Coronavirus / COVID-19 and the workplace - Health and Safety

14 Apr 2020
Author: Andrea Twaddle
 

During the Government’s Level 4 Alert to manage the impact of Covid-19, many employers have employees working from home. During this time, employers and employees health and safety obligations continue.

Employer obligations

As a person conducting a business or undertaking, employers have a primary duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act to ensure the health and safety of their workers and others affected by the work carried out, so far as is reasonably practicable. Reasonably practicable steps to ensure health and safety will include implementing controls to eliminate, isolate or minimise exposure to COVID-19.

Employee obligations

Employees also have obligations; to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and ensure that their actions do not cause harm to themselves or others. Where employers have given a reasonable instruction, policy or procedure around how to work in a healthy and safe way, it is reasonable for employers to expect their employees to comply. We touch on working from home expectations at www.dtilawyers.co.nz/news-item/coronavirus-covid-19-and-the-workplace-maintaining-employment-relationships-with-remote-working

Post Alert Level 4 Planning

As businesses progress planning towards a post Level 4 Alert, businesses are wise to plan for how these obligations will be able to be met:

What workplace cleaning will be required prior to returning to work, and whether existing cleaning and hygiene processes will be sufficient?

  • How to manage a likelihood of some (if not many) roles continuing to be performed remotely (i.e. from home).
  • How worker interactions can be minimised, thereby minimising the risk of transfer. For example, social distancing, reducing numbers of employees working on a shift, altering break times by staggering.
  • Contract trading - What measures can be put in place to ensure that the business will be able to get in touch with those who have been in contact with staff, i.e. customers and suppliers, in the event that any of those people need to be contacted due to a potential case of COVID-19? The Ministry of Health website is a good starting resource which considers what information to collect.
  • How to manage employees who have a higher degree or risk, to ensure that these steps are not discriminatory?
  • How to minimise interactions between workers, customers and service delivery. For example, removing or reducing face to face interactions, reducing worker movements in/out of a workplace.
  • How should the business operate in a way that minimises the risk of the spread of COVID-19 should someone come to your business who is infected.
  • Whether PPE is required, and available.
  • What disclosures will be required of workers with regard to risk.


Existing expectations

These steps should be considered alongside steps being taken to manage COVID-19 prior to the Government ‘lockdown’, which included:

  • Following the latest Ministry of Health advice about preventing COVID-19.
  • Providing information and instructions to workers and others at the workplace on what COVID-19 is, its signs and symptoms, how it spreads, and how to protect themselves and others.
  • Promoting good hygiene practices, keeping workplaces clean, and well ventilated.
  • Identifying and managing emerging risks brought about by the COVID-19 situation, such as whether supply issues may impact the provision of personal protective equipment (whether required for COVID-19 or otherwise).
  • Having a policy that details expectations of workers if they, or a contact of theirs is unwell, required to self-isolate in accordance with Ministry of Health guidelines, or confirmed as a likely or actual case of COVID-19.
  • Restricting unnecessary travel, large meetings and directing workers to work from home.

 

Employers and employees will need to work together to ensure the workplace is a safe one, and workers remain well. This includes giving consideration to privacy and practical considerations as business moves beyond only essential services being open.


If you have any further questions the specialist employment law team at DTI Lawyers can be contacted on 07 282 0174.

The information contained in this article as of the publication, but please note in this rapidly moving environment, you should review the DTI Lawyers website, or contact our team, to ensure it remains up to date. 



 
 
 
Coronavirus / COVID-19 and the workplace - Health and Safety
About the Author
Andrea Twaddle
Andrea is an experienced specialist employment lawyer and Director at DTI Lawyers. She advises on contentious and non-contentious employment law issues, including privacy, and health and safety matters. Andrea is AWI-CH qualified, and undertakes complex workplace investigations. She is a former Council Member at the WBOP District Branch of the Law Society, and Coordinator of the WBOP Employment Law Committee. Andrea is a regular commentator on employment law issues and is frequently sought as a presenter at client and industry seminars, as well as for the provision of advice to other lawyers, professional advisors and leadership teams. You can contact Andrea at andrea@dtilawyers.co.nz