The Centre for Volunteering (The Centre) is committed to supporting our members and stakeholders in assisting to stop the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) disease by providing information to members, employees and volunteering communities at large about the ways to manage the current outbreak and potential spread of the virus.

How COVID-19 spreads

According to the World Health Organisation, when someone who has COVID-19 coughs or exhales they release droplets of infected fluid.  Most droplets fall on nearby surfaces and objects – such as desks, tables or telephones.  People could catch COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces or objects – and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

If you are standing within one metre of a person with COVID-19 you can catch it by breathing in droplets coughed out or exhaled by them.  In other words, COVID-19 spreads in a similar way to the flu.  Most persons infected with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms and recover.  However, some go on to experience more serious illness and may require hospital care.  Risk of serious illness rises with age: people over 40 seem to be more vulnerable than those under 40.  People with weakened immune systems and people with conditions such as diabetes, heart, and lung disease are also more vulnerable to serious illness.

Suggested ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in your workplace

These low-cost measures below will help prevent the spread of infections in our workplaces, such as colds, flu and stomach bugs, and protect your employees, volunteers, customers and visitors to your workplaces.

Employers (both of paid and voluntary staff) should start doing these things now – even if COVID-19 has not arrived in the communities where you operate.

  • Make sure your workplaces are clean and hygienic
  • Surfaces (e.g. desks and tables) and objects (e.g. telephones, keyboards) need to be wiped with disinfectant regularly
    • Why? Because contamination on surfaces touched by people is one of the main ways that COVID-19 spreads
  • Promote regular and thorough hand-washing by employees, volunteers and any visitors to your workplace
  • Put sanitizing hand-rub dispensers in prominent places around your workplace.  Make sure these dispensers are regularly refilled
  • Make sure that staff, volunteers and anybody providing services to your workplaces have  access to where they can wash their hands with soap and water
    • Why? Because washing kills the virus on your hands and prevents the spread of COVID-19
  • Promote good respiratory hygiene in the workplace
  • Ensure that paper tissues are available at your workplaces, for those who develop a runny nose or cough at work, along with closed bins for hygienically of them
    • Why? Because good respiratory hygiene prevents the spread of COVID -19
  • Display posters promoting hand-washing and steps to stop the spread.  Resources can be downloaded from the Department of Health: https://www.health.gov.au/resources
  • Advise employees, volunteers and visitors to your workplace/s:
    • To consult national travel advice before going on trips
    • Advise about current self-isolation requirements and ensure all adhere to the restrictions
    • If COVID -19 starts spreading in your community anyone with even a mild cough or low-grade fever (37.3 C or more) needs to stay at home.  They should also stay home (or work from home) if they have had to take simple medications, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin, which may mask symptoms of infection.  A useful link to knowing the signs for COVID –19:  https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-know-the-signs
    • Keep communicating and promoting the message that people need to stay at home even if they have just mild symptoms
    • Make clear to employees that they will be able to count this time-off as sick leave

Things to consider before travelling:

  • Make sure your organisation and its workforce (both paid and voluntary) have the latest information on areas where COVID-19 is spreading.  You can find this at https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports/
  • Based on the latest information, your organisation should assess the benefits and risks related to upcoming travel plans for employees and volunteers
  • Avoid sending employees and volunteers who may be at higher risk of serious illness (e.g. older employees and volunteers and those with medical conditions such as diabetes, heart and lung disease) to areas where COVID-19 is spreading
  • Make sure all persons travelling to locations reporting COVID -19 are briefed by a qualified professional (e.g. staff health services, health care provider or local health partner)
  • Consider issuing employees and volunteers who are about to travel for work, with small bottles (under 100ml) of alcohol-based hand rub.  This can facilitate regular hand-washing.

While travelling:

  • Encourage employees and volunteers to wash their hands regularly and stay at least one metre away from people who are coughing or sneezing
  • Ensure employees and volunteers know what to do and who to contact if they feel ill while traveling
  • Ensure that your employees and volunteers comply with instructions from local authorities where they are travelling.  

When you or your employees and volunteers return from travelling:

  • Employees and volunteers who have returned from an area where COVID -19 is spreading should quarantine themselves for symptoms for 14 days and take their temperature twice a day. They should not leave their home.
  • If they develop even a mild cough or low grade fever (i.e. a temperature of 37.3 C or more) they should continue to stay at home and self-isolate.  This means avoiding close contact (one metre or nearer) with other people, including family members.  They should also telephone their healthcare provider or the state health department, giving them details of their recent travel and symptoms

Getting your organisation ready in case COVID -19 arrives in your community

  • Develop a plan of what to do if someone becomes ill with suspected COVID-19 at your workplace
  • The plan should cover putting the ill person in a room or area where they are isolated from others in the workplace, limiting the number of people who have contact with the sick person and contacting the local health authorities
  • Consider how to identify persons who may be at risk, and support them, without inviting stigma and discrimination into your workplace.  This could include persons who have recently travelled to an area reporting cases, or other personnel who have conditions that put them at higher risk of serious illness (e.g. diabetes, heart and lung disease, older age)
  • Consult with your local health authority when developing a plan and seek their input.
  • Promote teleworking across your organisation.  If there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in your workplace, the health authorities may advise people to avoid public transport and crowded places.  Teleworking will help your business keep operating while your employees and volunteers stay safe
  • Develop a contingency and continuity plan for an outbreak in your workplace/s for the possibility of an outbreak of COVID-19
    • The plan should address how to keep your business running if a significant number of employees, volunteers, contractors and suppliers cannot come to your place of business – either due to local restrictions on travel or due to illness
  • Communicate to your employees, volunteers and contractors about the plan and make sure they are aware of what they need to do – or not do.  Emphasise key points such as the importance of staying away from work even if they have only mild symptoms or have had to take simple medications which may mask the symptoms
  • Be sure your plan addresses the mental health and social consequences of a case of COVID-19 in the workplace or community and offer information and support
  • For small and medium-sized organisations without in-house staff health and welfare support, develop partnerships and plans with your local health and social service providers in advance of any emergency
  • Follow State and National Health authorities for support and guidance in developing your plan.

Remember:

Now is the time to prepare for COVID-19.  Simple precautions and planning can make a big difference.  Action now will help protect your employees, volunteers and your organisation.

Please ensure your volunteers, as well as your staff, are informed about relevant policies and procedure within your organisation in relation to public health issues.

For more information about COVID-19 visit NSW Health’s website.