Here’s what workers need to know about how the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) applies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- take reasonable care of their own health and safety and ensure that their actions don’t cause harm to themselves or others
- comply with any reasonable instructions, policies, or procedures on how to work in a safe and healthy way.
Workers should also follow all general COVID-19 government advice(external link) to reduce the risk to their co-workers or others at work.
Business and services must address, so far as is reasonably practicable, any risk they’ve identified because of COVID-19. This includes the risk of transferring the virus at work and any other risks that arise from implementing control measures against COVID-19.
Businesses and services have duties to work together with their workers to address these risks. Workers should be engaged and consulted on all matters that affect their health and safety at work.
In some situations, it won’t be possible for businesses and services to eliminate all the risks associated with COVID-19. Where the risks can’t be eliminated, we expect them to be minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable.
If workers are feeling unsafe at work, they should talk to their manager in the first instance and work together to find the best way to eliminate or minimise the risk. Managers should be able to explain why the activity is needed, and what the steps they have put in place can and can’t do. Remember that this is a fast-moving situation and none of us has all the answers.
If a business or service isn’t following this advice workers should talk to their manager about their concerns. They can also:
- talk to their health and safety representative if they have one
- get in contact with their union
- let us know by telling us about their concern through our web form.
There may be a situation where workers believe their only option is to stop working. Under Section 83 of HSWA, workers have the right to do so in certain circumstances. But this should be a last resort, where exposure to COVID-19 is a very real and immediate or imminent risk. That might happen where insufficient steps are in place to properly manage the risk.
If workers choose to take this step, it’s important to tell the person they work for as soon as possible and try to resolve the matter with them. Workers should also involve their health and safety representative if they have one. Workers’ managers are entitled to direct workers to do alternative work that is safe and within the scope of their employment agreement or other contract. Workers can also agree to do work outside of this scope.