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Risk in Context

COVID-19 Social Distancing and Contact Reduction in the Workplace

Posted by Kristy Nicholson July 30, 2020

Updated: 6 August 2020

As Victorians get accustomed to the new requirement of wearing face masks/coverings in public when leaving home physical and social distancing continue to be widely viewed as the key way to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the absence of a vaccine. But what does social distancing look like in a coronavirus-era workplace?

Organisations should consider how they will implement physical distancing of at least 1.5 metres between workers and the one person per 4 square metre rule for premises. To meet this goal, the following guidelines provide practical tips to consider when implementing and maintaining physical distancing.

Your Action Plan

These recommendations are potential solutions to maintain physical distancing, where reasonable. Each action plan should be tailored to your organisation’s work environment. For example, an action plan for an office building in an urban location may vary significantly from a factory in a rural community.

  • Transportation/Commute: Remind colleagues to be careful and vigilant while using public transport. Consider implementing commuting guidelines specific to a location. Encourage employees using public transport to use it during off-peak times, and implement flexible work practices. Remind colleagues that where social distancing is difficult or not possible (eg. on public transport), face masks are advisable to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
  • Workstation Redesign: Consider redesigning workstations to reduce/avoid employee contact. In a production environment, consider relocating equipment and installing clear barriers (i.e. plexiglass) between workers if they cannot be located 1.5 metres apart. If this is not practical, consider providing additional PPE such as N95 respirators or surgical masks and gloves, including the associated training in the safe use of the PPE. Additional deep cleaning may also be required.
  • Staggered Shifts: Where employees need to work at a company site such as a factory/production facility or office, consider altering the work schedule to minimise the number of employees entering and working in a shared space at any given time. This may require the implementation of multiple shifts.
  • Remote Work: Working remotely is the most effective way to maintain physical distancing. Consider extending work from home/telecommuting wherever possible, and advise employees who are not comfortable returning to the office that they may continue to work remotely.
  • Split Teams: If reasonable, an organisation can limit the initial return to the office only to those employees who are essential, or to a limited and specified percentage of the total workplace.
  • Breaks: Where practical, suggest that employees bring their lunch or implement “grab & go” canteen services. Request that employees eat at their workstations or otherwise physically separated from others. Limit access to common areas where food is available and consider placing sanitising wipes near any vending machines. Consider staggering breaks, and enhance plans to sanitise common break areas between sittings. Establish guidelines when visiting neighbouring businesses (e.g. restaurants).
  • Doors and Lifts: Where doors can be kept open without compromising security or privacy, continue this practice to limit employees from touching handles. Establish lift capacity guidelines, e.g. no more than 4 persons per lift (depending on size/layout of lifts).
  • Public Surfaces: When opening doors or touching other public surfaces, instruct employees to use an elbow, a paper towel, tissue, or disposable glove. Avoid touching shared equipment (such as printers, lift buttons, or restroom doors). Hands should be sanitised after disposing of a paper towel or tissue, and public surfaces should be sanitised regularly.
  • Wait Line Prevention: Where employees stand in lines (i.e., at time clocks), seek alternatives that avoid employees congregating. For example, for the foreseeable future, consider asking supervisors to record the presence of employees rather than using time clocks. If it is not possible to redesign the process, consider putting markers on the floor or wall to designate minimum physical separation distances.
  • Digital Communication: Rather than speaking face-to-face, employees should be encouraged where practical to use unshared work or personal telephones, online conferencing tools, e-mail, or instant messaging to communicate.
  • Non-Verbal Communication: Consider developing and explaining a system of hand gestures to convey information. For example, thumbs up for a good job or a wave instead of a handshake.
  • Meetings: Use video conferencing as the preferred method of meeting. Unless an exception is granted by management, physical meetings should be limited to a defined number of employees. At all times, use best efforts to practice physical distancing. Eg. hold team huddles or meetings outdoors or in open spaces where people can sit one person per table and/or spread out. Also, consider removing chairs to reduce the potential for a breakdown in physical distancing.
  • Deliveries: Establish a shipping/receiving drop point, to which access is restricted.
  • Drop Off/Pick Ups: When items or materials must be collected in person, prepare in advance of the collection so that they may be placed in a location where physical distancing will not break down when collected.
  • Signage: Develop and place signage in shared workspaces reminding employees of physical distancing and handwashing expectations, i.e., soap and warm water for at least 20-seconds or the use of hand sanitiser when handwashing is not possible.
  • Hands-Free: If possible, introduce automation/voice recognition to avoid the need to touch light switches or similar. Where automation is not practical, use disposable gloves or only elbows to touch light switches or lift buttons. Consider placing hand sanitiser dispensers in the vicinity, and encourage staff to use sanitiser or wash hands after contact with the switch/button. Regularly sanitise these surfaces.
  •  Non-Employees: Establish visitor and contractor policies and communicate your requirements to visitors or contractors in advance of their arrival. Limit visits to essential services only. Where contractors or other visitors have to be admitted to a shared workspace, consider screening them prior to admittance.

For more guidance on concerns such as how to manage visitors entering your workplace and steps you should consider taking when implementing on-site entry screening, download the Practical Guide to Returning to Work Safely (AU Edition).

LCPA: 20/467

Please note: This document and the advice provided by Marsh (collectively, the ‘Marsh Analysis’) are not intended to be taken as advice regarding any individual situation and should not be relied upon as such. The information contained herein is based on sources we believe reliable and is subject to change, but we make no representation or warranty as to its accuracy. Except as may be set forth in an agreement between you and Marsh, Marsh shall have no obligation to update the Marsh Analysis and shall have no liability to you or any other party with regard to the Marsh Analysis.  

Kristy Nicholson

National Manager – Safety, Workforce Strategies

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