work-related violence, aggression and incivility from patients, customers and members of the public  
    • serious illness or death of colleagues or clients e.g. nursing home deaths due to COVID-19 
    • racism, discrimination or stigma stemming from COVID-19 
    • self-isolation as a result of suspected workplace exposure
  • Increased work demand 
    • increased workloads e.g. supermarket home delivery drivers doing more deliveries and longer hours  
    • increased time at work e.g. additional shifts as production moves 24/7 to meet increased demands  
    • increased workload e.g. because of increased cleaning requirements or reduction of workers in workplace due to physical distancing requirements 
    • work required to adjust to rapid change e.g. buying new equipment or setting up new procedures 
  • Low support and isolated work 
    • working from home or isolation from others due to physical distancing or isolation requirements results in feelings of not being supported 
    • reduction in number of workers at workplace completing physical tasks to maintain physical distancing requirements 
    • failure (perceived or real) of employers not implementing new policies and procedure to address new working arrangements 
  • Poor workplace relationships 
    • increased risk of workplace bullying, aggression and harassment as pandemic continues 
    • workplace racism, discrimination, or stigma, including towards those that have had COVID-19 or are perceived to be a greater risk to others 
    • deterioration of workplace relationships as competing demands lead to less regular and effective two-way communication 
    • decreased opportunity for workplace social connections and interactions 
  • Poor organisational change management 
    • lack of planning as a result of the pace of the pandemic 
    • continual restructures to address the effects of COVID-19 and a corresponding failure to provide information and training, consult, communicate with or support workers (e.g. manufacturing companies making different products or redeploying staff to meet changes in demand) 
    • insufficient consideration of the potential WHS and performance impacts due to COVID-19 
  • Increased emotional distress 
    • limitations on workers offering the same assistance to colleagues or clients they normally would or witnessing others’ distress in situations where they can’t access their normal services or support e.g. a cancer ward in a hospital has restricted visitors to reduce the risk to patients. The nurses see their patients and family struggle with this isolation.  

I feel very anxious and stressed going to work, what should I do?

WHS laws cover risks to physical and psychological (mental) health. This is a stressful time for all Australians, and employers must do what is reasonably practicable to eliminate and reduce risks to workers and others at the workplace. 

Talk to your supervisor, health and safety representative (HSR) or human resources area about how risks in your workplace are being managed and risks that are causing you stress. Your employer must consult workers on risks and strategies to address them.  

Follow the policies and procedures your employers has put in place to manage the risks of COVID-19 such as good hygiene and physical distancing.  

Inform yourself of how you can help stop the spread – see also our information on COVID-19 or go to Department of Health’s COVID-19 information.   

A Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service, including information, online community forum and phone counselling service is being provided by Beyond Blue with funding from the Department of Health. 

Tips for managing stress from COVID-19:  

  • Talk to your supervisor, health and safety representative (HSR) or human resources area about anything in your work that is causing you stress 
  • Regularly check in with others about how you’re all going and maintain social connections where possible 
  • Stay informed with information from official sources and any information your employer puts out 
  • Engage with consultation on any risks to your psychological health and how these can be managed 
  • Access channels to support workplace mental health and wellbeing where appropriate, such as employee assistance programs. 

Non-work-related causes of stress

There are things that may cause you stress during COVID-19 which are not work related. Your employer doesn’t have a WHS duty for these things but if you feel comfortable discussing it with them they may be able to help you. For example, if you need to look after children or vulnerable family members you may be able to access flexible working arrangements such as changing your hours. 

By incorporating self-care activities into your regular routine, like going for a walk or socializing with friends, you give your body and mind time to rest, reset, and rejuvenate, so you can avoid or reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety. If your workplace has a mental health and wellbeing support program such as an employee assistance program you can also access these for support. Find more tips on the Black Dog Institute website

A Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service, including information, online community forum and phone counselling service is also being provided by Beyond Blue with funding from the Department of Health.  

How can risks to psychological health be managed?

Your employer should manage psychosocial risks in the same way as physical risks. See also our information on managing the physical risks of coronavirus and other WHS risks including work-related violence. 

The Infographic: Four steps to preventing psychological injury at work shows how the risk management process is applied to psychosocial risks and detailed guidance is available in Safe Work Australia's Guide: Work-related psychological health and safety: A systematic approach to meeting your duties.

Eliminating or minimising the physical risks will also help to manage many psychological risks.  

A Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service, including information, online community forum and phone counselling service is being provided by Beyond Blue with funding from the Department of Health.  

Other resources and support

Visit the following sites for information on caring for mental health: 

Non-WHS information and support 

You can also visit the following sites for information on caring for your mental health: 

Physical distancing

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 at least 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.

Do I have to maintain physical distancing in a client’s home?

Yes. The model Work Health and Safety laws apply even when the workplace is a private home or dwelling. The client’s home is a workplace when you are there to perform work.

You or your employer should talk to the client to ensure they understand the risks of COVID-19 and about the control measures you must implement – including physical distancing - to minimise the risk of exposing them and your worker to the virus. 

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

PPE

This page provides information about your obligations as a worker, and your employers’ obligations, under the model WHS laws and how these relate to the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the workplace. This includes information on whether the use of PPE for workers, including contractors and labour-hire, is a reasonably practicable control measure to manage the risks of COVID-19 at work. 

The use of PPE is only one control measure for COVID-19 that may be required under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws for your workplace. Your employer must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable control measures in your workplace such as encouraging or ensuring up to date vaccination, physical distancing and good hygiene to minimise the risks from COVID-19. Further information on other control measures is provided on this page.

You must comply so far is you are reasonably able with a reasonable instruction given by your employer about WHS matters (including about managing the risks of COVID-19). In addition to your obligations under the model WHS laws, you must also comply with any public health orders or directions made by governments that apply to you and your workplace. This guidance does not affect any obligations you may have regarding the use of PPE that apply under public health orders and directions.

This guidance does not change, remove or reduce any existing rights or obligations under the model WHS laws.

As Victoria has not adopted the model WHS laws, this guidance is not applicable to Victoria. Up-to-date guidance applicable to responding to COVID-19 in Victorian workplaces can be found on the WorkSafe Victoria website.

Personal protective equipment as a control for COVID-19

As a worker, you must take reasonable care for your own health and safety, and that of other persons who may be affected by your acts or omissions. You must comply, so far as you are reasonably able, with any reasonable instruction that is given by your employer so they comply with the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws. You must also cooperate with any reasonable policy or procedure that has been notified and provided to you.

Employers have a duty under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws to eliminate risks, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable. The hierarchy of control measures, ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest level of protection, is one way to eliminate and minimise the risks of COVID-19. In the hierarchy of control measures, PPE are a low-level control measure as they rely on human behaviour and supervision to ensure they are appropriately worn and used to help minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace.

PPE refers to anything used or worn to minimise risk to worker health and safety. Common types of PPE that can be used to protect against COVID-19 include:

Some states and territories have issued public health directions that require masks to be worn for specific activities and in certain workplaces. If public health directions are made, you must follow them. 

The type of PPE your employer may provide you, will depend on your type of workplace and the outcomes of their consultation with you and Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs; if any), and the workplace risk assessment. If PPE has been identified as a reasonably practicable control measure in your workplace, this must be provided at no cost to you. 

PPE can be a critical part of protecting workers against COVID-19, including when new COVID 19 variants emerge. However, even if you use PPE, to ensure you meet your duties under the model WHS laws and to minimise the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace, your employer must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures that would apply at your workplace, such as:

  • encouraging or ensuring up to date vaccination, where applicable,
  • ensuring workers do not come to work when unwell,
  • improving air quality,
  • practising physical distancing and adhering to density limits (check occupancy limits for the type of building and building standards),
  • relocating work tasks to different areas of the workplace, off-site or supporting workers to work from home,
  • practising good hygiene,
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance,
  • staggering workers’ start, finish and break times, and
  • reducing the number of situations where workers come into close contact, for example in lunchrooms and other shared spaces.

NOTE: This guidance is not intended to cover use of PPE in quarantine, health care, aged care and the disability sectors. More information about using PPE in these sectors can be found on the Australian Government Department of Health, Infection Control Expert Group and Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care websites

Does my employer need to consult with me about PPE? 

Your employer must consult with you and any HSRs about the control measures to put in place to manage the risks of COVID-19, including the use of PPE. Remember that prolonged use of PPE (e.g. masks, gloves, and eye protection) may cause physical discomfort, heat-related illnesses and psychological risks that should be considered during your employers’ consultation.

If available, your employer should provide you the manufacturer’s instructions provided with the PPE for correct use, storage, maintenance and when to replace the PPE.     

Even if certain types of PPE are no longer required under public health directions (e.g. use of masks), your employer still has a duty to consult with you, review the risks and implement all control measures that are required to ensure the risks of COVID-19 are minimised so far as is reasonably practicable. This may mean you continue to use PPE, such as masks, in your workplace to minimise the risks of COVID-19.

Does my employer need to provide PPE?

If, after consultation, your employer determines that PPE is a reasonably practicable control measure to minimise the risks of COVID-19, then your employer must provide them to you.

COVID-19 public health directions may also be issued by governments for workplaces to wear masks. If so, your employer must also provide PPE to you. It is important that you keep up to date with the public health directions that apply in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace.

