Do I need Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) during the COVID-19 lockdown?

Whether you do or don’t is dependent on a number of factors so please read carefully to understand where your obligations lie.

If an enterprise is paying WorkCover premiums then by default it must also meet the requirements of each state’s Health and Safety Act it operates in.

  1. Who is deemed a worker? A worker is classified as anyone an enterprise has directed to do a task, regardless as to whether they are being paid or not for doing it. A member of the public is NOT a worker, unless the enterprise, or a person authorised by the enterprise, directs that person to do a task to further or maintain the interests of the enterprise. At that point the member of the public is classified a worker.
  2. Our enterprise is no longer open to the public so do we need to worry about WHS? Although the public are not a part of your WHS obligations you will need to contact your WorkCover provider and explain your enterprise’s situation. If WorkCover agrees to freeze or stop your WorkCover payments then you can also freeze your WHS obligations.
    If your WorkCover provider will not freeze your payments after pleading your case then it’s because they have deemed one or more of your workers are still working (on your books). If this is the case then your enterprise is obligated to look after their health and safety.
  3. What if the government is paying the wages of our workers? Health and safety obligations is not tied to remuneration, it is tied to work as per item No.2.
  4. Our enterprise is much safer now that everyone is working from home. No, they’re not. Over 50% of all accidents happen in the home compared to around 8% in the workplace. Working from home is far more dangerous than at work.
  5. What if a worker is forced to self-isolate? As I write this the insurance industry is frantically rewriting the laws. As it stands, an enterprise is responsible for both the HEALTH and safety of its workers regardless of where they are working from. So yes, at the moment an enterprise could be responsible for a worker contracting COVID-19 at home.

It’s ironic that during one of the greatest health crises in the modern world businesses are forced to send their workers to the most unsafe environment in the world, home.

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