If you’re a business owner, you’re responsible for not only your own and your family’s health and safety but also those of your dedicated employees and the customers you serve. Coronavirus workplace safety is important. Your workplace must accommodate new measures and protocols that eliminate or minimise hazards and risks raised by COVID-19 and remain aware of regulations and any government advice meant to encourage safe and fair work practices at every alert level. The last thing you want is for a super-spreader event to be traced back to your place of business.
It will be impossible to look back on history and not remember the year 2020 as one of the most difficult periods in recent history. The unprecedented challenges posed by the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, continue to have global health consequences that impact all sectors and aspects of society. Even after a year, many countries around the world are struggling to lower new peaks in cases of infection or are preparing to face their worst days yet.
Although New Zealand has contended well against the spread of the virus through effective, nationwide strategies and quarantine efforts, like the rest of the world, we must face a new normal. With 65.7 million active cases and 1.51 million recorded deaths worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over and, even after an effective vaccine is prepared, its distribution to all and immunity-building will take many weeks, if not months. We must all learn to live and work safely with the virus while keeping the most vulnerable among our population protected.
Let’s go over some of the general coronavirus workplace safety recommendations that you must implement at your workplace under Alert Levels 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Coronavirus Workplace Safety Alert Level 1: Prepare
This alert level indicates that the pandemic is contained in New Zealand, and the risk of exposure to the virus and its transmission is low. As such, restrictions and legal requirements placed on businesses, services, and individuals are the least rigid. As of October 2020, New Zealand has been at Alert Level 1.
With that being said, risks still remain: COVID-19 is uncontrolled overseas, and sporadic imported cases, as well as isolated local transmission, can still occur domestically.
Workplaces are required, by law, to display official QR codes for the NZ COVID Tracer app, which enables people to keep records of their movements and who they’ve engaged with. Note that this requirement applies across every single alert level.
In addition, businesses are encouraged to follow and exercise the following public health guidelines:
- Advise people showing possible symptoms of COVID-19 to stay home and away from public premises: Clearly indicate to your customers through signage that people with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 may not enter your place of business. The same rule applies to employees: Ask those who are sick to stay home and establish flexible accommodations and arrangements so that they can either work productively from home or stay rested until they fully recover without feeling financially pressured to return to work prematurely.
- Provide facilities and supplies that allow both customers and employees to regularly wash and dry their hands: If hand-washing stations such as bathrooms are limited, then supply ample amounts of hand sanitizers at work stations and in communal spaces.
- Frequently clean and disinfect surfaces using an antiviral disinfectant: COVID-19 can live on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for up to 72 hours. Be sure to focus your cleaning particularly on counters, payment terminals, and other high-touch surfaces.
- Supply a sufficient amount of tools and resources to prevent people from sharing supplies: Where practical, provide individual tools and supplies, including pens, phones, and clipboards, for each employee. Any shared equipment must be disinfected after each person’s use.
- Encourage the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks and gloves, if your employees raise concerns: In New Zealand, community use of face masks is not required. However, depending upon your employees’ level of concern and their agreement to properly participate, your business can require mask-wearing.
These measures, like displaying the NZ COVID Tracer’s QR codes, are recommended at and escalated with every successive alert level and should be widely practiced in our personal lives and spaces as well.
Coronavirus Workplace Safety Alert Level 2: Reduce
At Alert Level 2, COVID-19 is still relatively contained but the risk of community transmission has increased from Alert Level 1, and active clusters are occurring in one or more regions. Although businesses can continue to operate safely, social gatherings of any kind must be limited to 100 people, who are recommended to physically distance from one another by 1 to 2 metres.
At this stage, all of the public health guidelines recommended at Alert Level 1 remain. In addition, businesses are recommended to:
- Develop their own contract register wherever employees or customers frequently engage.
- Begin to implement alternative methods of working to reduce human movement and interaction: This may include staggering breaks, reworking shift schedules to allow for more flexibility, and allowing some employees to work from home.
- Demand mask-wearing where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
Coronavirus Workplace Safety Alert Level 3: Restrict
The second most severe Alert Level 3 indicates that New Zealand has multiple active clusters across several regions and cases of community transmission are notably rising—the risk of the virus being uncontained is high. Wedding services, funerals, and tangihanga may be attended by up to 10 people who must more aggressively physically distance; however, all other social gatherings are not permitted.
At this level, essential services, businesses in the primary sector (e.g., forestry, floriculture, wool, and fibre industries), and those that support the primary sector (e.g., producers of agricultural products, pet stores, wholesalers, research and science services) may continue to operate. Retail businesses may also keep their premises open but are required to offer contactless ordering, payment, delivery, and pick-ups.
In general, businesses are not permitted to engage intimately with the public, and those whose employees can work from home are now strongly recommended to begin this transition. Furthermore, all of the safety practices recommended at Alert Level 1 must be intensified with more frequent cleanings and robust measures that allow for physical distancing, including plexiglass dividers between employees and customers.
Specific to food service and retail, businesses still operating are also now required by law to:
- Enforce mask-wearing at all times.
- Enforce physical distancing between employees and customers by more than 2 metres.
Coronavirus Workplace Safety Alert Level 4: Lockdown
This is the final alert level as well as the most severe and pressing national circumstance in which the virus is no longer likely to be continued. Sustained, intensive community transmission has been documented, and outbreaks are common and widespread. Social gatherings of any kind are not permitted, people are instructed to quarantine at home unless for vital activities, and operating businesses are limited to essential services and utilities.
At this level, your business may very likely be closed. However, if you do offer an essential service, your workplace must be applying the public health guidelines to their fullest extent. Most of your employees should be working from home or have isolated work stations that allow them to carry out their tasks without being exposed to others.
Prioritising Covid-19 Workplace Health and Safety
The recommendations noted here are general coronavirus workplace safety practices and protocols endorsed by the New Zealand Government. However, depending on where serious outbreaks occur, alert levels may be applied at local and regional levels. The restrictions and demands placed in your area can therefore differ from the national standard and, if you fail to abide by them, your business may incur fines or become a subject of public scrutiny.
HasTrak can assist: We are experienced health and safety consultants and advisors who specialise in running detailed audits and risk assessments, building COVID-19 health and safety management systems and manuals, and on-and-off-site workplace safety training and consultancy tailored to your workplace and team.
Too many businesses risk going bankrupt over fines following simple workplace accidents; fines that can easily be avoided by knowing what you’re working with, and having your paperwork up to date. We’ll help you do exactly that! Contact us today to receive a personalised quote!