Depending on your workplace (type of work, the workers and others who come into the workplace), PPE could include masks, gloves and eye protection (e.g. goggles, safety glasses or face shields). They  must also provide you with the appropriate training and instruction on how and when to put on, wear, remove, dispose of or clean and maintain (e.g. cloth masks, eye protection and screens) the PPE. 

If your employer has provided you with training and instruction about using PPE,  then you must comply with that training and those instructions. 

Your employer will also need to ensure that appropriate facilities are provided if PPE is used at the workplace. This includes appropriate hand washing or sanitising facilities and a bin to dispose of used disposable PPE.

Masks

Wearing masks helps prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. If the person wearing the mask is unaware that they are infected with COVID-19 virus, wearing a mask will reduce the chances of them passing the virus on to others. 

Some states and territories have issued public health directions that require masks to be worn for specific activities and in certain workplaces. If public health directions are made, you must follow them. 

Masks and respirators provide the wearer with differing levels of protection from inhaling the virus. It is important to understand the different type of masks and the level of protection they provide, to ensure you use the appropriate mask for your workplace setting. 

Cloth and utility masks are not medical grade masks and provide the wearer the least protection from viruses carried in respiratory droplets and aerosols. However, they can still help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. 

Surgical masks are medical grade masks that must comply with the relevant national standards (or equivalent). They are graded as level 1, 2 and 3 based on the level of protection, or fluid resistance, they provide the wearer. Surgical masks help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus and provide greater protection from infection for the wearer.

P2/N95 respirator masks that are designed for medical use must comply with the relevant national standards (or equivalent). They are required when there is a high-risk of exposure to body fluids, respiratory droplets and aerosols in higher-risk workplace settings such as health care, aged care and disability sectors, quarantine, police and security.

Surgical and P2/N95 respirator masks for medical use are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your surgical or P2/N95 respirator mask is registered for medical use.

P2/N95 masks intended for non-medical purposes, such as in construction and other industrial workplace settings, are not medical grade and are not regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

For more information and guidance about using masks in health and aged care settings can be found on the Infection Control Expert Group and Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care websites. . 

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has also published advice and recommendations for health care professionals on the use of surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and the types of face masks that are regulated as medical devices. . 

More information

Additional guidance about the different types of masks and how to use them is on the Safe Work Australia website.

Gloves

The use of gloves is generally not required for most workplaces and should not be a substitute for frequent hand washing. 

While gloves (such as single use or reusable) should still be used for some practices (e.g. food handling, cleaning, gardening and trades), frequently cleaning your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds will prevent the spread of COVID-19. If gloves are used, good hand hygiene (cleaning with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or washing your hands) should be performed before putting on and after removing gloves.

Single use gloves should not be re-used, and reusable gloves should not be shared between workers. Gloves should be changed frequently throughout the day, as they can become contaminated and pose a risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus, putting workers and others at risk. When a person wears gloves, they may touch surfaces contaminated with the COVID-19 virus which can be transferred to other objects and surfaces or their face.

Importantly, not all gloves are appropriate for every workplace setting. Non-medical grade gloves (including include gloves made of poly-vinyl chloride, latex, nitrile or neoprene) can provide protection against exposure to biological hazards. These gloves can be purchased from pharmacies, supermarkets, and suppliers and manufacturers (including online) of safety or scientific equipment. 

Allergies and skin sensitivities

Some people may have an allergy to latex. People with an allergy to latex usually develop symptoms within minutes of exposure to latex; but can also occurs hours later. Mild symptoms involve skin redness, rash, hives, or itching; more severe reactions may involve respiratory symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, and asthma (difficult breathing, coughing spells, and wheezing); and rarely, shock may occur although a life-threatening reaction is seldom the first sign of latex allergy.

Your employer should consider providing latex free options to eliminate the risk of latex allergies. If this is not reasonably practicable, you employer should consider alternative options such as non-powdered latex gloves to minimise the risk of latex allergies. 

Synthetic gloves such as nitrile or neoprene may be a suitable alternative to latex gloves if there are no sensitivity issues to the material. Some wearers may experience contact dermatitis on the skin after wearing nitrile or neoprene gloves. Symptoms may include the skin becoming cracked, red, blistered, thickened, dry or itchy. 

Vinyl gloves are another alternative to latex or nitrile gloves. However, vinyl gloves are less durable and can split more easily when worn. They can be worn underneath latex or nitrile gloves, although this may cause other skin irritations from sweating and lack of ventilation inside the glove. 

How to put on a pair of gloves

If you are wearing gloves, either disposable or multi-use, then you should follow the steps below: 

  • Before putting on a pair of gloves, remove jewellery and clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Ensure that hands are fully dry before putting on gloves.
  • Take out a glove from its box. 
  • Touch only the top/wrist edge of the glove and slide your fingers and hand into the glove.
  • Take out the second glove from its box with the gloved hand.
  • Touch only the top/wrist edge of the glove and slide your fingers and hand into the glove.
  • While working on a task, maintain good hygiene by not touching your face and cough or sneezing into your elbow. Monitor what you touch and replace your gloves frequently.
  • Replace your gloves each time you would wash or sanitise your hands.
  • After completing a task/activity, think about whether there is a risk that you’ve touched a potentially contaminated surface or object.
  • Remove, dispose and replace your gloves when necessary.

How to remove a pair of gloves

  • If you are wearing single use gloves, carefully remove the first glove by gripping at the wrist edge without touching the skin and pull downwards away from the wrist, turning the glove inside out and dispose it in a closed bin (see below for information on disposal).
  • With the un-gloved, bare hand, slide your fingers into the second glove and peel the glove downwards away from the wrist, turning the glove inside out and dispose it in a closed bin (see below for information on disposal).
  • dispose them in a closed bin (see below for information on disposal).
  • If you are wearing reusable gloves, remove, clean and store them according to the manufacturer’s instructions if available or your workplace policy.
  • After disposing single use gloves or storing reusable gloves, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

Eye protection

Eye protection, in the form of safety glasses, goggles and face shields, can be used as PPE for protecting against the risks of COVID-19. Eye protection can act as a physical barrier from splashes or sprays of body fluids and aerosol droplets. It may also prevent people from rubbing their eyes or touching their face and spreading the virus from their hands to their face and eyes.

Eye protection will not be required for many workplaces to minimise the risks of COVID-19.  However, it may be necessary for workers who have a higher risk of exposure to splashes or sprays of body fluids. For example, workers in health care, aged care, police, security, and quarantine settings. 

When eye protection is used, good hand hygiene practices (cleaning with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or washing your hands) should be performed before putting on and after removing eye protection.

Goggles or safety glasses

Goggles or safety glasses must be closely fitted with a wrap-around style and should meet Australian Standards (AS/NZS 1337.1:2010). Prescription glasses, contact lenses, and safety glasses that are not wrap-around, do not provide adequate protection against COVID-19 and should not be used as a control measure. 

Table 1 lists some advantages and disadvantages of using goggles and safety glasses as PPE for COVID-19.

Table 1: Advantages and disadvantages of using goggles and safety glasses*     

Advantages  

 Disadvantages
Are durable and reusable when appropriate cleaning procedures are followed. Wearing them for prolonged periods may increase the risk of skin injuries, particularly if they seal too tightly. 
Some types of safety glasses have a clear plastic lens with fog and scratch resistant treatment.  They do not stop the wearer from touching their mask or face. 
Prescription safety glasses may be ordered.    They may not be able to be worn over prescription glasses (depending on style).
They have a flexible frame to easily fit contours of the face.   They may become scratched over time and reduce visibility. 
They provide good eye protection by enclosing the eyes.  There is a higher risk of fogging. 

* Adapted from the Infection Control Expert Group Guidance on the use of PPE for health care workers in the context of COVID-19

Your employer must consult with you and any Health and Safety Representatives to help identify any work health and safety risks  when deciding if and what type of goggles or safety glasses may be required as part of your workplace control measures.

If your employer requires you to wear eye protection, they must also provide you with the appropriate training and instruction on how to use and clean them . 

More information

Our cleaning guide provides information on cleaning and disinfecting for PPE, including eye protection

Face shields

Face shields may be used as an alternative to goggles or safety glasses. A face shield is a clear plastic barrier that covers the face and eyes, extending to the ears on the sides and below the chin. 

Face shields can be single use or reusable and are generally recommended for use in health care or aged care settings where additional protection against splashes or sprays of body fluids and aerosol droplets is required. Face shields have gaps to the sides and to the bottom of the face shield that may allow viruses carried in respiratory droplets and aerosols to be released from an infectious person’s mouth and nose. 

The Infection Control Expert Group advises that face shields are to be worn with a mask underneath, to protect the person from inhaling the virus and prevent infectious people (if the person is unaware that they are infected) from spreading the COVID-19 virus onto others. They should also have an adjustable band to attach firmly around the head and fit snuggly against the forehead to ensure there is no gap between the wearer’s forehead and the shield’s headpiece.

Table 2 lists some advantages and disadvantages of using face shields as PPE for COVID-19.

Table 2: Advantages and disadvantages of using face shields*

Advantages    Disadvantages
Provides a broad and clear field of view.  Gaps on the sides and underneath the face shield may allow virus-contaminated respiratory droplets and aerosols to reach the eyes (or the nose and mouth if a well-fitted mask is not worn at the same time).
They provide additional protection to the face and mask from splashes or sprays of body fluids and aerosol droplets. Some face shields do not extend to the sides of head towards the ears. These are not as protective as other forms of eyewear. 
The wearer’s eyes can be seen more easily, which may help with communication with others.  Face shields may make communication more difficult by muffling the wearer’s voice, especially when used with a mask. 
There is less risk of fogging.   
The wearer is less likely to touch their face and mask.   

