From 28 July 2020 employers must notify WorkSafe Victoria immediately if they become aware of a COVID-19 case in their workplace, or face strict fines.
The Victorian Occupational Health and Safety (COVID-19 Incident Notification) Regulations 2020 (the Regulations) broaden the notification rules that apply to employers who have become aware of a COVID-19 case in their workplace in Victoria.
The Regulations states that when an employer becomes aware that:
- an employee; or
- an independent contractor engaged by the employer; or
- any employee of the independent contractor,
has a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis and has attended the workplace within the infectious period, they must notify WorkSafe Victoria immediately.
The infectious period is defined as the "14 days prior to the onset of symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis (whichever comes first), until the date on which the person receives a clearance from isolation from the [Victorian] Department of Health and Human Services".
The same requirement also applies to a self-employed worker who has attended the workplace during the infectious period and received a subsequent COVID-19 diagnosis.
Previously, duty holders were only required to notify WorkSafe Victoria when they became aware of a case of COVID-19 where it was the cause or suspected cause of a death at a workplace.
Failing to notify WorkSafe is a breach of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) and can lead to fines of up to $198,264 for a body corporate. Individuals could be fined up to $39, 652.
The new Regulations aim to improve the information available to WorkSafe in order to reduce the risks to health and safety in the workplace arising from COVID-19. For information on how to report a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis, please see here.
What Victorian employers should do now
Employers in Victoria should review their incident notification policies to ensure that any COVID-19 case is reported promptly so that they can notify WorkSafe Victoria. You should also take proactive action to remind workers of your COVID-19 Plan, policies and procedures, including:
- Requiring workers to notify you if they have tested positive for COVID-19;
- Directing workers to stay home if they are sick or displaying cold and flu like symptoms;
- Instructing workers to notify you if they have been in close contact with a person who has had COVID-19 or has been tested for COVID-19;
- Reminding workers of their leave entitlements;
- Training workers on the use of PPE and appropriate hygiene measures (ie. washing hands frequently, not touching their face and using hand sanitiser); and
- Remind workers of the procedures to be taken by the workers and employers when a COVID-19 case is reported in the workplace.
Employers across Australia should also take this opportunity to review their COVIDSafe Plans and update these if necessary.
Finally, organisations are reminded that any personal information pertaining to an individual worker's health must be treated in accordance with Australian privacy laws. Further information about COVID-19 and privacy laws can be found here.