Health and safety update: doing business at Alert Levels 1 and 2

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

This article is an update on our March article dealing with the COVID-19 related requirements for businesses. A lot has changed in that time, but some of the basics remain.

In this update we deal with the current COVID-19 requirements for businesses, those for employees, and the specific obligations for Auckland based employers.

The key point to note is that even at Alert Level 1 (and in Auckland’s case Alert Level 2), employers still need to take active measures to ensure the safety of their staff, and in turn, protect their business from the impacts of COVID-19.

COVID-19 remains 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 (PCBU’s), which will include employers and most organisations. It also imposes obligations on workers.

There are further obligations on businesses set out under the Government’s Public Health Response Order.

Employer obligations - Levels 1 and 2

Under the current laws, businesses nationwide must display a QR code in a prominent place at or near the main entrances to the workplace. The display of this QR code is mandatory and businesses who do not have one are liable for a $300 fine, or a fine imposed by a court not exceeding $1,000.

Businesses must also have other record-keeping systems and processes in place to support contact tracing.

PCBU’s 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 continues to evolve as the government understands the impacts more and employers should seek specific advice. As a starting point, PCBU’s should:

  • Follow the latest Ministry of Health advice about preventing COVID-19.
  • Promote good hygiene practices, keep workplaces clean, and well ventilated.
  • Ensure proper usage of facemasks. While not a mandatory requirement, if someone chooses to wear a mask, or make their own mask, they need to use it properly. There are risks associated with the incorrect use of face masks. Workers should never share face masks with other people, hands should be washed before putting it on, and after taking it off, masks should not be moved once they are on, and if the masks are disposable, they should be put in a closed lidded bin.
  • Consider potential secondary impacts of COVID-19, such as impacts on mental health, working from home, fatigue and potentially increased aggressive behaviour towards frontline staff. These emerging risks will also need to be managed.
  • 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.
  • Encourage physical distancing where practical. While not required in Alert Level 1, the more space there is between people, the harder it is for the COVID-19 virus to spread.
  • 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 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.

PCBU’s should have plans in place to move to different alert levels quickly if need be. Changing alert levels can be applied at a town, city, territorial local authority, regional or national level so it is important for your business to be prepared. PCBU’s should:

  • Ensure engagement with different groups of workers when considering the impacts of each transition.
  • Consider how employees will be impacted by the changing alert levels and ways you can support them during the transition. Remembering some individuals may require more time to adjust and feel safe with new requirements.
  • Have clear communication and guidance available (on and offline) to all workers on what is expected of them in each alert level.
  • Consider any physical changes to your workplace that may be required to ensure physical distancing.
  • Make sure your health and safety risks, policies and procedures (including incident response, incident reporting and emergency management) are up to date to reflect any changes due to COVID-19.

Employee obligations - all Alert Levels

Workers have a duty under the HSW Act to take all reasonable care for their own health and safety and must ensure 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 PCBU’s in control of a workplace about COVID-19.

Specific Auckland obligations (Level 2)

As Auckland is currently at Alert Level 2 (with the rest of the country at Alert Level 1), there are certain requirements for different workplaces that need to be complied with.

All businesses and services in Auckland (apart from those where specific requirements apply, discussed below) must currently;

  1. Maintain one metre physical distancing, to the greatest extent practicable, for all workers.
  2. Maintain one metre physical distancing, to the greatest extent practicable, for any other persons entering a workplace or using its services.
  3. Mitigate the risks that arise if this distancing isn’t fully maintained.

Businesses and services in Auckland with controlled areas (for example; gyms, cinemas, factories) must currently;

  1. Maintain 2 and 3 above.
  2. Permit no more than 100 customers or clients to be in any one defined space in the workplace at any one time (not including workers).

Those businesses and services in Auckland providing food and drink must currently;

  1. Permit no more than 100 customers or clients to be in any one defined space in the workplace at any one time.
  2. Ensure each customer or client is seated at a table - except when entering, using a toilet or bathroom, paying, leaving, or (except in on-licence or club licence premises) ordering or collecting food and drink.
  3. Ensure tables are arranged so there’s at least one metre separation between adjacent tables where customers or clients are seated, and ensure no more than 10 customers or clients are seated at a table together.
  4. Ensure only one worker serves at any table, to the greatest extent practicable.
  5. Maintain one metre physical distancing between customers and clients when they are not seated at a table, to the greatest extent practicable.
  6. Mitigate the risks that arise if this distancing isn’t fully maintained.

Further, Aucklanders who are travelling outside the region, whether for business or leisure, are encouraged to behave as if you’re carrying your Alert Level with you. Consider avoiding gatherings of more than 100 people, maintain physical distancing and wear a facemask where you cannot.

For more information, please contact a member of our employment or health and safety teams. 


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.



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