    
* Adapted from the Infection Control Expert Group Guidance on the use of PPE for health care workers in the context of COVID-19

Your employer must consult with you and any Health and Safety Representatives to before deciding if face shields are an appropriate COVID-19 control measure. 

If your employer determined that face shields are required to minimise the risks of COVID-19, they must also provide you with the appropriate training and instruction on their use and maintenance, including cleaning. 

More information

The Australian Government Department of Health has published a Coronavirus (COVID-19) face shields – a quick guide, which explains how to safely use face shields.

Our cleaning guide provides more information on cleaning and disinfecting for PPE, including eye protection.

Screens

Many businesses have chosen to protect workers by installing screens (also known as sneezes guards), commonly constructed from acrylic.

Screens can be considered at workplaces where workers are in close proximity to each other for long periods or for workers serving customers/patients (e.g. retail stores, supermarkets, pharmacies and doctor’s surgeries). 

Screens come in many different sizes and shapes and can be custom made for the workplace. Generally, they have a space cut out to allow for exchange between the worker and a member of the public, with the screen covering the upper half of the body and head. 

If your employer is considering installing a screen, they need to ensure that the screen is fit for purpose and provides adequate protection to you from droplet spray while allowing you to work safely. Your employer should also consider whether the screen would protect you from aerosol transmission and the effects of the screen on ventilation in the workplace. 

Your employer must consult with you and any Health and Safety Representatives to help identify any work health and safety risks that may affect you. Completing a risk assessment will assist your employer in deciding if and what kind of screen is appropriate as part of your workplace control measures. Be aware that installing a screen or multiple screens around a worker may result in communication difficulties between persons, and limiting or obstructing a worker’s movements which may cause physical discomfort and psychological risks. These should be discussed as part of the consultation process.

Your employer must also provide appropriate training and instruction to you if they decide to install them. 

Screens should be cleaned and disinfected in the same manner as other frequently handled objects or surfaces. Our cleaning guide provides more information on cleaning and disinfecting, including for specific surfaces. 

How do I handle and dispose of single use PPE?

It is important to be mindful of how you dispose of your PPE. Your PPE may have been contaminated with the COVID-19 virus carried in respiratory droplets and aerosols. When removing and disposing single use PPE, this is when you could accidently infect yourself or others.

When disposing your PPE, you should:

  • Have a consistent sequence so that this can become routine.
  • Take your time, don't rush.
  • Always perform hand hygiene prior to removing any PPE from your face (e.g. masks) and after disposing any PPE.
  • Ensure your PPE avoids contact with other surfaces when disposing.

Single use PPE can be disposed of with the general waste, preferably into a closed bin containing two bin liners to ensure the waste is double bagged. Double bagging minimises any exposure to the person disposing the waste. 

A closed bin is a bin with a fitted lid, preferably one that does not need to be touched to place the PPE inside. A bin with a foot pedal or other hands-free mechanism to open the lid would be appropriate. Where a closed bin is not available, PPE should be placed in a sealed bag before disposal into the bin. The sealed bag and a single bin liner are considered equivalent to double bagging. 

It is important to follow good hand hygiene after removing and disposing of your PPE. Hands should be washed with soap and water for 20 seconds or cleaned with alcohol-based hand sanitiser containing at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol. 

Rapid antigen testing

This page provides information about employers’ obligations under the model WHS laws and how these relate to COVID-19 rapid antigen testing. This includes guidance on whether a COVID-19 rapid antigen testing program (RAT program) for workers, including contractors and labour-hire, is a reasonably practicable control measure to manage the risks of COVID-19 at work.

A RAT program is only one control measure for COVID-19 that may be required under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws for workplaces. Your employer must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable control measures in your workplace such as encouraging vaccination, physical distancing and good hygiene to minimise the risks from COVID-19. Further information on other control measures is provided on this page.

You must comply so far is you are reasonably able with a reasonable instruction given by your employer about WHS matters (including about managing the risks of COVID-19). In addition to your obligations under the model WHS laws, you must also comply with any public health orders or directions made by state and territory governments that apply to you and your workplace. This guidance does not affect any obligations you or your employer may have regarding rapid antigen testing that apply under public health orders and directions.

This guidance does not change, remove or reduce any existing rights or obligations under the model WHS laws.
As Victoria has not adopted the model WHS laws, this guidance is not applicable to Victoria. Up to date guidance applicable to responding to COVID-19 in Victorian workplaces can be found on the WorkSafe Victoria website (www.worksafe.vic.gov.au).

Your employer has a duty under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws to eliminate, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks of COVID-19 at work so far as is reasonably practicable. Your employer also has a duty to consult workers (including contractors and labour-hire personnel) and their health and safety representatives, regarding COVID-19 risks and how these risks are to be managed. This includes the introduction of WHS or other workplace policies relating to COVID-19 rapid antigen testing (RAT) of workers and RAT programs. 

A RAT program may assist in identifying people who are infectious with COVID-19 and to minimise the risks of COVID 19 at the workplace, however, it is not the only relevant control measure. Even if  your employer determines that a RAT program is reasonably practicable for your workplace, it should not be relied on in isolation. To meet their duties under the model WHS laws and minimise the risks of COVID-19, your employer must continue to apply all reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures, such as:

  • encouraging or ensuring vaccination, where applicable,
  • ensuring workers do not come to work when unwell, 
  • ensuring workers do not come to work if they have tested positive for COVID-19 unless they have been released from isolation by the relevant public health authority,
  • ensuring physical distancing in the workplace and adhering to density limits. For example:
    • supporting workers to work from home or relocating work tasks to different areas of the workplace or off-site, 
    • staggering workers’ start, finish and break times, 
    • reducing the number of situations where workers come into close contact, for example in lunchrooms and other shared spaces,
  • improving air quality,
  • practising good hygiene,
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance, 
  • wearing masks correctly.

How should your employer determine if a rapid antigen testing program is a reasonably practicable control measure in your workplace?

To minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace, your employer must:

  • undertake a risk assessment for their business  
  • consider the effectiveness of available control measures and how they will help manage the risks of COVID-19, including rapid antigen testing
  • consult with you and your health and safety representatives about COVID-19 and relevant control measures, including rapid antigen testing, including providing you with relevant information and materials about testing to assist your understanding of the issues. (More information on consultation obligations is available on the consultation page), and determine what control measures are reasonably practicable to implement in your workplace (more information on the meaning of reasonably practicable is available on the risk assessment page).

When determining whether a control measure is reasonably practicable under the model WHS laws, consideration must be given to several factors: 

  • likelihood of risk occurring
  • degree of harm that might result
  • what the person conducting the business should reasonably know about the risks and how to minimise them
  • availability of and suitability of ways to minimise risk, and 
  • after assessing the extent of the risk and the available ways of eliminating or minimising the risk, the costs associated, including whether the cost of implementing a  control measure is grossly disproportionate to the risk. 

Whether a particular control measure is reasonably practicable, such as a RAT program for your workplace, will depend on the circumstances of your particular workplace, and the workers, at the time your employer undertakes their risk assessment. Access to a reliable supply of rapid antigen tests approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) will be a relevant consideration when determining if a RAT program is currently a reasonably practicable control measure for your workplace. 

Your employer should consider how a rapid antigen testing program might operate in their risk assessment, including whether the testing would occur at the workplace or outside of the workplace. 

If your employer concludes (following a risk assessment undertaken in consultation with you and your health and safety representatives (if any)) that implementing a RAT program is necessary to minimise the risks of COVID-19 at your workplace (and would be reasonably practicable), they will again need to consult with you and your health and safety representatives about the proposed testing program. 

As a worker, you must take reasonable care of yourself and not do anything that would adversely affect the health and safety of others at work. You must also follow any reasonable health and safety instructions from your employer as far as you are reasonably able. If your employer decides to implement a RAT program (after conducting a risk assessment and consulting with workers and their HSRs), you must comply with the program so far as you are reasonably able.

More information on conducting a risk assessment is available on the risk assessment page. It is important to note that in some jurisdictions, workplaces are required to develop COVID-19 safety plans under public health directions and orders. Information on COVID-19 safety plans is available from government agencies in your jurisdiction.

When determining whether a RAT program is a reasonably practicable control measure, your employer should take into account:

  • Are rapid antigen tests available? If there are no limitations on availability or supply, this may mean it is more likely to be reasonably practicable.
  • How likely is it that workers will be exposed to the COVID-19 virus? This includes for front line workers considering the extent of community transmission of COVID-19 where the workplace is located and the number of people workers will be in contact with, which will increase their likelihood of contracting the virus. If community transmission is high, the risk to those workers is higher than for places of low community transmission. This may mean implementing a RAT program is more likely to be reasonably practicable.
  • Do workers work with people who would be vulnerable to severe disease if they contract COVID-19? If yes, this may mean employers should implement control measures to reduce the likelihood of workers exposing vulnerable persons to infection, such as by using a RAT program.
  • What is the likelihood that COVID-19 could spread in the workplace? For example, some work tasks may require workers to work in close proximity to each other, to customers or members of the public. If it is high, this may mean that employers should implement control measures to reduce the likelihood of those workers either catching the virus from others, or transmitting the virus to others, such as by using a RAT program
  • What RAT tests will be used? How accurate are they in detecting COVID-19 in asymptomatic workers? How likely are false positive results in workers without COVID-19? Currently, there is variability in the performance of different RATs. 
  • Would a requirement to be tested at the workplace be unlawful in the circumstances? If yes, the model WHS laws would not require employers to implement a RAT program. 
  • The design of a testing program, which may include: 
    • who will be tested, 
    • how often will workers be tested, 
    • where testing will occur (e.g. at home or at the workplace), and
    • processes in place to manage a positive result. 

