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Returning to work 

28 May 2020

How will everything look as we emerge from some of the restrictions of this COVID-19 Crisis

The news feeds would almost have you believe that with a click of a button, we just go back to how it was before this virus turned our lives upside down with a bit of “social distancing”. Make no mistake, COVID-19 is still a threat, and still a serious problem, but for those of you in the Travel Industry, you are more acutely aware of this fact than any other industry.

Australian Travel Companies have had their staff abused by passengers that don’t understand the refund process, have been on hold for hours and hours trying to rescue stranded passengers and redesign intricate holiday plans for thousands, for no return. You and your staff would never have been under such constant pressure and now you are supposed to go back to the shop or the office like nothing has changed? Not likely. Everything has changed, and for the Travel Industry, it is still changing at incredible speed.

COVID-19 appears to be under control to a certain degree in Australia, and that does mean potentially returning to a more normal work setting for many of your employees. Now is the time you need to start planning this initial step to not only address the logistics, but also any concerns your staff may have.

To ensure your workplace is as “COVID Safe” as possible and that your employees can return with confidence it will take planning, careful implementation, communication and education. It is absolutely crucial that employees feel safe reporting potential symptoms as well as having a thorough understanding of how their Employer is protecting both the individual and their colleagues. Never before has “team effort” been so important.

Two topics that are very important in relation to Workers Health & Safety are:
* Physical Distancing in the Workplace
* Cleaning and Disinfecting Plans

Physical Distancing and minimising the risk of exposure to COVID-19 when returning to work
Safe Work Australia has provided the following advice:
• Allow workers to work from home, where possible
• Ensure physical distancing by keeping a distance of at least 1.5 metres between people (put up posters around the workplace as a reminder)
• Encourage all workers to frequently wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or by using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser and to practice good hygiene
• Erect signs at the entrances to lifts and meeting rooms to ensure the maximum safe capacity is not exceeded.
• Have hand sanitiser stations at entry and exit points and around the workplace.
• Move work stations, desks and tables in staffrooms further apart to comply with social distancing.
• Instruct workers to have meetings by phone or online instead of in person. If not possible, require they meet in a large space and keep meetings short.
• Be aware of how to spot COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath) and make sure workers do not come to work if they are unwell
• Make sure your workplace is regularly cleaned and disinfected

Cleaning & Disinfecting Plans
The guidelines from Safe Work Australia include the following:
• Routine cleaning is an essential part of disinfection, as removing organic matter such as ordinary dirt can assist in disinfectant working
• Removal of germs such as the virus that causes COVID-19 requires thorough cleaning
followed by disinfection
• The length of time that COVID-19 survives on inanimate surfaces will vary depending on factors such as the amount of contaminated body fluid – such as respiratory droplets – present and environmental temperature and humidity. In general, coronaviruses are unlikely to survive for long once droplets produced by coughing or sneezing dry out.
• It is good practice to routinely clean surfaces as follows:
- Clean frequently touched surfaces with detergent solution or disinfectant
- Clean general surfaces and fittings when visibly soiled and immediately after any spillage
• Frequently touched surfaces include door handles, light switches, table and desk tops, phones and computer keyboards

For more details information on both of these aspects, I would refer you to the Safe Work Australia Website and their COVID-19 resource kit:

Plan Ahead
• Nominate a worker or a team of workers to champion safe practices in the workplace and teach their colleagues the proper procedures listed above.
• Develop a plan to ensure business continuity if there is a suspected or confirmed outbreak of COVID-19 in your workplace.
• Consider what you will do if one of your workers is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, including how you will support that worker and what you need to do to ensure the workplace remains safe for other workers.
• Consider if you have appropriate cleaning products and personal protective equipment available to disinfect your workplace following an outbreak. If you do not, consider options for hiring a cleaning company to do this work.
• Put a protocol in place for reopening your workplace after an outbreak.

If there is an incident of COVID-19 at your workplace, the requirements differ slightly from state to state, but in the main you need to notify your Work, Health and Safety Regulator and the health authority. A list for each state can be found in the following document:
COVID-19 Incident notification factsheet

Whilst this information may seem overwhelming in these very stressful times, it is very important to understand your obligations as an employer and embrace these opportunities to keep you and your staff safe.

We will all get through this together.

If you would like further information or an obligation free Insurance quote, please contact Rebecca Fleming, Manager of our Travel Division at Gow-Gates Insurance Brokers on (02) 8267 9919 or to discuss your circumstances or to obtain a quotation.

General Advice Warning – the information in the above article is intended as a guide only and should not be relied upon without consulting your relevant insurance policy wording and conditions or conversely seeking professional advice from either your insurance broker or insurer regarding a claim or potential loss. Failure to adhere to this warning could result in a denial of a claim or potential loss or a reduction in settlement of a claim or potential loss.