Adapting to COVID-19 and returning to work Back

COVID-19 has caused rapid changes around the world and specifically the workplace.

Across Western Australia local government facilities and community services were shut, staff moved to working from home and depots and essential services adopted new ways of working.

Although Covid-19 has had devastating effects worldwide, this may in fact lead to safer, healthier ways of working. Social distancing, for instance, could see training evolve into new, 'virtual' environments better aligned with modern-day teaching, learning and continuous improvement, and professional development.

Attitudes, beliefs and behaviours may also improve as workers become more conscious of risks, taking extra precautions to stay safe.

The big question is 'What may have to change within your local government to mitigate the risk of COVID 19?'

Pandemics are more than just tragedies of sickness and death. Mass-scale threats such as COVID- 19, and the uncertainty and fear that accompanies them, can lead to new behaviours and beliefs.

People may become either more suspicious or more impressionable. Above all, they may be less willing to engage with anything that seems foreign or strange. Local governments need to be prepared for a shift. Isolation may have caused re-integration issues; remote working will force a push and demand for further remote working.

COVID-19 might alter workers' casual safety behaviours. Why is this?

  • workers are becoming accustomed to taking more precautions with their health due to the outbreak of Covid-19
  • media and official public health messaging encourages everybody to 'stay safe' and 'protect themselves', so this may have an influence on workers' attitudes
  • workers might be worried about an increased chance of infection at the workplace
  • workers are more aware of hazards which could transfer from viral risk to everyday workplace situations

All this can provide a platform for a fresh start, and reengagement.

The aftermath of this pandemic may affect workers and local governments in different ways, both positive and negative. Here we explore areas which may change ,  and outline risks, opportunities and some mitigations.


Workers' attitudes towards certain issues may change, especially towards illness and contagious disease. These attitudes will be influenced by how you as a local government respond, communicate and consult with your workers, and community.

With the safety of workers a priority for all local governments, a cautious, vigilant, risk-aware workforce should benefit the long-term safety performance of all local governments as workers may be less willing to take risks in all situations, reducing the likelihood of injuries, and accidents.


Behaviours change as attitudes and beliefs change. You may find that meetings may be conducted remotely more often, as opposed to large group meetings. Some workers may be reluctant to interact socially with others, therefore causing issues around the productivity, teamwork and all-round functionality.

Workers may feel the need to clean down any work equipment or machinery before use, which may cause delays, therefore affecting productivity.

Local governments may see an increase in the need for PPE (personal protective equipment) as workers look to ensure the safety of themselves and others around them. This can have a positive effect in some areas, where there may have previously been resistance.

Worker protection

When looking at how workers can be protected, local government should conduct a risk assessment and implement appropriate controls. These controls should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that they provide the right level of mitigation, ensuring that where possible, the risk of further infection is reduced.

Suggested controls

Staged returns

Bring the workforce back in stages. This reduces numbers, and the chance of viruses spreading. This approach may also help to ease workers back into work who are feeling anxious at this time.
Social distancingAdhering to government guidelines will help contain the spread of the virus but will also assist in easing worker fears around contraction.
Monitoring and detection technologies

Some local governments are using temperature scanners at the entrance of workplaces to scan workers before coming in to work, any worker with an abnormal reading will be sent home.

One issue with temperature scanning is that asymptomatic workers may not be traced by a temperature scanner and therefore there is still a risk of spreading the virus.

Screens and protection

We are seeing screens/ dividers and protectors being used at supermarket checkouts. These could be considered for customer facing elements of local government offices – For example customer service centres, and access into leisure facilities.

The main purpose of the screen is to catch any airborne contaminants.

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Local governments may see a significant rise in the demand for PPE.

It's important that Local Governments are sensitive to workers needs following such a frightening and disruptive period, and respect their need to feel safe.

Risk assessmentsConduct risk assessments to establish what controls can be used prior to using PPE, if PPE is required, the risk assessment should determine what PPE is necessary for the specific job/ task. Identifying what PPE is required for roles/ tasks will enable the correct distribution of appropriate equipment to workers.


Adapt or create new policies, procedures to deliver training and provide re-training that will reassure workers that as a local government you have identified new and emerging risks from Covid-19 and are protecting staff, as much as possible, from contracting the virus.

Below are ways in which training can be adapted to satisfy COVID-19 measures and restrictions:

  • Update policies and procedures to include COVID-19
  • Provide specific COVID-19 training
  • Training numbers reduced to accommodate half the capacity of a room
  • Virtual training (online, virtual reality)

More information and support

For more information and support in adapting your local government safety practices to the 'new normal' of COVID-19 contact Emma Horsefield, OSH Program Manager, on 0407 957 932 or email Alternatively contact your Regional Risk Coordinator