The essential guide to workplace safety

7 min read
Tanya Abdul Jalil

Your customer service staff are at the front line of your business and they’ll be feeling the weight of that role now more than ever. Employers need to do everything they can to follow workplace safety guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic and keep their workers protected.

While some businesses are able to adapt their employee’s roles to social distancing guidelines, there are some roles where interacting with the customer is unavoidable.

These workers deserve your very best efforts to keep them safe while they keep your business running.

6 ways to make your workplace safer right now

Workplace safety is always important but never more so than now, with COVID-19 still a concern in Australia. If you own or manage an open business, consider adding:

  1. Wash stations for employees.
  2. Hand sanitiser.
  3. Masks.
  4. Bins.
  5. Plexiglass shields.
  6. Signs.

Before we list the safety gear, let’s talk about the easiest way to improve workplace wellness: education.

Educating your employees about the pandemic

The first step is for employers to discuss health and safety matters in relation to the COVID-19 virus with their staff.

A great place to start is with the Australian Government Department of Health.

Workplace Safety Woman in Blue Bathrobe

It’s your task to educate staff about the symptoms to look for so that they don’t arrive at work unwell. Let them know they must remain at home if they are experiencing:

  • Low-grade fever (37.3C or more)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Mild cough

Urge any unwell employees to contact their primary health care provider, who will ascertain when it is safe for them to return to work. All primary health care workers are liaising with the local public health authorities before providing such advice.

Be a compassionate listener

When sharing information, it’s also important to provide employees with the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings. This time is stressful for everyone, so allowing them to ask questions and share their concerns will help reduce their fear.

Listening can help to ease workers’ worries, make them feel supported and ensures you have a strong grasp of the current feeling in your workplace.

Then you’ll be able to take their concerns into consideration prior to any decision making.

Assess your risk

Next, you’ll need to conduct a risk assessment and review the current protections and equipment needed to keep employees safe. Carrying out a risk assessment ensures you’re aware of all the possible factors that need to be considered when establishing new safety measures.

Making your workplace safer during a viral outbreak

It’s vital to make sure your workplace is hygienic and clean, even more so than usual. This includes frequently applying disinfectant to any surfaces which are in regular use. These might be desks, tables, door handles, telephones, chairs, ATM terminals and keyboards.

1. Wash stations for employees

Workplace Safety Person Washing Hands

Regular hand washing is one of the most effective safety measures for prevention of contagion. The World Health Organisation provides posters that you can print and put up next to washing stations.

It’s vital to educate staff on how to wash their hands correctly. You might want to hold a meeting where you review the hand washing process and allow staff members a chance to ask questions.

2. Hand sanitiser

Ensure there are ample places for suppliers and customers to clean their hands. Placing sanitiser around your workplace and making sure they’re refilled frequently will help keep visitors’ hands clean. You could even post a staff member at the entrance and have them dispense hand sanitiser to all entering customers.

3. Face masks

Face masks aren’t necessary for healthy individuals. However it’s a good idea to have them available in case a staff member develops any of the above-listed symptoms while in the workplace.

4. Bins

Another key task is to provide bins that are easily operated without touching, so that tissues and hand wipes can be disposed of safely. Make sure that whoever empties the bins wears gloves.

5. Shields

You might also consider installing plexiglass shields at checkouts to create a protective barrier between the workers and the customer. They’re easily installed on desks, benches and countertops.

6. Signs

As personal distancing is an important preventative measure, you’ll want to place reminder signs, along with coloured tape markers on the floor to indicate where people should stand at a distance where they might be lining up (e.g. reception desks, store checkouts).

This visual reminder helps to reinforce the message to both employees and customers and provides reassurance that the business is taking social distancing seriously.

Where can you find reliable workplace safety information about COVID-19?

With easy access to news sources, most employees probably understand the risks involved with their jobs. But there’s so much false information on social media that it’s vital not to make assumptions.

Only pass on information from reliable government sources and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Workplace Safety WHO Handing Washing Poster
Source: WHO

Each state and territory’s Department of Health also has its own guidelines and restrictions, so check there to ensure you’re compliant. Try to quickly dispel any false information being circulated amongst employees, and urge them to come to you with any concerns.

If you keep the guidelines for your employees simple and easy-to-follow there’s less chance of confusion or misinterpretation.

The key advice for avoiding infection is:

  • Maintain a distance of 1.5 metres between each person
  • Try to avoid contact with anyone who is unwell
  • Wash hands with water and soap often; use hand sanitiser when this isn’t possible
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or crook of the arm
  • Dispose of tissues immediately, then wash hands

You can also improve workplace wellness by helping staff look after their mental health during these times of additional stress and worry. Share resources such as those available at Beyond Blue and Lifeline.

What about your employees’ right to privacy about their health?

This is a tricky question to answer, as your employee has the right not to tell you their health status in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth).

During a health crisis, it’s crucial that employers and their staff have open communication to improve workplace safety.

Encourage workers to talk about their health with you by telling them the information you need and how you will use it.

Be flexible with time off

In this time, it is expected that staff will need time off when they may be unwell themselves or have been exposed to someone who has been confirmed to have COVID-19. Some workers may have caring duties for children or family members during this time.

Employers should be open about employees’ rights to access personal and carer leave, as well as annual and long service leave during this time.

Every employer has a primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of their workers and customers, assuming it is reasonably feasible within the business’s conditions.

You can improve workplace wellness

Workplace Safety Two Gloved Hands Fist Bumping

It’s easy to become overwhelmed with all the changes to your business during this unusual time. But ensuring your employees are safe doesn’t need to be complicated — as long as you have a clear policy to follow.

Remember to conduct a risk assessment and then educate your staff about what’s expected of them. Make sure they feel supported and that they know you’ll only use the required information to protect theirs and their coworkers’ wellbeing.

If you or any of your staff are feeling overwhelmed or anxious you can find the latest advice on workplace safety for COVID-19 at:

Stay well and remember, we’re all in this together.