Posted: 07 Aug. 2020 5 min. read

Are there gaps in your COVID-19 safety plan?

COVID-19 safety plans are a critical tool in helping Australian businesses return to work and keep their communities safe. Getting it right is key.

Earlier this year, I wrote an article on this very theme: explaining the importance of COVID-19 safety plans and providing a link to a free online self-assessment to help businesses create one. Between 18 June and 16 July 2020, more than 130 employers had fully completed the self-assessment, which covers health, safety and wellbeing and draws from Safe Work Australia’s guidelines.

Our analysis of this data shows organisations are finding parts of their plans more challenging than others. While we received these results before the ‘second wave’ of COVID-19 infections in Victoria and other clusters around the country, there are still important lessons for all employers. Many organisations have the right intentions, but the implementation and maintenance of these plans needs to be made a priority.

Which organisations completed the self-assessment?

  • 90% of self-assessments were completed by Australian organisations.
  • 35% of respondents have more than 500 employees with the remainder comprised of small and medium-sized enterprises.
  • Organisations from 12 industries worked through the self-assessment with higher numbers of completion from four industries: retail, wholesale and distribution; civil; telecom, media and entertainment; and power, utilities and renewables.

What did they tell us?

All organisations who completed self-assessments had designed a COVID-19 safety plan. And 75% determined they met the Safe Work Australia guidelines across the majority of the 27 areas the self-assessment targeted. But organisations clearly found some parts of the Safe Work Australia criteria challenging:

  • 60% of respondents did not intend to update their plan with the latest health advice and changes for each stage of recovery.
  • More than 50% had not made it clear the organisation’s leaders were accountable for the implementation of the safety plan.
  • 45% had not performed a mental health and wellbeing assessment of their workforce.
  • 40% had not assessed risk management protocols for contractors at their workplace.
  • 40% had not developed methods to measure workers’ wellbeing and engagement as restrictions were eased.
  • More than 50% had not established a method to measure compliance with new or updated controls required to manage COVID-19 risks.
  • 45% had not implemented or communicated the monitoring schedule for their COVID-19 safety plan with their workers.

What does this mean going forward?

It’s clear from the data that the implementation and maintenance of COVID-19 safety plans remains a major issue that requires further attention and improvement.

Failure to implement a plan leads to an increased risk of COVID-19 clusters in the workplace, and/or adverse effects on the mental health and wellbeing of an organisation’s workers. This, in turn, can lead to a loss of productivity and damage to the brand and reputation. There is also the potential for criminal action against the organisation and/or its officers, alleging a failure to ensure a healthy and safe workplace for workers and non-workers (e.g. the public) who may visit.

The behaviours we’re seeing across these second wave breakouts around the country closely mirror what we experience when implementing safety initiatives for organisations. Typically, a majority of staff take on the new health and safety processes in the spirit of ensuring a safe workplace, whilst a minority need more encouragement to change their behaviour. Nationally, we are seeing small lapses in relation to some pandemic control processes, but these issues are having a significant impact on communities and businesses. 

This raises several critical questions: How long will these clusters last? How resilient can our organisations and their people be? How vigilant and determined are we to manage and minimise the risk of infection? While there are no easy answers, the implementation of a robust COVID-19 safety plan is an important place to start.

If your organisation hasn’t completed our free online self-assessment, I encourage you to do so and assess how you’re tracking against the health, safety and wellbeing guidelines provided by Safe Work Australia.   


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