This means that many, but not all, business can start to open. However, with the (slightly) lessened restrictions come a raft of amplified health and safety obligations.
Under Alert Level 3, workers must continue to work from home if they can, but some businesses will be able to start opening their premises. For example, retail and hospitality businesses can open for delivery and contactless pre-ordered pick up, but not for customers to shop or dine in-store. For other industries, where work from home is not possible, workplaces can be reopened if (and only if!) they can operate safely.
So how does Health and Safety apply if I’m working from home?
WorkSafe NZ has provided some tips for PCBUs to continue looking after their employees at Alert Level 3, and transitioning from Level 4. These pointers include: encouraging people to get up and move around during the day; suggesting the positioning of laptops on a high bench from time to time; reminding employees to get out for some fresh air at least once a day; reassuring people that no one’s work is going to be assessed by the same standards as pre-Alert Level times; and acknowledging that family generally comes first (especially for those with dependent children). These suggestions won’t necessarily be applicable in all circumstances, but WorkSafe has put these ideas forward, so they are at least something for businesses to consider.
For many people, working from home arrangements, including physical ‘office’ set-up are at least somewhat less than ideal. Under Alert Level 3, some office furniture may be able to be delivered, but this will likely depend on supply chains in other countries. Businesses may be able to redistribute existing office equipment, but delivery methods must abide by physical distancing and hygiene measures.
Okay, so if we can’t work from home; what are the obligations?
All businesses that will be opening their premises at Alert Level 3 are still required to comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. So nothing has changed there. What has changed, however, is that workplaces will also be required to produce a written safety plan that sets out how they will operate safely. Businesses that were operating as an essential service under Alert Level 4 will not be required to do this, but the controls they have in place already will need to continue into Alert Level 3.
WorkSafe NZ has provided a template as a useful starting point for businesses. This is not compulsory, but it does provide some further clarity around what should be included in your plan.
What measures need to be taken?
Workplaces will be required to implement physical distancing and hygiene protocols. Because indoor workplaces are (more) controlled environments, businesses may be able to manage transmission risks by maintaining physical distancing, including controls such as the use of staggered working arrangements, screens between workers, or in appropriate circumstances, personal protective equipment. Depending on the controls used, smaller safe distances (such as 1 metre as opposed to 2 metres) may be appropriate if your workplace is sufficiently managing risks. Regardless of the distance adopted, businesses need to, so far as is reasonably practicable, take steps to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 transmission.
It will be critical to include steps to enable contact tracing if a Covid-19 case is suspected (knowing and recording exactly who has been in your workplace, when, where, and for how long) and equally critical that workers understand what to do if they have symptoms, or believe that they may have been exposed.
Hygiene protocols such as disinfecting surfaces, personal protective equipment, hand sanitisers etc. are also central to these obligations, especially where physical distancing is difficult, such as in the construction industry.
Long story short, the key Health and Safety controls that WorkSafe considers “necessary” to minimise the risk of transmission at work include: supporting people with flu like symptoms to self isolate and not come into work; ensuring that distances are kept at work; disinfecting surfaces; maintaining good hygiene, and keeping records to facilitate contact tracing. Business will be required to continuously evaluate and review whether their work process and risk controls are effective in minimising the spread of Covid-19.
If you have any questions about this, please get in touch with our Health and Safety team or your usual contact at Hesketh Henry.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is current at the date of publishing and is of a general nature. It should be used as a guide only and not as a substitute for obtaining legal advice. Specific legal advice should be sought where required.