If you need information on COVID-19 and Australian workplace laws, go to the Fair Work Ombudsman website: Fair Work Ombudsman - Coronavirus and Australian workplace laws.

What rapid antigen test kits can be used?

Only rapid antigen tests that are approved by the TGA are permitted for use in Australia. Both ‘point-of-care’ (for use under medical practitioner, health practitioner or paramedic supervision) and ‘self-tests’ (for use without supervision) have been approved by the TGA.

A list of kits approved for self-testing and instructions on how to use the kits is available here. The TGA has also published a fact sheet on self-testing.

The TGA has also developed guidance for businesses considering implementing rapid antigen point-of-care testing in their workplace.

You should follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific test kit and follow state and territory public health orders or directions in relation to reporting results.

If you test positive, your employer must respect your privacy and not reveal your personal details to others. For more information on privacy, go to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner website.

Can I be required to purchase my own rapid antigen tests?

No. Employers have a duty under the model WHS laws to eliminate, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks of COVID-19 at work so far as is reasonably practicable. 

If your employer determines (after consultation) that rapid antigen testing is required, then they must provide the TGA-approved tests at no cost to you. 

Resources and support

It is normal to feel stressed during this time. Talk to your employer about your concerns as they may have an employee assistance program that can help you.  

You can also contact the following services:  

Other information and services to help you if you’re affected by COVID-19 

Fair Work Ombudsman

WHS regulator and workers’ compensation authority contacts 

General state and territory COVID-19 information 

Risk assessment

Your employer must take a planned and systematic approach to identify and manage health and safety risks to meet their WHS duties and keep you healthy and safe at work.

To do this, your employer will need to undertake a risk assessment that involves considering what could happen if someone is exposed to a hazard (for example, COVID-19) and the likelihood of it happening.  As part of the process, your employer must consult with you and other workers to determine what control measures should be put in place in your workplace.

A risk assessment will help your employer to determine:

  • how severe a risk is
  • whether any existing control measures are effective
  • what action they should take to control the risk, and
  • how urgently the action needs to be taken.

A risk assessment will also assist your employer to:

  • identify which workers are at risk of exposure to COVID-19
  • determine what sources and processes are causing the risk
  • identify if and what kind of control measures should be implemented, and
  • check the effectiveness of existing control measures.

What are the steps to doing a risk assessment?

This risk management process is illustrated by the four steps in the diagram below. For information on how your employer should undertake a risk assessment, see the content under the employer tab. You can also read more about the risk assessment process in the model Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks. The model Code provides practical guidance about how to manage WHS risks through a risk assessment process.

The risk management process
Figure 1. The risk management process

I have some health issues. Will my employer have to take my personal situation into account when doing a risk assessment?

Yes. Some workers are at greater risk of more serious illness with COVID-19 and your employer must take this into account as part of the risk assessment process. See also our information on vulnerable workers.

Does my employer have to consult me when they do a risk assessment?

Yes. Your employer must consult with you and any health and safety representatives at each step of the risk management process. Your experience, knowledge and ideas will assist your employer to identify all hazards and choose effective control measures. See also our information on Consultation. 
 

Training

The model WHS laws include requirements for workers to complete specified training and assessment before they can undertake certain work or roles, including: 

  • First aid training 
  • Health and Safety Representative (HSR) training 
  • Construction Induction training (i.e. White Card) 
  • High Risk Work training and assessment  
  • Asbestos Assessment or Removal training, and 
  • WHS entry Permit Holder training.  

The COVID-19 pandemic is significantly impacting the ability of Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) to deliver face-to-face training. Although WHS laws do not specify how training must be delivered, in practice, most WHS regulators require training be delivered ‘face-to-face’.  

To address training impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, WHS regulators have agreed national guidance on WHS training and assessment, including delivery methods.  

Changes in training delivery methods have been agreed for First Aid training, HSR training and Construction Induction (White Card) training. 

No changes have been made to High Risk Work training and assessment, Asbestos Assessment or Removal training and WHS Entry Permit Holder training. Training and assessment must still be completed face-to-face, acknowledging this may not be possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

How can training be delivered?

Changes in training delivery methods have been agreed for First Aid training, HSR training and Construction Induction (White Card) training. 

First aid training

No compliance action will be taken by WHS regulators in relation to the first aid training requirements in regulation 42 of the model WHS Regulations where first aid training is not available because of COVID-19. 

The Australian Industry Skills Council has also released guidance on the delivery of first aid training

Health and Safety Representative (HSR) training

HSR training may be delivered via Connected real-time delivery.   

Construction Induction (White Card) training

White Card training may be delivered via Connected real-time delivery. Tasmania will continue to allow online delivery of White Card training. In Western Australia (WA), Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) are required to deliver White Card training consistent with the Standards for Registered Training Organisations 2015 (Standards). During the COVID-19 pandemic, provided RTOs deliver White Card training to candidates located in WA in accordance with the Standards, there is no need to apply to WorkSafe WA in relation to connected real-time delivery. 

RTOs may be required to apply for and obtain WHS regulator approval to deliver training via the connected real-time delivery method. Guidance for RTO proposals for connected real-time delivery can be found in fact sheet General Construction Induction (White card) Training – Guidance for RTO proposals for connected real-time delivery.  

What is “connected real-time delivery”? 

  • Live video streaming/conferencing using platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Teams  
  • Involves real-time interaction between learner and trainer  
  • Provides for active participation of learners and trainers  
  • Verification of learner Evidence of Identity (EOI) can be done one-on-one (or face to face) via video conference  
  • Direct observation or verbal assessment can be undertaken for all assessment components.  

Are there limitations on delivery of connected real-time training?

Training must involve real-time interactions between the learner and trainer and must include one-on-one (or face-to-face) training and assessment interaction. The training must not: 

  • be delivered entirely via an online learning management system through portals 
  • include a pre-training requirement 
  • include self-paced learning  
  • include pre-recorded trainer videos or teaching course content including educational videos showing workplaces (e.g. construction sites).  

What about delivery methods for the remaining training and assessment?

There will be no change to the delivery method for the following:  

  • High Risk Work training and assessment, 
  • Asbestos assessment or removal training, and 
  • WHS entry permit holder training.  

Training and assessment for these courses must be completed face-to-face, which may not be possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Will all WHS regulators follow the agreed positions on training delivery methods?

The Commonwealth, state and territory WHS regulators are responsible for enforcing compliance with WHS training and assessment in their own jurisdiction.  

Although national positions on the delivery of WHS training have been reached, some minor administrative variations may still exist between WHS regulators. You should contact your WHS regulator if you have any questions regarding the delivery of WHS training and assessment. If your business operates in more than one jurisdiction, you may need to contact more than one WHS regulator.  

Find contact details for the WHS regulators

Is it possible agreed training delivery methods may be revisited or change?

Yes. WHS regulators will continue to consult and adapt to changing circumstances based on Government directives and Health advice.  

Vaccination

Your employer has a duty under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws to eliminate, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable. 

A safe and effective vaccine is an important part of keeping the Australian community safe and healthy. However, a vaccinated person may still unknowingly carry and spread the virus to others around them, including workers and others in their workplace. Because of this, your employer must continue to apply all other reasonably practicable control measures to minimise the risks of COVID-19, such as:

  • ensuring workers do not come to their usual place of work when unwell, 
  • ensuring workers do not come to their usual place of work if they have tested positive for COVID-19 unless they have been released from isolation by the relevant public health authority,
  • ensuring physical distancing in the workplace and adhering to density limits (check occupancy limits for the type of building and building standards). For example:
    • supporting workers to work from home or relocating work tasks to different areas of the workplace or off-site, 
    • staggering workers’ start, finish and break times, 
    • reducing the number of situations where workers come into close contact with others, for example in lunchrooms and other shared spaces,
  • improving air quality
  • practising good hygiene,
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance, and
  • wearing masks.

This page provides information on your rights and obligations under the model WHS laws in relation to the COVID-19 vaccines. You can also contact your WHS regulator, health and safety representative (HSR) or worker organisation for assistance. 

If you need information on your rights and obligations under workplace relations laws, such as your leave entitlements, go to the Fair Work Ombudsman website.  

COVID-19 vaccination program

The Australian Government is committed to providing all Australians with access to free, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. While the Government aims to have as many Australians as possible choose to be vaccinated, receiving a vaccination is voluntary. You should get the recommended COVID-19 vaccine, including booster doses, if you can. If you have any concerns, you should discuss these with your doctor. 

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) guidance on the definition of ‘up to date’ vaccination status for COVID-19 and the latest advice on booster doses is available on their  website.

Information about Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination program is available on the Department of Health and Aged Care website

State and territory health agencies may make public health orders or directions that require some workers to be vaccinated. If public health orders or directions are made, you must follow them. You should stay up to date with the advice of your local government health agency.

Information on public health orders and directions that are in place in different jurisdictions can be found on the Safe Work Australia public health orders page.  

