If you’re not sure of the answers to these questions then please read on as there can be penalties for getting this wrong.
As the threat of a second wave in NSW increases the Government is starting to use its powers to come down heavily on businesses that are not meeting their obligations to ensure they are COVID safe.
What are these obligations?
The most recent Public Health Order regarding Restrictions on Gathering and Movement (https://gazette.legislation.nsw.gov.au/so/download.w3p?id=Gazette_2020_2020-139.pdf):
- continued the previous direction that an employer must allow an employee to work at the employee’s place of residence if it is reasonably practicable to do so;
- directs the occupiers of certain premises (listed in Schedule 1) to develop and comply with a COVID -19 Safety Plan.
The penalties for breaching this or any other public health order are:
- up to $11,000 or 6 months’ imprisonment for individuals plus a further $5,500 fine for each day the offence continues
- up to $55,000 for corporations plus $27,500 for each day the offence continues.
Is your business required to have a COVID-19 safety plan?
Schedule 1 of the Public Health Order sets out the types of premises that are required to have a COVID-19 safety plan and these are generally businesses that rely on members of the community for their business eg pubs, restaurants, recreation facilities, casinos, zoos etc.
The Services NSW website provides guidance as to how to become a COVID Safe business (https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/covid-safe-businesses) with template plans by industry. If you look at this it will become apparent that there is not a direct correlation between the premises listed in the Public Health Order and the industries on the Service NSW website. If you click on a particular industry on the website it then says whether you are required to have a Safety Plan in accordance with the Public Health Order or not. If you’re not (eg food processing, manufacturing, office environment) then it recommends you develop one anyway either using the recommended template for your industry or by addressing the checklist of recommended actions. If your industry is not listed then there is a generic template that can be used.
Implement your plan
Like any workplace policy it’s all very well to have one but if it’s then filed away and no-one knows about it or follows it then it won’t achieve its desired purpose. This has happened already eg the Crossroads Hotel at Casula had a Safety Plan but not every visitor who attended when most of the infections at the heart of the recent cluster occurred were required to provide their name and phone number when entering. This is not only a breach of the Plan but also constitutes a separate breach of the Public Health Order.
Registering as COVID safe
Once you’ve developed a COVID-19 safety plan you can then register as a COVID safe business, although this is optional. As at 8 July 2020 Premier Gladys Berejiklian reported that more than 117,500 COVID Safety plans had been downloaded but only 10,500 NSW businesses had registered as COVID Safe.
The advantages to registering are that you will be provided with:
- a digital COVID Safe badge for use on Google and social media to advertise that you are doing the right thing and to help customers find you when searching online
- posters on safety and hygiene
- reports on how your customers rate your business safety
The only real disadvantage to registering is that feedback provided by customers is also provided to the regulator so there is the (slight) risk that a customer could cause you extra work by reporting potentially incorrect or otherwise damaging feedback.
Every business should develop a COVID-19 Safety Plan to ensure they are meeting their obligations and keeping everyone safe. Whether you then decide to register your business as COVID safe is a business decision for you but quite likely the benefits will outweigh any potential downside.
If you need help developing or reviewing your Safety Plan or otherwise assisting you meet your obligations we’re here to help.
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please also note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.