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The Road Back... Returning to Workplaces

As we slowly immerge from our ‘Corona Coma’ it’s time to start thinking about preparing workplaces for employees to begin a ‘new normal’ in a safe and organised way.  Remember, employers have a legal responsibility to identify and manage workplace risk exposures; and this is no different for COVID-19.  Adapting to the ‘new normal’ will require our people to adjust quickly to the necessary changes that may be with us for some time.  Fortunately, we have seen, and our people have demonstrated, their resilience and ability to adapt.  I’m quite sure many employees will welcome the ‘new normal’ to bring back some level of normalcy.

The changes to the workplace are likely to be significant so it is important to approach this in a planned and systematic way that involves employees.  This is a good time for Senior Management to take a close look at how work is done and if the changes, or some of the changes, implemented initially in response to COVID-19 remain.  

Many of our clients have already expressed a strong desire to make working from home arrangements more permanent for those employees who can and who have expressed a keen interest to continue.  Despite this most businesses will need to start preparing a return to the workplace regardless of who continues to work from home.  

Senior Management should appoint a dedicated team to develop a COVID-19 Workplace Renewal Strategy to safely return employees to the workplace.  The team must include a Senior Manager(s) who has the authority to make decisions and to resource or act on them as required.  Employees and employee representatives should also form part of the team to ensure consultation is undertaken.  As a priority the team must determine the critical Departments/roles that will return to the workplace first and then those Departments/roles that are to follow.  Consideration maybe given to rotating rosters and staggering start/finish times to minimise the number of employees in the workplace.  

The team should then complete a comprehensive review of workplace conditions to assist with the development of the COVID-19 Workplace Renewal Strategy.  The following is a good starting point of what should be considered with further guidance sought from Safe Work Australia COVID-19 Information for Workplaces and State/Territory Government websites.

So, what do we need to consider?

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The COVID-19 Workplace Renewal Strategy will then be used to develop a COVID-19 Workplace Renewal Action Plan that outlines actions to be taken, who is responsible and timeframes.  Clearly communicate to employees the objective(s) of each stage of the COVID-19 Workplace Renewal Action Plan along with the detail of the Plan. 

Throughout the implementation of the action plan the team will regularly review its effectiveness to understand: 

  • Are we going along as planned?
  • How well are the controls working?
  • Have we missed anything?
  • Will employees understand what is required of them when they return to the workplace?
  • What additional information do employees want and need?
  • Are there any additional resources that are required?
  • What further adjustments to the action plan do we need to make?

By keeping employees informed and continually reviewing the actions taken, transitioning to the new normal will seem less daunting and instill confidence in your workforce that it is safe to return to the workplace.

If you need  guidance or assitance to develop your COVID-19 Workplace Renewal Strategy or genreal advice on how to meet your health and safety obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic you can contact Verus via www.verus.com.au.

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