How the COVID-19 vaccines work

A person who is vaccinated against COVID-19 is much less likely to suffer serious health effects from the virus if they catch COVID-19. 

Safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are only one part of keeping the Australian community safe.  However, a vaccinated person may still unknowingly carry and spread the virus to others around them, including workers and others in their workplace. Because of this, your employer must continue to apply all other reasonably practicable control measures, such as:

  • ensuring workers do not come to work when unwell, 
  • ensuring workers do not come to work if they have tested positive for COVID-19 unless they have been released from isolation by the relevant public health authority,
  • ensuring physical distancing in the workplace and adhering to density limits (check occupancy limits for the type of building and building standards). For example:
    • supporting workers to work from home or relocating work tasks to different areas of the workplace or off-site, 
    • staggering workers’ start, finish and break times, 
    • reducing the number of situations where workers come into close contact with others, for example in lunchrooms and other shared spaces,
  • improving air quality
  • practising good hygiene,
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance, and
  • wearing masks.

The COVID-19 situation is evolving. Your employer must continue to assess the risks and review the control measures to ensure they continue to be effective.

Immunity after vaccination reduces over time. It is important that you are up-to-date with your COVID-19 vaccinations. This includes any booster doses recommended by ATAGI

For more information on how the COVID-19 vaccines work, go to the Department of Health and Aged Care website.

Can I be forced to get a vaccine?

You cannot be forced to be vaccinated or undergo any medical procedure against your will. 

However, in some cases, employers may lawfully require workers to be vaccinated to perform work or to undertake certain tasks in a workplace, including where there is a public health order or direction which requires vaccination or where the employer has determined, in consultation with workers (and HSRs, if any), vaccination to be a reasonably practicable control measure to minimise the risks of COVID-19 at your workplace.

If you are a worker who cannot be vaccinated, and you work at a workplace that requires vaccination, you should talk to your employer, HSR or worker organisation about your options. For example, your employer may agree that you can perform your work from home. For information about your workplace rights you can also talk to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

If you cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons or due to a personal attribute protected under Australian anti-discrimination laws, for example due to a disability, you can seek further information from the Australian Human Rights Commission about your rights.

Can my employer require me to be vaccinated against COVID-19 under WHS laws?

All Australians are being encouraged to choose to be vaccinated. 

The COVID-19 vaccines available for use in Australia can prevent you from experiencing serious health effects of COVID-19, if you catch the virus. However, a vaccinated person may still unknowingly carry and spread the virus to others around them, including workers and others in their workplace. 

The model work health and safety laws require your employer to do what is reasonably practicable to protect workers from the risks of COVID-19. 

Your employer may decide that vaccination (including booster doses) is a necessary control measure to protect workers and others from the risks of COVID-19 at the workplace. Your employer must have conducted a risk assessment to determine whether vaccination is a reasonably practicable measure.  

Vaccination will not always be a reasonably practicable measure to minimise the risks of COVID-19. However, it is likely that vaccination will be a reasonably practicable measure your employer may implement to minimise the risks of COVID-19 at the workplace if you are required, as part of your role, to:

  • interact with people with an increased risk of being infected with COVID-19 (for example, health care workers treating COVID-19 patients),
  • have close contact with people who are more likely to develop serious illness from COVID-19 (for example, health care or aged care workers),
  • interact with other people such as customers, other employees or the public (for example, stores providing essential goods and services) where there is a high level of community transmission, or
  • work in a situation where there are factors that could change the severity of COVID-19 if you were to become infected (e.g., delayed access to healthcare). 

However, even though vaccination is available to all workers, this does not necessarily mean it is reasonably practicable for businesses to require vaccinations in their workplace or for all of their workers. Whether it is reasonably practicable should be determined based on a risk assessment and needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Before your employer makes a decision about requiring vaccination, they have an obligation to consult with workers, and any HSRs before any decisions are made. Your employer must also consult with workers, and any HSRs, about their assessment of the WHS risks of COVID-19 and their control measures to eliminate or minimise those risks so far as is reasonably practicable.

As a worker, you must be given a genuine opportunity to express your views and to raise issues, and to contribute to the decision-making process relating to the decision to introduce a vaccination policy.

If your employer does require you to be vaccinated, they should provide you with relevant information and materials, including a copy of the workplace risk assessment for COVID-19, so that you can make an informed decision about vaccination. You should talk to your doctor if you have any concerns. 

More information on the vaccines is available from the Department of Health and Aged Care website. You can also contact your WHS regulator, HSR or worker organisation for assistance.

There may also be specific public health orders or directions in your state or territory that require you to be vaccinated (including booster doses) in order to perform certain types of work. If this is the case, you and your employer must comply, and your employer does not need to consult with you before following a public health order or direction. However, your employer should discuss with you what the orders require and what you and your employer need to do to comply with the order or direction

Although your employer must comply with public health orders and directions (including any regarding vaccination), your employer must still consult with workers and their HSRs (if any) about what they are doing to identify and manage the risks of COVID-19 to keep workers safe in the workplace. 

If you cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons or due to a personal attribute protected under Australian anti-discrimination laws, for example due to a disability, you can seek further information from the Australian Human Rights Commission about your rights.

What about my duty as a worker under WHS laws? Does this mean I have to be vaccinated?

As a worker, you must take reasonable care of yourself and not do anything that would adversely affect the health and safety of others at work. You must also follow any reasonable health and safety instructions from your employer as far as you are reasonably able.

For example, if you have any COVID-19 symptoms, you should get tested and not attend work until you have a negative test result or have been released from isolation. Further information on pay, leave and stand downs can be found at the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website. 

If there is a law or public health order or direction in place which requires you to be vaccinated, for example because you work in a certain industry, you may need to be vaccinated to work, or continue to work, in that industry. Your employer may also require you to be vaccinated in order to minimise the risks of COVID-19 at your workplace.

If your employer does require you to be vaccinated, they should provide you with relevant information and materials, including a copy of the workplace risk assessment for COVID-19, so that you can make an informed decision about vaccination. You should talk to your doctor if you have any concerns. 

Some workers may not be able to be vaccinated for medical reasons. Further information on this is available on the Department of Health of Aged Care website. If you cannot be vaccinated due to a personal attribute protected under Australian anti-discrimination laws, for example due to a disability, you can seek further information from the Australian Human Rights Commission about your rights.

For more information on the COVID-19 vaccines, go to the Department of Health of Aged Care website. You can also contact your WHS regulator ,HSR or worker organisation for assistance.

Can I be dismissed from my job or penalised if I decide not to be vaccinated?

The Fair Work Ombudsman provides information and advice to employers and employees on workplace entitlements and obligations under Australian workplace laws. For more information go to the Fair Work Ombudsman website

If your employer implements a mandatory vaccination policy and you decide not to be vaccinated, your employer may agree that you can perform your work from home or that you can perform your duties differently to reduce the risks of COVID-19 (depending on the industry you work in or the type of work you do). This will be a matter of negotiation between you and your employer.

If you cannot be vaccinated due to a personal attribute protected under Australian anti-discrimination laws, for example due to a disability, you can seek further information from the Australian Human Rights Commission about your rights.

Does my employer have to consult with me before requiring vaccination at my workplace?

If your employer is considering introducing a mandatory vaccination policy in your workplace under the model WHS laws, they must consult with you and your HSR, if any, before taking any action. Your employer must give you an opportunity to share your ideas and express any concerns about the proposed vaccination policy and take them into account. You should let them know if there is a reason why you cannot be vaccinated. 

Under the model WHS laws, employers are required to discuss and listen to workers concerns before making decisions. If there are consultation procedures in place at your workplace, the consultation must be carried out in accordance with the consultation procedures.

There may also be specific public health orders or directions in your state or territory that require you to be vaccinated in order to perform certain types of work. If this is the case, you and your employer must comply, and your employer does not need to consult with you before following a public health order or direction. However, your employer should discuss with you what the orders or directions require and what you and your employer need to do to comply. More information is available on the public health orders page. Your employer must also consult with you about what they are doing to identify and manage the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace.

More information is available on the Safe Work Australia consultation page.

What do I do if I have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines?

The Australian Government is committed to ensuring Australians have access to safe and effective vaccines. Any COVID-19 vaccine can only be used in Australia if the Therapeutic Goods Administration has approved it through its rigorous approvals process. More information on the approvals process is available on the Department of Health and Aged Care website.

If you still have concerns about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, you should talk to your doctor. 

I’m pregnant – can I be vaccinated?

Vaccination is recommended for people who are pregnant. Specific advice on COVID-19 vaccination for those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning pregnancy is available on the Department of Health and Aged care website.

I will not be able to be vaccinated because of a medical condition. What should my employer do?

A safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination is only one part of keeping the Australian community safe. However, a vaccinated person may still unknowingly carry and spread the virus to others around them, including workers and others in their workplace. Because of this, your employer must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable control measures in your workplace, such as:  

  • ensuring workers do not come to work when unwell, 
  • ensuring workers do not come to work if they have tested positive for COVID-19 unless they have been released from isolation by the relevant public health authority,
  • ensuring physical distancing in the workplace and adhering to density limits (check occupancy limits for the type of building and building standards). For example:
    • supporting workers to work from home or relocating work tasks to different areas of the workplace or off-site, 
    • staggering workers’ start, finish and break times, 
    • reducing the number of situations where workers come into close contact, for example in lunchrooms and other shared spaces with others,
  • improving air quality
  • practising good hygiene,
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance, and
  • wearing masks.

