As COVID restrictions are gradually relaxed, organisations are having to reinvent how people work in the office environment.

Many workplaces are currently developing their COVID Safe Return to Work plans as we return to our new “normal” after the lockdown and social distancing and hygiene measures will be an important part of the transition.

Employers have a duty to provide a safe work environment and are expected to follow government directions and recommendations.


A safe workplace

Many workplaces are addressing a gradual or phased return to work and being mindful of vulnerable workers or those with vulnerable family members and a greater degree of rigor to be applied to certain workers.

As discussed in our recent Geelong HR Roundtable, health, safety and hygiene was a major focus when considering COVID safe work environments.

Organisations will have to establish routine, rigorous and transparent cleaning regimes to ensure the health and safety of their workers. And for the workers, the “badge of honour” of soldiering on when sick, is no more. There will be a zero tolerance for sick workers moving forward.



Social distancing will be a major challenge in the workplace, especially when dealing with clients.

Standards state:

  • Moving desks to keep workers 1.5m apart
  • Using floor or wall markings to show correct spacing to ensure one person per four square metres.
  • Using screens (even on castors), panels and barriers where applicable to separate workers


Is ‘Hot desking’ a thing of the past?

Hot desking in an open plan office offers a smorgasbord of bacteria and germs. Research suggests that the coronavirus can survive on soft, porous surfaces (such as cardboard and fabrics) for up to 24 hours and hard surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours (three days).

Frequent cleaning is going to be paramount.

A “clean in” \ “clean out” policy is advisable when using the desk. Shared equipment must be cleaned and disinfected after use.


The Water Cooler Chat

Waiting rooms and crowded lifts are now hazards organisations will have to address.

Shared kitchens present a challenge and spare a thought for the person who always gets to clean the fridge with lunch boxes and food left in there – way past its expiry date.

Whether it’s a five-second chat by the office fridge or some gossip around a literal water cooler, this too will need to happen at a distance.



Office cleaning at least once a day is advisable:

  • Clean surfaces that are frequently touched, eg. door handles, counters, phones, EFTPOS machines
  • Tabletops, light switches, desks, taps, TV remotes, kitchen surfaces, cupboard handles
  • Lift buttons
  • Dishwasher buttons

Hand sanitiser at entry and exit points of the office should be provided.

An employees personal items used in the workplace such as glasses and phones should be regularly cleaned using disinfectant wipes.



Workers need to realise the importance of washing their hands with soap and water for at least 40 – 60 seconds and drying them correctly:

  • Before and after eating
  • After coughing or sneezing
  • After going to the toilet
  • When changing tasks and after touching potentially contaminated surfaces
  • Before and after smoking a cigarette

Employers can place posters near handwashing facilities showing how to correctly wash and dry hands and clean hands with sanitiser. Here’s a link to a handy poster.

It’s also prudent to put processes in place to regularly monitor and review the implementation of hygiene measures to ensure they are being followed and remain effective.

Also remember, there’s to be no intentional physical contact, for example shaking hands and patting backs

Employers need to ensure washroom facilities are maintained regularly, kept in good working order and properly stocked with toilet paper, soap, water and drying facilities for example, paper towels.

This is not a comprehensive list of the measures that needs to be taken in office environments.  Safe Work Australia has comprehensive information on COVID-19 information for workplaces.  Visit Safe Work Australia.


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