COVID-19 Health and Safety Measures in the Workplace

COVID-19 Health and Safety Measures in the Workplace

Employers have obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and under employment law to take appropriate steps in the workplace to protect their staff and any person who enters the workplace.  It is important that employers engage with workers in assessing risks and developing responses to health and safety practices in the workplace.

The government has provided guidance on health and safety practices for businesses and workers as we remain in Alert Level 4.  

We expect many of these will be appropriate if and when we move to lower levels of restrictions, although more specific guidelines from the government are expected to respond to ongoing concerns of businesses.

We have had a number of queries from businesses that are implementing health and safety measures in anticipation of a move from Alert Level 4.

There are currently specific guidelines for various sectors.  For more information you can visit:

1. What are the health and safety guidelines for minimising the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace?

General guidance practices involve putting in place control measures to eliminate the risk of the spread of COVID-19 so far as is reasonably practicable. Such control measures currently promoted by the government include:

2. Eliminating or minimising physical interaction:

  • Isolating workers by requiring them to work from home or work alone if their tasks can be completed that way. For example, employees can work alone in an office, staff room, kitchen or meeting room. If essential work can be performed by an employee from their home, they should do so. 
  • Minimise physical interaction by ensuring that a 2-meter distance is maintained between staff and customers. Employers can also ensure workers have sufficient space between them by leaving two empty desks on either side. Customers entering into a business premises are also required to maintain a 2-meter distance and the number of people permitted to enter must be reduced.
  • Any Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) be provided to reduce risk.
  • Close contact time to be reduced to no more than 15 minutes.
  • Shifts and meal breaks can be arranged so that there is a reduced number of people in an office space.
  • Steps to be taken to ensure that the bathroom is used by one worker at a time. This can be achieved by placing a sign on the main door.

3. General hygiene and safety measures

  • Supply soap and water or hand sanitizer at convenient locations to encourage workers to frequently wash their hands.
  • Employees should avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Premises to be cleaned frequently and every day with antiseptic wipes, disinfectant or bleach solutions. Particular attention should be given to counters, tables, chairs, eftpos terminals, door handles and other “high-touch” services. 
  • Toilets should be cleaned with a separate set of cleaning equipment. Floors should be wiped with disinfectant or bleach solution every day. Laundry items should be washed and dried with the appropriate detergent on the warmest temperature recommended on the label. Disposable gloves should be worn when handling soiled items. Hands should be washed immediately after removing the gloves.

4. What is a Contact Register?

The government has indicated that a move to Level 3 will require employers to maintain a strict Contact Register to monitor any contacts of new community transmissions. 

The Register will record the names and details of all staff and customers who enter into the workplace (casual contact) as well as close contacts of staff members.

5. What are the health and safety guidelines for delivery of products?

Businesses who offer delivery services are required to adopt contactless delivery instead of handing the order to the customer directly under Level 4.  This may be the preferred method for businesses in lower restriction levels. This means that the item or items are to be dropped at the customer’s doorstep or on a safe surface at the customer’s designated delivery location, keeping the 2 metre distance rule.   

6. What are the health and safety guidelines for food businesses?

The government has provided guidelines for business who deal with food, whether in its preparation or supply, given the frontline nature of their business during COVID-19.

We expect these guidelines to be updated as the situation evolves.  Good hygiene practice guidelines include: 

  • Staff are aware of the symptoms of COVID-19 and how they can isolate if required.
  • Food handlers are appropriately trained in food hygiene practices and that there is effective supervision to reinforce hygiene practices.
  • Appropriate hygiene facilities are provided for washing hands or sanitation.
  • Food handlers and external contractors are aware that they must report any symptoms of respiratory illness before or during work. 
  • Food handlers and other staff are fit to work and are not ill. If staff are unwell, ensure that they stay home until medical advice is obtained and they are cleared to return to work.
  • Workers who are sick or have been sick with COVID-19 do not come to the workplace.
  • Regularly washing and thoroughly drying hands.
  • Using clean utensils to handle cooked and ready-to-eat foods and not touching the food directly.
  • Not coughing or sneezing over food.
  • Avoid touching your nose, mouth and hair when preparing or serving food.

For more information, please visit https://www.mpi.govt.nz/protection-and-response/coronavirus/coronavirus-and-food-safety/

7. Will employees still be expected to work from home?

In a move from Level 4, it is currently expected that employers will still have obligations to minimise physical interaction between staff and customers.  This is likely to mean that some employees will be expected to continue to work from home where that is deemed appropriate.

Employers need to engage with all employees working from home in respect of their work station and to identity, monitor, and address any health risks in the working from home environment.

8. What is the Essential Workers Leave Scheme?

The Essential Workers Leave Scheme is currently for individuals who work in an essential service that have, or live with someone that has, COVID-19 and for that reason must stay away from work and cannot work from home. It also covers essential workers who have a higher risk of severe illness if they were to contract COVID-19 and have reached an agreement with their employer that they will not work.

The Essential Workers Leave Scheme is designed to support such individuals financially. Employees are urged to work with their employers to identify whether they are eligible under this scheme. Eligible employers will be paid:

  • $585.80 per week (before tax) where they work 20 hours or more a week before COVID-19, or
  • $350.000 per week (before tax), where they work part-time or fewer than 20 hours a week before COVID-19

For more information on the Essential Workers Leave Scheme visit https://www.employment.govt.nz/leave-and-holidays/other-types-of-leave/coronavirus-workplace/essential-workers-leave-scheme/

There may be a modified scheme applicable for non-essential workers if there is a move to Level 3 or less.

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