Your employer must also consider whether, because of your circumstances, particular working arrangements (for example, working from home) need to be put in place for you, for example, if you have a disability (within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992) and are more vulnerable to COVID-19 or are unable to be vaccinated. Your employer should take into account your specific circumstances, the nature of your workplace and the type of work you do.

More information can be found on the Safe Work Australia vulnerable workers page and on the Australian Human Rights Commission website.  Further information on alternative work arrangements can be found on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website. If you cannot be vaccinated due to a personal attribute protected under Australian anti-discrimination laws, for example due to a disability, you can seek further information from the Australian Human Rights Commission about your rights. 

I am vaccinated. Do I still have to take other precautions such as physical distancing, wearing masks and frequently washing my hands?

Yes. Safe and effective vaccines (including boosters) are only one part of keeping the Australian community safe and healthy. It is important that you continue to take the following steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • follow the public health orders and directions in your state or territory,
  • don’t attend work when you are unwell, have COVID-19 symptoms or have been told to stay at home by health officials (e.g., you are required to quarantine or have been tested for COVID-19 and are awaiting your test result),
  • do all you reasonably can to work safely, including implementing the controls your employer has put in place under their Work Health and Safety policy for COVID-19 such as physical distancing and cleaning processes and procedures,
  • follow training and instructions your employer has provided to you (e.g., about how to wash hands thoroughly),
  • ask if you’re not sure how to safely perform the work,
  • use personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves in the way you were trained and instructed to use it, and 
  • report any unsafe situations (e.g., a lack of soap in the bathroom) to your supervisor or to your HSR.

Your employer is required to make sure everyone in your workplace keeps implementing COVID-19 control measures even after vaccination targets have been reached.

If you cannot implement a control measure due to a personal attribute protected under Australian anti-discrimination laws, for example due to a disability, you can seek further information from the Australian Human Rights Commission about your rights.

Can my employer ask me for proof that I am vaccinated? 

If you are required under a public health order or direction to be vaccinated or your employer has implemented a mandatory vaccination policy at your workplace, they may ask you to confirm your vaccination status and request evidence that you have been vaccinated. Also, some public health orders and directions can give an employer the right, and in some cases the obligation, to ask relevant employees for vaccination evidence and require the employees to provide such evidence. They may also be required to pass that evidence to a third party, such as the occupier of a premises where work is to be undertaken.

More information about workplace privacy is available on the Fair Work Ombudsman website or the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner website.

The Fair Work Ombudsman provides information and advice to employers and employees on workplace rights and obligations under Australian workplace laws. For more information on COVID-19 vaccinations and workplace rights and obligations go to the Fair Work Ombudsman website

Am I entitled to workers’ compensation if I get COVID-19? 

Under workers’ compensation laws you may be entitled to workers’ compensation if you contract COVID-19 out of or in the course of your employment. Workers’ compensation laws differ in each state and territory, so contact your workers’ compensation authority if you need advice.  Some workers’ compensation laws presume that, for some categories of worker, a COVID-19 diagnosis is directly attributable to work for the purposes of workers’ compensation.

Contact details and more information on workers’ compensation is available on the Safe Work Australia workers’ compensation page


Adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine

If you have an adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine, you may be covered by workers’ compensation, in some circumstances. The adverse reaction must amount to an ‘injury’. Minor and temporary side effects such as headache, fever or fatigue are unlikely to be compensable. 

For an ‘injury’ to be a compensable injury under workers’ compensation law, there must also be the necessary connection with employment, that is, the injury must arise out of or in the course of your employment. In some cases, employment must also be a significant contributing factor to the injury. 

Each state and territories workers’ compensation laws are different, so you should seek advice from your workers’ compensation authority if you believe that you have suffered an injury from a COVID-19 vaccine related to your employment.

COVID-19 vaccine claims scheme

The Australian Government has implemented a claims scheme to compensate people who suffer a moderate to significant impact following an adverse reaction to a Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved COVID-19 vaccine and who suffer financial loss as a result (such as medical costs or lost wages). The scheme covers the costs of losses or expenses $1,000 and above due to administration of a TGA approved COVID-19 vaccine or due to an adverse event that is recognised to be caused by a COVID-19 vaccination.

An entitlement to compensation under this scheme does not require any connection between the adverse reaction and your employment. More information about the scheme is available here: COVID-19 vaccine claims scheme.

Vulnerable workers

Some people are at greater risk of more serious illness with COVID-19:  

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years and older with one or more chronic medical conditions 
  • People 65 years and older with one or more chronic medical conditions 
  • People 70 years and older, and 
  • People with compromised immune systems 

These categories may increase or vary depending on the latest evidence. See Department of Health website for further information.   

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee advice is that there is limited evidence at this time regarding the risk in pregnant women and so, at present, pregnant women are not included on the vulnerable workers list. 

What to do

You should follow the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee for vulnerable people in the workplace.  

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee advises that: 

  • Where vulnerable workers undertake essential work, a risk assessment must be undertaken. Risk needs to be assessed and mitigated with consideration of the characteristics of the worker, the workplace and the work. This includes ensuring vulnerable people are redeployed to non-customer-based roles where possible. Where risk cannot be appropriately mitigated, employers and workers should consider alternate arrangements to accommodate a workplace absence. 

I am a vulnerable person. Do I have to stop working?

Not necessarily. To ensure your safety in the workplace, your employer must first conduct a risk assessment taking into account your specific characteristics, the nature of your workplace and the type of work you do. For example, if your job involves extensive interaction and contact with other people, your employer may require you to perform a different role not involving close contact with other people during the pandemic or to work from home. 

If your employer is unable to appropriately minimise the risk of you contracting COVID-19, they will need to consider other options in consultation with you to arrange your absence from the workplace, including paid leave. 

I am a vulnerable person. Will my job need to change?

Not necessarily. If your job involves frequent interaction with the public or extended close contact with co-workers your employer may consider if it is possible for you to perform your current role in a different way, for example, working from home. They may also talk to you about performing a different role at this time if that would eliminate or minimise any close contact with others. 

Your employer must consult with you about any new arrangements and allow you to express your preferences and any concerns. The Model Code of Practice: Work Health and Safety Consultation, Cooperation and Coordination contains more information about what your employer must do to consult with you. 

If you are a vulnerable person working in a role where the risks of contracting COVID-19 can be minimised, taking into account all the relevant circumstances, your job may not need to change. However, your employer will require you to take all necessary precautions to keep yourself safe such as maintaining good hygiene and not coming to work if you are unwell. 

I am a vulnerable person. Can my employer require me to take leave during the COVID-19 pandemic?

There is no automatic requirement for you to have to take leave from your workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, your employer must identify and manage risks to your health and safety at the workplace and consider if your job increases your risk of exposure to the virus. For example, your employer may explore the option for you to work from home or talk with you about moving into a different role during the pandemic. 

If the risks to your health and safety at the workplace cannot be effectively managed, your employer may consult with you about alternate arrangements such as taking leave. 

Your employer must allow you to continue to access available entitlements, including leave, under the relevant enterprise agreement, award, contracts of employment and workplace policies. If you are unsure of your workplace entitlements, you can contact the Fair Work Ombudsman

Work-related violence

Workplace violence and aggression can be any incident where a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. 

Workplace violence and aggression may include: 

  • physical assault such as biting, scratching, hitting, kicking, pushing, grabbing, throwing objects 
  • intentionally coughing or spitting on someone 
  • sexual assault or any other form of indecent physical contact, and 
  • harassment or aggressive behaviour that creates a fear of violence, such as stalking, verbal threats and abuse, yelling and swearing and can be in person, by phone, email or online. 

Violence and aggression might come from your customers or clients. But it can also come from other workers or businesses your work with. It could also come from family and domestic violence if this affects a worker while working (including working from home).  

If you are experiencing family and domestic violence, please go to the Family and domestic violence information.  

Racial discrimination may also increase in the form of individual acts of aggression, or collective forms such as targeting a group of workers of a particular nationality or ethnicity.    

There may also be stigma around, and the potential for violence or aggression towards, people who have had COVID-19, or those who seem to be acting inconsistently with public health requirements.   

WHS duties

Your employer has a duty to ensure that workers and others are not exposed to risks to their health and safety, including from violence and aggression in the workplace. Your employer must eliminate or minimise these risks as much as they reasonably can. 

You also have a duty to take reasonable care of your own health and safety, and not adversely affect the health and safety of yourself or others. This includes following any reasonable instruction given by your employer to comply with a health and safety duty. 

Managing the risks of workplace violence

Your workplace should have measures in place to ensure the health and safety of workers and customers from workplace violence and aggression. Go to the Employer tab for more information. 

However, your workplace might also introduce new measures or make changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts this has had on your workplace or business operations. While there may not have been a violent incident in your workplace before, the risks may have increased due to the unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

You employer must identify and manage these risks and they must consult with you in doing so. You are most likely to know about the risks of your work and can help identify situations where there is a risk of violent behaviour.  

You should tell your employer about these situations so they can put the appropriate measures in place to manage risks to your health and safety.  

Responding to incidents of violence and aggression

How you respond to workplace violence and aggression will vary depending on the nature and severity of the incident. 

You should be trained in what to do during a violent incident, such as: 

  • use calm verbal and non-verbal communication  
  • use verbal de-escalation and distraction techniques  
  • seek support from other workers  
  • ask the aggressor to leave the premises or disconnect the aggressor from the phone call
  • set off a duress alarm, if available  
  • alert security personnel or the police  
  • retreat to a safe location.  

