While many sectors such as hospitality, retail and tourism operators will not have had their level of restriction eased with Step Two, it is still vital for all businesses to begin to prepare for reopening.
It is critical for every business in Victoria to know what precautions are mandatory moving forward and help provide a COVID-safe environment for all staff, patrons, and visitors.
This is the beginning of a new era for business in Australia, not just Victoria. It is unlikely there will be a more critical time in our living history to prepare your business for its safety and longevity into the future.
All of us must embrace the new ‘COVID normal’ and get back to business as soon as possible and begin the recovery from what has been a devastating period of history for all of us.
For the most recent information, services and guides regarding the reopening of your business, visit the COVID-19 Business Restart Services page of the VCCI website.
Preparing to Reopen
Whether your business is currently ‘Closed’, ‘Heavily Restricted’ or ‘Open with a COVIDSafe Plan’, every business needs to be as prepared as possible for the future and have all foreseeable measures in place to ensure a safe environment for staff and visitors.
The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) has prepared the Business Restart Checklist and Business Restart Guide which are suitable for businesses across all industries and of all sizes. Whether you are a butcher in Brighton or a builder in Bendigo, our resources will can help your businesses prepare for reopening, including:
- Management of critical actions
- Site preparation
- Crisis communication
- Change management
- Employee restart processes
- Action on suspected cases of COVID-19
- Plus, many more
Health, Safety and COVIDSafe Plans
The COVID-19 pandemic is going to have a lasting impact on the health and safety standards in all workplaces in the future. While the novel coronavirus will hopefully one day disappear, all businesses must be responsible for their working environments and ensure their staff are protected if it persists.
Before reopening your business, each Permitted Work Premises in Metropolitan Melbourne (as determined by the State Government) must complete a COVIDSafe Plan prior to resuming operations.
Only businesses with fewer than five staff in the workplace are exempt from needing to complete a COVIDSafe plan. However, WorkSafe Victoria requires all businesses to have a COVIDSafe Plan and the VCCI and the Victorian Government strongly recommends that you complete one and action it to ensure a safe workplace.
Businesses classified as an abattoir or a meat processing facility (including seafood and poultry) must complete a High-Risk COVIDSafe Plan regardless of where in Victoria your operations are based.
The COVIDSafe guide and template will help you:
- Understand your responsibilities and requirements
- Prepare your COVIDSafe plan
- Keep your COVIDSafe plan updated and relevant
- Distribute your COVIDSafe plan to staff and stakeholders
Staff and Work Arrangements
Returning to work, while exciting for many, is likely to create unique issues for many businesses preparing to reopen. Being prepared and knowing how to deal with these issues is going to be vital for a productive transition into the new ‘COVID normal’.
Reopening the business’ doors will mean a change in routine and lifestyle that many of us have become accustomed to during 2020, and not everyone will be so eager to get back to the workplace.
For example, your business may encounter a situation where a staff member is not able to follow the new safety measures in place, or business technology is not able to adapt to the pace of new operations.
There is a myriad of issues businesses must consider about re-engaging their staff in preparation to return to the workplace, including:
Staff will need to be notified of potential start-dates as soon as possible and you should ensure reasonable notice is provided.
While most workers are likely to be keen to start as soon as possible, many will need time to prepare their new routine and prepare both financially and emotionally prepare to enter a new ‘COVID normal’.
Return dates should also be reflected in your COVIDSafe plan and should have the flexibility to change in the event of unforeseen circumstances (another outbreak etc.).
Changes in duties or location
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit thousands of businesses hard, and many will need to move or reduce in size to endure. Many businesses have also taken the shutdown as an opportunity to optimise floorplans, strategies, and procedures.
For example, those in the hospitality, retail and tourism sectors who have face-to-face contact with the public will greatly need to change the way they operate and perform their duties.
When requiring staff to change duties, hours of work or locations, businesses may need to consider how to transition staff and be mindful of any limitations which may prevent them from doing so, or which may require them to follow a consultation process.
Health and safety requirements
As part of operating in the new ‘COVID normal’, you should inform your staff in advance if their roles are altered in any way to comply with new health and safety protocols. For instance, the State Government has already made it clear that the wearing of compulsory PPE (including face-coverings) in the workplace and in public will be in place for many months to come.
Every business will need to be clear and heard when addressing their staff to ensure new safety standards are met and in accordance with the businesses COVIDSafe Plan and government laws that were not in effect prior to closure.
Thousands of Victorians have struggled during lockdown, as shown by the dramatic increase to helplines and mental health support networks. It is important for businesses to acknowledge that the physical and mental health of all staff is paramount and should be considered when reopening.
Returning to work may result in a lot of change for staff, and much of that change can cause conflict. These conversations can be difficult to have with staff as it will mean starting fresh and saying goodbye to the job they knew.