Covid & Reviewing Risk Control Measures
In NSW a number of people who have been working at home throughout this Covid period are starting to return to the workplace. Many have been absent from their usual physical workplace for many months.
While staff have been working from home changes may have been made to the WHS management system for their workplace, and there may be changes in staff themselves from their time away from the workplace.
Something new for returning staff are the “Covid Safety Plans” and other risk control measures which were not there when staff began working from home.
Covid Safety Plans were implemented as the result of businesses re-assessing hazards and also reassessing previously controlled risks. These actions fall under the subject of WHS risk management, specifically REVIEW OF CONTROL MEASURES.
WHS Regulation clause 38, tells us that a duty holder must review and revise any control measures to maintain so far as reasonably practicable, a work environment that is without risks to health and safety.
The control measures that a PCBU (a person conducting a business or undertaking) has to maintain should be reviewed regularly to make sure they work as planned.
The Code of Practice, How to Manage Work Health & Safety Risks, at page 6, advises that the WHS Regulation requires a risk management process for specific risks.
“A review is required:
when the control measure is not effective in controlling the risk
before a change at the workplace that is likely to give rise to a new or different health and safety risk that the control measure may not effectively control
if a new hazard or risk is identified
if the results of consultation indicate that a review is necessary, or
if a health and safety representative requests a review. In any case, as part of your ongoing duties as a PCBU, you should regularly review your control measures, including in the above circumstances. Managing work health and safety risks is an ongoing process that needs attention over time, but particularly when any changes affect your work activities.”
Returning staff in some situations may not be familiar with the Covid Safety Plan, and will need to be walked through it on their return to their workplace. This has to be done. It is part of a PCBU’s primary duty of care to provide “information, instruction, training, and supervision” to staff in matters of health and safety. This is a legal requirement as per Section 19 of the WHS Act 2011.
You may also find some staff whom, due to the duration of their isolation and exposure to media stories that alarmed them, may be cautious or overly reactive when returning to their usual workplace. This has to be handled as part of WHS risk management.
A PCBU must satisfy their primary duty of care to provide a safe and healthy work environment. That would include bringing returning staff up to speed, competent and comfortable about any new risk measures that were introduced while they were away.
10th November 2020