The National Cabinet last month agreed to the National COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles, founded on expert advice, to ensure the safety of all workers during this pandemic.
The mandatory 10 principles are designed to set health and safety expectations for all workplaces to ensure a reduction in the risk of transmitting COVID-19. The third principle, in fact, states all businesses must assess, identify, understand and quantify risks to implement and control.
“The principles seem appropriate and sensible,” said Campbell Fuller (pictured), head of communications & media relations at Insurance Council Australia (ICA). “Clear guidance and information to employers and employees on how they can best maintain a safe workplace in the COVID-19 environment and reduce the risk of infection and spread is a positive initiative.”
Joining the chorus of praise is the State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA), which says the move will protect Australia’s workforce and economy.
“The State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) strongly supports the decision of the National Cabinet on Friday, April 24, to develop national work health and safety guidance on COVID-19,” a SIRA spokesperson told Insurance Business Australia.
“SIRA is committed to advancing the wellbeing and confidence of NSW businesses so that they can actively engage in the economy and society during the COVID-19 epidemic. It is important that businesses can operate safely, with the support they need, so that injured road users and workers can continue to recover and return to work.”
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A SafeWork NSW spokesperson said the National COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles are underpinned by work health and safety legislation.
“The work health and safety legislation may be enforced to ensure businesses take reasonable and practicable steps to protect the health and safety of workers and others within their influence or control,” the spokesperson said.
“SafeWork has developed a hub of materials to help employers and employees adhere to their obligations under work health and safety legislation and manage the risk of COVID-19 at work.”
SafeWork NSW also has regulatory powers, as determined under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and WHS Regulation 2017.
“These powers include the right of entry to a workplace to investigate work health and safety matters, the right to request information, and to seize documentation or equipment relevant to an alleged work health and safety breach,” the spokesperson continued.
The regulator also has inspectors that can issue improvement notices, prohibition notices and, in specific circumstances, penalty notices for failure to comply.
In addition to the National COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles, SIRA has implemented a range of measures to support businesses and workers responding to the changing workforce and preparing for a post-pandemic environment.
These measures include two new vocational programs, the JobCover6 program and the Connect2work program.
“The JobCover6 program encourages employers to provide short-term work opportunities to help injured road users and workers who are looking to gain new employment during the COVID-19 crisis,” the SIRA spokesperson explained.
“JobCover6 provides an incentive payment of up to $400 per week (or the wages paid to the worker, whichever is less) to an employer who can provide a worker with a short-term work opportunity. The incentive payments can be paid up to a maximum of 26 weeks ($10,400).”
The Connect2work program encourages employers to provide work placements to assist workers who are unable to recover at their pre-injury workplace or who are looking to gain new work skills during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Connect2Work provides a $200 weekly payment (for up to 12 weeks) to employers who can provide work placement for at least 15 hours per week to a worker,” the SIRA spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added that the body has existing programs designed to help with retraining and work trials if an employer is unable to provide suitable work. Additionally, SIRA can assist with the provision of equipment if a worker is required to work from home.
“These programs will assist businesses that may need to adjust their approach to managing recovery at and return to work at this time,” the spokesperson said.
The regulator announced it is working on further measures that will make it easier for businesses to protect their injured people and maintain their workers’ compensation obligations as they begin to reopen and recover from COVID-19.
“SIRA will continue to adapt its response over the coming months to ensure that NSW businesses and injured people are supported,” the spokesperson said. “The SIRA website includes dedicated COVID-19 information for employers which provides further advice on the actions employers can take to minimise the impact of COVID-19 on their business and injured people.”