With the announced change from Level 4 to Level 3, and the move to Level 2 to follow, employers and employees need to know what their health and safety obligations will be as they move to each level. These obligations are, of course, on top of the ordinary obligations to keep everyone safe at all times, so I will mainly outline the things that might be new to many (you may have had to do these already as an essential service) as your organisation moves levels.

At Level 3 a business or operation (a PCBU- Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking) will (unless an essential service) be allowed to operate from its business premises (as opposed to operating from home) if it cannot operate from home and can operate from its premises safely in public health and ordinary H&S terms.

No direct (physical) client contact is allowed. Any provision of goods or services must be contactless eg on line or similar ordering, collection of goods etc in a contactless way (for example a collection station set up in a car park where goods are left and collected without physical closeness). Staff must be using all necessary personal protective equipment for the situation (gloves, masks, hand sanitisers or similar for hygiene). Premises must be cleaned more often with suitable products to clean surfaces to avoid virus uplift by touch etc.

All those measures must form part of a PCBU's Covid-19 documented safety plan. The PCBU must assess its ability to operate safety at level 3 (or 2). This assessment must include how it can operate safely and how to protect workers and customers.

This plan must be shared with all workers and workers must be involved when assessing risks and identifying solutions.

The PCBU must consider how to manage any risks identified - including the risk of exposure and transmission at work. It must address all the risks identified and take all practicable steps to eliminate or minimise those risks (using the normal criteria to assess the likely chance of occurrence, the likelihood of harm, the state of knowledge and the means available to prevent it and the seriousness of harm that could result etc).

It also needs to consider how will normal risks change or new risks arise from things put in place to control Covid-19 risks ie it must understand the impact of changing work practices and will the new H&S practices keep everyone safe and well. This applies to people, equipment and practices eg distancing, personal protective gear and hygiene.

Training on the use of personal protective equipment needs to be appropriate for the risks eg the correct way to put on and take off face masks and correct hand washing techniques.

For any businesses which share access points eg doorways, stairwells and lifts you will need to coordinate with the other PCBUs including the landlord. How will common areas be dealt with? How will access buttons be sanitised? (long lasting protective processes can be applied). How will restrictions on numbers in lifts be implemented and enforced? How will staff be able to pass each other in stairwells etc and still maintain physical distancing?

In the premises, can shifts and breaks for meals etc be staggered to minimise contact? Can work spaces be separated? Can screens be erected to minimise contact etc? How will deliveries be made? How will goods be sanitised before dispatch? There will be a myriad of risks you need to assess for your operation and control processes then be implemented.

It will be doubly important to keep anyone who is unwell away from the workplace. Can you be flexible about some staff working from home still? Remember that if staff are working from home or anywhere out of the office you are still responsible for the H&S of their workplace, so make sure you assess the risks (poor posture at makeshift work stations, trip hazards, heat build-up from equipment, regular breaks and exercise etc).

Remember that you can only open the business premises to workers if work cannot be done from home. Being inconvenient to do something from home is not a reason to work from the office or business premises in Level 3.

Under Level 4 only essential services travel was allowed. Under Level 3 travel for work within your region (or adjoining region) will be allowed, but only if that travel is necessary and all precautions are taken.

Client meetings in person are still not allowed under Level 3. At Level 1 and 2 they will be permitted, but only in accordance with the public health guidelines on distancing etc. There will still be no large public gatherings.

Consider the risks of working under Level 3. You can work from business premises only if you cannot work from home and you can work safely at the office. Assess all the risks, work out the appropriate controls, implement the necessary training and follow up to ensure the processes are being actually being carried out in practice. Now is not the time to adopt a "she'll be right" attitude to Health and Safety.

Alan Knowsley
Health and Safety Lawyer