COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) is an infectious disease and a workplace hazard that organisations need to manage like any other health or safety hazard in the workplace.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSW Act) imposes duties on persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs), which will include employers and most organisations. It also imposes obligations on workers.
PCBUs have a duty to ensure the health and safety of workers and other people as far as is reasonably practicable. Reasonably practicable steps to ensure health and safety will include implementing controls to eliminate, isolate or minimise exposure to COVID-19.
Guidance on the management of COVID-19 is evolving daily and employers should seek specific advice. As a starting point, PCBU’s should:
- Follow the latest Ministry of Health advice about preventing COVID-19.
- Provide information and instructions to workers and others at the workplace on what COVID-19 is, its signs and symptoms, how it spreads, and how to protect themselves and others.
- Promote good hygiene practices, keep workplaces clean, and well ventilated.
- Identify and manage emerging risks brought about by the COVID-19 situation, such as whether supply issues may impact the provision of personal protective equipment (whether required for COVID-19 or otherwise).
- Have a policy that details expectations of workers if they, or a close family member, become sick with COVID-19 or are required to self-isolate in accordance with Ministry of Health guidelines.
- Consider restricting unnecessary travel, large meetings and directing workers to work from home.
PCBU’s should not require or knowingly allow workers to come to a workplace when they are sick with COVID-19 or required to self-isolate under public health guidelines for COVID-19.
If a PCBU reasonably suspects a worker may have been exposed to COVID‑19, they should direct the worker not to come in to work to prevent exposure to other workers.
PCBU’s do not need to notify WorkSafe if a worker is diagnosed with COVID-19. The medical practitioner is required to notify the Medical Officer of Health, who will notify WorkSafe.
Workers have a duty under the HSW Act to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and take care that their own actions or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of others.
Workers should cooperate with employers and comply with all reasonable health and safety instructions, policies and procedures given by their employer or other PCBUs in control of a workplace about COVID-19.
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Disclaimer: the content of this article is general in nature and not intended as a substitute for specific professional advice on any matter and should not be relied upon for that purpose.