COVID isn’t over: what you can do to protect yourself and others

Published: 02/02/2023
Category: Covid-19
Published: 02/02/2023
Category: Covid-19

Last week marks three years since COVID-19 was first detected in Australia. 
Since then, Australia has had 11 million confirmed cases and over 16,000 people have died directly from COVID-19. 
So much about how we approach the virus has changed in that time, but one thing remains the same: Employers still have legal obligations to keep everyone safe. 
COVID remains a very real workplace and community risk. Workplace laws clearly state that your employer has a legal obligation to keep you safe at work. 
There is no excuse for employers to drop the ball on keeping workplaces COVID-safe. 
Increased ventilation including open windows and doors whenever possible, masks, density limits, and regular, free testing are all measures that must be used to keep workers safe.

Ventilation and physical distancing

The way COVID is transmitted is through the air you breathe so it makes sense that the air around you be as clean as possible. 

At work, that means your employer has a duty to keep air well ventilated. Windows should be open where possible and air conditioning units need to use fresh air rather than recycled air. 

When these measures aren’t feasible, your employer should install air filters. They can also check the air quality using a monitor.  

For more information about what a well-ventilated workplace requires and more resources, check out this fact sheet on ventilation

In addition to good air quality, you can help reduce the COVID spread with social distancing.  

Although there are no longer government mandates establishing density limits, your employer still has a legal responsibility to keep you and your colleagues safe at work.  

Social distancing when paired with wearing a mask (the best are N95s and P2s) will significantly reduce the risk of infection and keep not only yourself safe but others around you as well.  

If your employer is refusing to implement any of these measures, it’s time to give your union a call.

Know your rights working from home

You can also opt to work from home to reduce your exposure to possible COVID infection and your employer should allow you to work from home where possible.  
But it’s important to remember that even if you’ve swapped your desk for the dining table, workplace laws clearly state that you have the right and entitlement to a safe and healthy work environment, wherever that may be. 
The Working From Home Charter is what will make your experience of working from home better, safer and a more positive experience. Just because you’re in your own home, doesn’t mean your rights be left by the wayside.

Not sure what to do? Talk it through

If you don’t think your workplace has the best arrangements in place, it’s time to start talking to your workmates about it. 

Navigating work during a pandemic is a new experience for everyone and you’re probably not the only person with suggestions on how to improve your workplace. 

The next step is to get your Health and Safety Representatives involved in those conversation (if you haven’t already) so they can help you raise your ideas and concerns with your employer.  

HSRs are there to keep your workplace safe and represent your work group or team when it comes to health and safety issues like COVID.  

The ‘safety officer’ you might have at work is probably not an HSR. Unlike safety or OHS officers who are there for the employer, HSRs are elected by and among workers to represent workers’ issues first and foremost.  

If you don’t have any HSRs at work and you’re not sure how to go about electing them, contact your union.

Practise community care

What is community care? It means caring and looking out for each other. In a COVID context where lock downs and isolation mandates have been all but stripped away, it means protecting each other the best we can during the pandemic. 

Community care doesn’t have to be a big deal. It can be doing a food drop off for a friend who’s isolating, wearing a mask while you’re in public spaces or testing before you leave home.  

These simple actions are hugely important to ensure the good health everyone but especially workers with disability who have lost many safety nets such as paid pandemic leave.  

While working from home means better work-life balance and flexibility for some workers, for workers with disability it can be literally life-changing. And as more people experience long COVID, workplaces need to make sure that they are accessibility friendly. 

Worker solidarity doesn’t end when you clock off for the day: it happens well beyond the workplace.   

Workers are people first. That’s why union members stand together for protected workers’ rights and look out for fellow workers in and beyond the workplace. Always.

You’re never alone when you’re a union member

Cover photo credit: Rod Long on Unsplash

COVID isn’t over: what you can do to protect yourself and others

COVID isn’t over: what you can do to protect yourself and others