Immediately after a violent incident, you should:  

  • ensure that everyone is safe  
  • provide first aid or urgent medical attention where necessary  
  • seek support where required, including psychological support  
  • report what happened, who was affected and who was involved. 

You can report your concerns about violent or aggressive behaviour at your workplace to your supervisor, human resources area, or the person designated by your organisation. You can also get advice from your employee assistance program if you have one. 

Further information and resources 

For further information: 

Workers' compensation

As a national policy body, Safe Work Australia does not have a role in determining a worker’s coverage or eligibility for benefits in workers’ compensation schemes, or for managing workers’ compensation claims and return to work programs for injured workers. All workers’ compensation arrangements are the responsibility of the Commonwealth, and each state and territory (jurisdictions). 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, workers’ compensation authorities across the jurisdictions are providing additional information for workers, employers, medical and health practitioners and others. 

For general guidance relating to your jurisdiction or advice on your particular circumstances, please refer to the information provided by your workers’ compensation authority. Seek specific advice from that authority if further information is needed. See workers’ compensation authorities for details.

Am I covered by workers’ compensation if I get COVID-19? 

You may be. 

Workers’ compensation arrangements differ across jurisdictions, however generally to be eligible for compensation a worker will need to: 

  • be covered by their workers’ compensation scheme, either as an employee or a deemed worker, 
  • have contracted the COVID-19 virus out of or in the course of their employment. 

It may be difficult to establish the time and place of your contraction of COVID-19 and therefore its connection to your employment.  

In some industries (e.g. health care), and in some circumstances (e.g. in the course of your employment you travelled to a high-risk area) it will be easier to establish a connection between your employment and the contraction of COVID-19.  

Your workers’ compensation authority will determine whether you are covered by their scheme and if the contraction of COVID-19 was adequately connected to their employment. They will consider each claim on its merits, with regard to the individual circumstances and evidence. 

Am I covered by workers’ compensation if I am injured while working from home? 

If you sustain an injury while working from home, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation. 

Workers’ compensation arrangements differ across jurisdictions, however generally to be eligible for compensation a worker would need to: 

  • be covered by their workers’ compensation scheme, either as an employee or a deemed worker, 
  • have an injury or illness of a kind covered by the scheme, that arose out of or in the course of their employment. 

Your workers’ compensation authority will determine whether you are covered by their scheme and your injury or illness was adequately connected to your employment. They will consider each claim on its merits, with regard to the individual circumstances and evidence. 

Am I covered by workers’ compensation if I lose my job due to my workplace closing? 

Workers’ compensation does not compensate a worker for the loss of a job due to COVID-19 related workplace closures.  

Workers’ compensation arrangements differ across jurisdictions, however generally to be eligible for compensation a worker will need to: 

  • be covered by their workers’ compensation scheme, either as an employee or a deemed worker, 
  • have an injury or illness of a kind covered by the scheme, that arose out of or in the course of their employment. 

If you have an existing workers’ compensation claim and your workplace closes, you and your employer should refer to information provided by, and seek advice from, your workers’ compensation authority about your particular circumstances. See workers’ compensation authorities for details.

Other financial support may be available to you if you have lost your job. Refer to the Australian Government’s Economic Response to the Coronavirus and also go to Staying informed about COVID-19 for links to other sources of information such as Services Australia and the Australian Tax Office. 

Will my existing workers’ compensation claim and return to work arrangements change due to COVID-19? 

It is possible that COVID-19 restrictions may impact aspects of your recovery and return to work.  

You and your employer should refer to information provided by, and seek advice from, your workers’ compensation authority on your particular circumstances. See workers’ compensation authorities for details.

What other support is available for me? 

Individuals may be eligible for financial support. Refer to the Australian Government’s Economic Response to the Coronavirus and also go to Staying informed about COVID-19 for links to other sources of information such as Department of Health, Services Australia, and the Australian Tax Office. 

Workers' rights

You are entitled to: 

  • elect a health and safety representative (HSR) if you wish to be represented by one 
  • request the formation of a health and safety committee 
  • cease unsafe work in certain circumstances 
  • have health and safety issues at the workplace resolved in accordance with an agreed issue resolution procedure, and 
  • not be discriminated against for raising health and safety issues. 

Health and safety representatives (HSR) 

You can ask your employer to facilitate the election of one or more HSRs for the workplace.  

An HSR is elected by a work group (e.g. all workers in the office part of a manufacturing complex, or all people on the night shift) to represent the health and safety interests of the work group. An HSR must be a member of the work group they represent). There can be as many HSRs and deputy HSRs as needed after consultation, negotiation and agreement between workers and the PCBU.  

Your employer must keep a current list of all HSRs and deputy HSRs for the workplace and display a copy. A list must also be provided to the WHS regulator. 

Right to stop work

In some circumstances, workers, or their HSRs have the right to refuse to carry out or stop unsafe work. They have this right if there is a reasonable concern that the worker will be exposed to a serious risk to their health and safety from an immediate or imminent hazard. This could include exposure to the COVID-19 virus.   

If you stop work because it is unsafe, you need to tell your employer as soon as possible. You must also then be available to carry out suitable alternative work, including doing other tasks that you are trained or able to do, or performing your work from another location, such as working from home. 

In most circumstances, your HSR will need to consult with your employer before they direct you to, and you can, stop work.  

Right not to be discriminated against

You should raise any concerns you have about work health and safety (WHS) in your workplace with your employer – including in relation to the COVID-19 virus. Your employer can not discriminate against or disadvantage you for raising work health and safety concerns in the workplace.  

Your employer also cannot discriminate against or disadvantage HSRs in the workplace for performing their HSR role.  

Who can help?

If you feel you have been discriminated against for raising a WHS issue, or because of your role as an HSR, please contact your WHS regulator or the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94. 

If you are a member of a trade union or employee association, they may also be able to help you.

If you feel you have been discriminated against on other grounds, you may prefer to raise your concerns with the Australian Human Rights Commission on 1300 656 419 or your relevant state or territory anti-discrimination body. 

Working from home

The nature of the work involved in your industry may impact your ability to access working from home arrangements, as well as how these arrangements are set up. If you are unsure how the information below applies to you, talk to your employer or contact your WHS regulator. 

The model WHS laws still apply if workers work somewhere other than their usual workplace, for example, from home.

To support you while working from home your employer, in consultation with you and your representatives should:

  • identify work health and safety risks and appropriate control measures
  • allow you to borrow any necessary work station equipment from the office to take to the home as agreed 
  • require you to familiarise yourself and comply with workplace policy and procedures, for example by having a workstation self-assessment checklist that includes how to set up your computer workstation. If you identify any issues or concerns when completing the checklist, you should discuss these with your employer
  • provide you with a health and safety checklist to use to ensure you have a safe work space
  • maintain regular communication with you and your co-workers 
  • provide access to information and support for mental health and wellbeing services (Beyondblue has a freely available website, or your employer may provide an employee assistance program (EAP) you can access), and
  • appoint a contact person in the business that you and your co-workers can talk to about any concerns related to working from home

Your employer must consult with you, other affected workers and any HSRs on working from home arrangements. 

You also have a duty as a worker to take care of your own health and safety and follow reasonable health and safety policies, procedures and instructions put in place by your employer. This may include:

  • following procedures about how the work is performed
  • following instructions on how to use the equipment provided by the workplace
  • maintaining a safe work environment (for example moving furniture to allow adequate workspace and providing adequate lighting, repairing broken steps)
  • keeping equipment safe, well maintained and in good order
  • looking after your own in-home safety (for example maintaining electrical equipment, keeping a first aid kit and installing and maintaining smoke alarms)

You must also advise your employer of any risks that you are aware of that arise from you home working environment. These risks could be physical risks, like poor lighting, or psychosocial risks, like long working hours, high work demands and reduced support from managers and colleagues. 

Any WHS issues raised with your employer must be resolved in accordance with the WHS issue resolution process in your workplace. Further information about consultation and dispute resolution can be found in the Model Code of Practice: WHS consultation, cooperation and coordination and the Worker Representation and Participation Guide.

Can I work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic?

You should check the latest advice from official sources in your state or territory regarding working from home in response to COVID-19.

Whether working from home is a reasonably practicable measure at your workplace will depend on the specifics of the work you do, the facilities available for you to work remotely and the ability for you to do your work effectively and safely from home. It will also depend on the level of risk from COVID-19 in your community and how effectively your employer can manage the risks from COVID-19 in your workplace through other control measures (for example through physical distancing).

Under the model WHS laws, your employer has a duty of care for the health and safety of workers and others at your workplace. This duty extends to identifying and managing the risks of exposure to the COVID-19 virus and putting appropriate controls in place.  

If work can be completed at home, and the risks that arise from working remotely can be effectively managed, your employer may determine that encouraging or directing you to work from home is the best way to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

In assessing whether you should be working from home, your employer must take into account that vulnerable people are, or are likely to be, at higher risk of serious illness if they contract COVID-19. Vulnerable people include: 

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years and older with one or more chronic medical conditions
  • people 65 years and older with chronic medical conditions. Conditions included in the definition of ‘chronic medical conditions’ will be refined as more evidence emerges. 
  • people 70 years and older, and
  • people with compromised immune systems.

As public health conditions change, any working from home arrangement your employer put in place in response to COVID-19 may also vary. 

