I thought I’d better put out a blog on the difficult topic of the Coronavirus given the amount of public panic and the impact this panic will have on Australian workplaces.
Let’s get one thing straight: employers do have a responsibility to make their workplaces healthy and safe. That doesn’t mean that employers have to become overnight medical experts but it does mean that employers are expected to make prudent management decisions that focus on keeping employees safe. So what does that mean in practice? If you are an employer it means this:
- Take some third party medical advice about the potential for exposure in workplaces over which you have control.
- Reach out to clients/customers who might control workplaces in which your business operates and get them to advise you in writing what steps they have taken to secure the workplace in question. If you get a bad answer (or no answer) then think about what you can do to secure your employees’ health and safety.
- Communicate with your employees. Make sure they understand that you are aware of the issue. Avoid language that creates panic (there’s too much of that on radio and television as it is!). The key is to ensure that your employees know you are fully awake to the issues the virus can create.
- Make sure that your employees have access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) where applicable. Make sure you instruct them to use the PPE. Be proactive. If you think gloves are necessary then get them out there and instruct employees to wear them.
- Monitor government health sites and keep an eye on what level of instruction those sites are providing.
- Keep the employee communication level up. Ignorance and the fear ignorance creates are major contributors to workplace problems.
There are no magic answers to this problem. We have had viral outbreaks before and we will have them again. What’s different about this is the worldwide level of concern and the resultant panic. As employers you cannot be held responsible for what is not reasonably foreseeable. But you can be held liable if you do nothing at all. It is essential that employers take reasonable steps to secure the health and safety of their employees.