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Essential workers’ rights to workplace safety during the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19)


While many industries have suffered due to the COVID-19 outbreak, others such as warehousing, distribution, retail (including grocery stores), telecommunications, healthcare, and government organisations are seeking huge numbers of new employees to meet increased demand.

Whilst some of these roles require a specific level of experience, training or certification, a lot of these newly created or increased number of jobs do not. This is leading to a large number of potentially inexperienced staff arriving in new workplaces, trying to learn quickly on the job. It is important for employers to consider how best to maintain the health and safety of their staff through this transition period.

What does COVID-19 mean for workplace health and safety?

Many industries are experiencing increased pressures owing to the coronavirus pandemic, including:

  • unprecedented increase in demand for products; such as grocery chains, pharmacies and other medical product suppliers;
  • reduced timeframes for providing a service; such as trucking and logistics industries or for warehouse workers;
  • gaps in teams due to team members needing to self-isolate or care for family members; or
  • an increase in the number of new staff who may not have the same level of experience or training as usually required.

Despite these challenges, under Work Health and Safety laws, employers still have a duty of care for the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace, which includes:

  • providing and maintaining a work environment that is without risk to health and safety, and
  • providing adequate facilities for workers in carrying out their work.

Increased responsibility for employers to ensure safe workplaces

In addition to following the government’s guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19 (click here for Safe Work Australia’s COVID-19 information for workplaces), employers must also:

  • ensure all new staff members receive the appropriate level of training required for their position;
  • have set processes and safety measures in place to make sure staff don’t have to take shortcuts to meet increased demands and tighter deadlines; and
  • ensure employees are following standard safety procedures as well as the new measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Your obligations as an employee:

Despite many workers experiencing job uncertainty due the current climate, it is still your responsibility as an employee to take reasonable care of yourself, and not do anything that would impact the health or safety of others in your workplace. It is important that you:

  • perform your role as safely as possible;
  • follow the instructions, training and processes as outlined by your employer;
  • ask for further training or information if you’re not sure how to perform the work;
  • use personal protective equipment (PPE) in the way you were trained and are required to use it; and
  • report injuries, unhealthy or unsafe situations to your manager or workplace health and safety officer.

Shine Lawyers – we’re here to help

If you have been injured on the job due to insufficient training, inadequate health and safety procedures or unreasonable performance requirements, you may have a claim for compensation. Shine Lawyers have dedicated workers compensation teams around Australia who can help you to understand your legal entitlements and to make a claim. Contact us today to find out more or book an obligation-free appointment.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: April 9, 2020.

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