Following the outbreak of novel coronavirus, we recommend that businesses take steps to ensure that they manage associated risks to the health and safety of workers, both at home and abroad.

Workplace Health and Safety laws in Australia generally require that persons conducting a business or undertaking ('PCBUs') eliminate, or if that's not reasonably practicable, minimise risks to the health and safety of workers so far as is reasonably practicable. This obligation extends to consideration of the health impacts of workers required to travel in the course of their roles, as well as the potential health impacts of infections spreading among Australian workplaces.

On that basis we recommend that businesses take reasonable steps to manage the risk of the spread of coronavirus throughout workplaces, which should include:

  • remaining familiar with the Commonwealth Government's official guidelines on travel to China, and taking documented steps to ensure workers are also familiar with, and are complying with, these guidelines;
  • requiring workers returning from China within the past 14 days to work from home/requesting that these workers obtain medical clearance prior to returning to work;
  • reviewing, (if appropriate, updating) and training workers in relevant hygiene, travel and flexible working policies. This might include, for example, imposing stricter hygiene requirements on workers, and limiting non-essential business travel to China and other affected areas; and
  • developing a communications strategy to provide workers with accurate and timely information about developments with the outbreak, the steps the business is taking and access to the latest public health and travel information.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.