As with all work health and safety matters, employers must consult with you and any elected HSRs in relation to returning to the normal workplace.  

Mental health risks and working from home

The COVID-19 pandemic is a stressful and uncertain time for all Australians. Working from home, particularly for the first time, can create additional psychosocial risks.

The WHS duties apply to both physical and psychological (mental) health. This means that employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure the mental health of their workers and protect their workers from psychosocial risks while they are at work. 

Working from home can have psychosocial risks that are different to the risks in an office or your regular workplace. A psychosocial hazard is anything in the design or management of work that causes stress. Stress in itself is not an injury, but if prolonged or severe it can cause both psychological and physical injuries. Some psychosocial hazards that may impact your mental health while working from home include:

  • being isolated from managers, colleagues and support networks
  • less support, for example workers may feel they don’t have the normal support they receive from their supervisor or manager
  • changes to work demand, for example the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and a move to working at home may create higher workloads for some workers and reduced workloads for others
  • low job control
  • fatigue
  • poor environmental conditions, for example an ergonomically unsound work station or high noise levels, and
  • poor organisational change management, for example workers may feel they haven’t been consulted about the changes to their work.

Working from home may also impact your mental health in other ways, such as from changed family demands. For example, home schooling children who are learning from home, relationship strain or family and domestic violence.

More information is available about managing mental health risks on the Safe Work Australia website.

How can I take care of my mental health while working from home?

The mental health of workers either directly or indirectly affected by COVID-19 is an important consideration. Some people may be struggling to deal with feelings of uncertainty, stress and anxiety, and others may be adjusting to self-isolation or working from home.

While self-isolation and working from home is an important measure that many workers and workplaces are taking to slow the spread of COVID-19, these measures can also lead to feelings of loneliness.

Workers have a duty to take reasonable care of their health and safety, including their psychological health and safety. Where possible, you must follow reasonable instructions from your employer on health and safety matters.

Some strategies that may help you to look after your mental health while working from home include:

  • keeping a routine, such as by having regular start and finish times and taking regular breaks
  • setting boundaries between your work and home life, for example setting aside a work area in part of your house, wearing ‘work clothes’ when you are working, discussing boundaries with the people you live with
  • taking care of your mental and physical health outside of work, such as by getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising regularly, staying connected to family and friends (in line with physical distancing requirements), spending time outside, reducing your alcohol intake
  • staying connected with your managers and co-workers, for example scheduling regular team meetings via phone, email or videoconferencing, and
  • identifying and minimising distractions in your home.

You should contact your employer if you start feeling stressed or that your mental health is being negatively impacted by your work from home arrangement. Your employer has a duty to ensure your psychological health just like your physical health while you are working so they need to be aware if something is stressing you or you have any concerns. 

Some organisations engage organisations to provide Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). If your organisation has an EAP it may be appropriate to contact them to discuss your situation. Your workplace EAP may be able to provide you with useful information and strategies to assist you. 

Further resources

Who is responsible for ensuring that I have a safe workstation set up when working from home?

Under the model WHS laws, employers have a duty of care for the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace. This includes working from home arrangements.

Workers also have a duty to take care for their own health and safety, which includes while working from home, and must follow any reasonable policies or directions their employer gives them. 

This means employers and workers both share responsibility for ensuring a safe workstation set up. 

Employers should:

  • provide you with information on how to identify and address common risks associated with working from home. Information may include guidance on what is a safe home office environment, what a suitable computer station set up looks like with equipment available, and why keeping active when working from home is important for health and wellbeing
  • provide a workstation self-assessment checklist for you to complete, and
  • consider allowing you to borrow equipment, such as chairs, monitors, keyboards and mouses, from the office or reimburse them reasonable costs for purchasing any required equipment.

You must follow reasonable policies or directions of your employer. This may include completing workstation checklists and following any other reasonable safety policies and directions given to you by your employer. As with any other work environment, you must inform your employer of any work-related incidents or injuries that occur while working at home and you are encouraged to report health and safety concerns to your employer and HSR.

How do I set up a workstation at home?

When working from home, the model WHS laws still apply. Just as in the office, your workstation must be set up in a way that is safe, comfortable and easy to use. 

A workstation that is set up incorrectly can create poor postures leading to injury and eye strain. The length of time that you sit in these postures also adds to the risk for injury and health problems associated with long periods of sitting.

What you need to do to set up a safe workstation depends on the work you do, your environment and your individual needs. You have a duty to take care for your own health and safety while working from home and must follow any reasonable policies or directions your employer gives you about setting up your home-based workstation. You should also refer to any relevant advice from the WHS regulator in your state or territory.

If you have concerns about the safety of your home workstation set up, talk to your employer or your HSR. Your employer has a duty to manage any health and safety risks that arise out of your workstation set up, as far as is reasonably practicable.

You may find Safe Work Australia’s - How do I set up a workstation at home guide helpful. This resource includes a checklist of tasks and activities to consider when setting up your workstation.

Am I entitled to equipment to enable me to work safely from home? 

To make sure you have a safe workstation set-up, your employer may allow you to borrow equipment, such as chairs, monitors, keyboards and mouses, from the office or they may offer to reimburse you reasonable costs for purchasing any required equipment. 

You should discuss these options with your employer or consult your workplace policy about working from home. If you require equipment, you should discuss what equipment is needed with your employer to safely carry out your work. 

If your employer is unable to be satisfied that a safe workstation can be created at your home, it may not be reasonably practicable for you to work from home. In these circumstances, alternative arrangements may need to be made. This could include setting up a safe office space for you in the office and/or establishing flexible work hours to minimise contact between you and other workers in the office.

I am working from home and caring for, and educating, my school aged children who are unable to attend school. What can I do to ensure that I balance my work life, with my family life, and ensure that I take breaks and work reasonable hours? 

Good communication between employers and their workers is especially important when workers are working from home. You should ensure that you are aware of any working from home and carers policies that relate to your workplace including, for example, flexible work arrangements. You may also wish to discuss your entitlements to caring and other leave with your employer and flexibility in working hours where possible. Further information on leave entitlements is available on the Fair Work Ombudsman website

You may also find Comcare’s information sheet for parents and carers helpful.

I am finding working from home stressful and it is negatively impacting my mental health. What should I do and where can I find support?

Good communication with your employer and colleagues is especially important when you are working from home. You should share any concerns that you have about your working from home arrangement with your employer as they may be able to assist. 

Some organisations engage organisations to provide Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). If your organisation has an EAP it may be appropriate to contact them to discuss your situation. Your workplace EAP may be able to provide you with useful information and strategies to assist you. 

There are a range of resources available to workers to support workers' mental health. These include:

There are also a number of other practical steps that can help. These include:

  • maintaining daily communication with colleagues
  • staying informed with information from official sources and sharing relevant information with other workers 
  • accessing flexible work arrangements, where available, and
  • effectively disengaging from work and logging off at the end of the day.

It is also open to you to discuss with your employer whether it is an option for you to return to your usual workplace. 

You can also call the National Coronavirus Helpline for information and advice about COVID-19 on 1800 020 080.

I have contracted COVID-19 while working from home, what should I do? 

If you have been found to have COVID-19 you must follow the health advice provided by your treating clinician and public health authority. You should also notify your employer of your circumstances as soon as practicable, even if you have been working from home. 

You will need to discuss personal leave arrangements with your employer, if necessary, and may be asked to inform your employer if you have been in contact with any other workers while you were infectious.

You must not return to the workplace until you provide advice that you are fit for work. If you have COVID-19 but are asymptomatic whether you can continue to work from home will be something to discuss with your treating clinician. Your employer will likely require that you provide medical certification to return to work, in accordance with the latest health requirements.

If you have not been confirmed as having contracted COVID-19, and rather you have been in quarantine for the required 14 days (due to contact with a confirmed case, or returning from overseas travel), you should not need to provide evidence that you have tested negative for COVID-19 in order to return to work, following the 14 day quarantine. 

When can I return to the workplace?

When you will be allowed to return the workplace will depend on current Government advice, including about physical distancing requirements at workplaces, and advice from your employer about when it is safe to do so. Your employer may implement measures to ensure a safe transition back to the workplace. This may include measures to maintain appropriate physical distancing, in line with the latest Government advice. 

If your workplace is open to access by workers, and you are having difficulties adjusting to working from home, you should consult with your employer about whether you can undertake work from your workplace. Whether this option is available for your workplace will depend on the physical distancing requirements for your workplace, as well as your workplace’s policy for managing workers to work from home or the office during COVID-19.  

I like working from home, can I keep doing it?

Whether you will need to return to your usual place of work after a period of working from home will depend on a number of factors, including any working from home policies that apply.

As public health conditions change, working from home arrangements made by your employer in response to COVID-19 may change. 

Your employer must consult with you about returning to the workplace and ensure return to work arrangements are consistent with public health requirements. Your employer must also consider the risks to workers when they return to their usual workplace and, in consultation with you and your representatives, how to eliminate and control those risks.

Beyond work health and safety considerations there are a range of flexible working arrangements that employers and workers can explore together that may suit their individual needs and circumstances. More information is available about workplace rights and responsibilities in relation to the COVID-19 virus on the Fair Work Ombudsmen Coronavirus and Australian Workplace Laws webpage. 

Where can workers get more information on working from home?

Comcare

New South Wales

Queensland

Victoria

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

Western Australia

Family Violence Resources (not COVID-19 specific)