2 min read

How to manage the risk of viruses this winter

As the winter months approach, employers need to take action to manage the inevitable spike in flus, colds and other infectious viruses such as COVID-19. All persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) have a legal duty under work health and safety laws to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of all workers and other persons affected by their operations such as customers, suppliers and members of the public, including by controlling the transmission of infectious viruses.

As a result of the pandemic, all organisations are on notice that a worker who attends work with a highly infectious disease or virus presents as a hazard that could result in devastating consequences for other staff, their family members and individuals who interact with the business.

All PCBUs have a duty to implement controls to eliminate, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risk that a highly infectious disease or virus presents within or near places where staff work or provide services.

We know that, generally speaking, getting vaccinated against a highly infectious disease or virus is a safe and available way to mitigate the risks of infection. As such, many organisations will implement a policy requiring or encouraging the use of vaccines to control the risks of infection in our workplace.

In most cases, a mandatory vaccine policy will only be deemed necessary where workers:

  • are required to be vaccinated in accordance with customer requirements;
  • have regular interaction with customers and other members of the public;
  • are working with vulnerable people and communities, such as in medical facilities, aged-care homes, schools and shopping centres;
  • are required to work in close proximity with other employees or customers; and
  • are required to be vaccinated by government and health regulations.

Separate to a vaccination policy, general controls such as improved worker hygiene, sanitisation and, where deemed necessary, the use of masks and other personal protective equipment, should be implemented to reduce the risks of harm.

For your own organisation, it is important to review the current processes and controls in place and determine whether they are adequate. A refresher for staff on the importance of hygiene, working remotely if contagious and encouragement of vaccination, are all positive steps your organisation can take to manage the hazards of infectious viruses this winter.

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