Where’s your safety recovery plan? - COVID-19 blog | Deloitte Australia has been saved
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No one plans to have incidents causing illness, injury or death at work. But it doesn’t mean your approach to health and safety should be unplanned either. It requires careful, consultative consideration to assess the risks to health and safety, to develop the right response and a demonstrated commitment to implementing it.
All employers in Australia are required to design and implement a COVID-19 safety recovery plan tailored to their workplace, including physical health and safety as well as mental health and wellbeing. The plan needs to be in place to coincide with the release of community public health controls. Safety regulators around Australia, including the states, territories and Comcare for Commonwealth employees, expect employers to have their plans in place within a reasonable timeframe (e.g. between four to six weeks) of the respective government announcements to lift restrictions. The Northern Territory, the first state or territory to ease restrictions, gave employers five weeks to enact their safety plans, ending 5 June 2020.
I’ve been interested in the way Australians have responded to the recovery stage and have noticed an air of complacency from some, with respect to physical distancing controls in public. This observation, together with an ABC news report, was the catalyst for my writing this blog. The news report in late May, suggested more than two-thirds of Australians believe June 2020 is the right time for us to return to work. The remainder think it is too soon, that the risk is too great and we should remain in isolation.
Despite my concerns about complacency, my vote is with the majority to commence the controlled return to work. I acknowledge the risk of more infections and chance of more deaths from COVID-19 complications. However, I believe the risk to society of not going back to work is greater: the risk to our economy, our businesses and the mental health and wellbeing of our workforce and community.
The dilemma we face is best summed up by our Deloitte Access Economics Leader, Pradeep Philip: “The pandemic is not eliminated, and it can rear its ugly head again…and that is because recovery will not be a linear move from health to economic. It will be a policy dance of sorts, carefully balancing economic cost with health risks”. Employers can play a vital role in helping to minimise the spread of COVID-19, by planning adequately and managing this risk to health and safety.
The starting point is to acknowledge most employers will already have a workplace health and safety (WHS) management system. What will change is the introduction of COVID-19, in that we must now work with this additional risk ever-present, until it’s extinguished by vaccine or other means. Add to this the updates and changes coming from our health and safety authorities with different timing in each state and territory, and we have a challenge on our hands.
The risk which COVID-19 brings to our workplaces must be assessed in the context of operations, work environment, workforce and health and safety risk profile. Everyone would like to have a prescriptive list of what to do but a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. This is why we have principle/risk-based safety legislation in Australia, requiring employers to tailor their safety systems based on the nuances of their work and workplaces.
Our national WHS policy maker, Safe Work Australia, has designed 10 principles guiding employers on returning to work through COVID-19. They have provided some checklists and guides however these will not do the risk assessments for you, nor will they provide your COVID-19 safety recovery plan.
Responding to the needs of the employer community and the workforce, our team of WHS professionals at Deloitte Australia have designed a six-point framework for building a COVID-19 safety recovery plan, as well as a free online self-assessment, available for everyone to access. The assessment will help identify any areas for continual improvement of your plan in line with the national COVID-19 safe workplace principles issued by SafeWork Australia.
We are proud to be supporting Australians to return to work. I encourage you to complete the online self-assessment for your business and for the health and safety of your people at work.
 The Australian, Thursday 21 May, 2020, page 21, ‘Reforms needed to heal unemployment wound’.