Further updates on the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Melbourne

Industry News
Fiona Nield

Following the Government’s announcement on Monday that the next step in the lifting of restrictions in metropolitan Melbourne will start today, 28 October, this member alert provides answers to some of the questions being asked by members along with further information now available from the legal instruments (directions) made under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008.

The new Workplace (Additional Obligations) Directions no longer apply to the building and construction industry. This means that concepts such as small-scale and large-scale construction no longer apply.

It is important to note that information available on the Business Victoria website and other COVID-19 websites is gradually being updated meaning some information may no longer be current or accurate. HIA understands this should be resolved by the end of this week.

Worker Permits required between regions

Worker permits will no longer be required for workers who reside and work in the Melbourne metropolitan area.

A permitted worker permit will be needed to allow workers to cross the ring of steel between regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne in either direction.

If you don’t already have a permitted worker permit and need to travel across the ring of steel, you need to obtain a Metro-Regional Work Travel Permit.

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, or are a close contact as determined by the Department of Health and Human Services, you are not allowed to utilise a worker permit to attend work. Obviously, you must not attend work in these circumstances even if you do not need a worker permit.

Returning to workplaces

The new Stay Safe (Melbourne) Directions retain the concept of a worker not being allowed to leave home to attend work unless it is not reasonably practicable to work from home. The Workplace Directions also continue to prohibit an employer (which includes a person engaging a contractor) from having a worker attend a work site when it is reasonably practicable to work from home.

However, worksites such as display homes, colour and product selection centres, and offices for clients to visit are now permitted work premises meaning more workers can return to the workplace. Workers who cannot reasonably perform their work from home, such as workers who need access to specialist equipment or equipment not available at home, can also continue to work in an office or workplace where necessary.

For all work sites the Workplace Directions require:

  • face coverings,
  • a COVIDSafe Plan;
  • keeping records of all workers and visitors who attend a work site;
  • compliance with the density quotient;
  • signage about the density quotient for areas accessible to the public; and
  • ongoing cleaning requirements.

Changes to worker site restrictions

The following worker site restrictions have been abolished:

  • the number of workers who may work on a site;
  • the restrictions on the number of sites that workers may attend; and
  • the concept of a specialist contractors.

This does not mean there are no controls on the numbers of workers on a site or movement between sites. For all building sites the Workplace Directions still require:

  • compliance with the density quotient;
  • employers to minimise the need for workers to attend multiple sites (this can be achieved by rostering or similar means);
  • a worker declaration for any worker who attends more than one work site for more than one employer each time they attend a site; and
  • the employer to keep a record of all worker declarations received.

Density quotients

It is critical to understand that the Workplace Directions continue to apply and in particular impose the density quotient and the worker declaration system. WorkSafe have been enforcing these requirements and it is important that your COVIDSafe Plan adequately addresses the above requirements.

The density quotient is an existing concept that will probably continue to be important for some time. A density quotient is calculated by dividing the accessible area of a work space by 4. So for example, if a room is 5.2 metres by 4 metres is size it has an accessible floor area of 20.8 square metres and the density quotient is rounded down to 5 people in that work space. Builders should satisfy themselves of the size of all work spaces and not rely on measurements from others.

Internal renovations

Renovations in occupied homes are now permitted but it is important to appreciate that there continue to be a large number of restrictions on how this activity can occur. Guidance on working in someone’s home is set out on the Business Victoria website.

When entering a person’s home to undertake work there must be compliance with all the requirements of the Workplace Directions that apply to a work site.

When working in an occupied home it is recommended that physical barriers be in place, which can include a closed door. Dust mitigation measures that are already used may help address this requirement. A key principle is to minimise the sharing of air space between workers and clients. Ideally the client should vacate the home or at least ensure they stay away from workers on site.

COVIDSafe Plans for a renovation site that is occupied must include information about the measures that will be used to separate clients and workers.

Post-handover maintenance

The Business Victoria website suggests that the post-handover maintenance is still restricted. However, the website also suggests that this work is permitted if the client vacates the property while the work is carried out. If the maintenance can be carried out in less than one day then this should not be a problem. Otherwise this would continue to restrict builders and clients complying with their contractual obligations to have maintenance of a complete home after handover.

Where workers attend a home to carry out post-handover maintenance, all COVIDSafe plans and health and safety requirements must be met.

Quoting

It is now possible for a worker to visit an occupied home for the purpose of providing a quote. Business Victoria recommends that the client leave the home while this activity, which could include measuring and inspecting the home, takes place.

Display homes

Under the updated Workplace Directions display homes have been returned to the category of retail facilities, and are no longer included as real estate premises. On this basis, display homes can open from today.

The Restricted Activity Directions require that each operator of an open retail facility comply with density quotient and signage requirements for indoor spaces, records requirements and cleaning requirements. These requirements are defined in the Workplace Directions.

The 25km limit from the Stay Safe Directions would apply unless it is not practicable to visit the specific display home a client is seeking to visit within that limit.

If a client makes an appointment to attend a display home it is recommended that the builder continue to confirm this in a letter.

Colour and product selections

A colour or product selection centre is a retail facility. Therefore these centres can open as any other retail facility from today. The 25km limit from the Stay Safe Directions applies unless it is not practicable to obtain the goods and services within that limit.

The Restricted Activity Directions require that each operator of an open retail facility comply with density quotient and signage requirements for indoor spaces, records requirements and cleaning requirements. These requirements are defined in the Workplace Directions.

Building inspections

With the easing of restrictions it will be easier for clients and building consultants to attend building inspections. While the 25km limit from the Stay Safe Directions remains in place this limit may not apply where it would not be practicable, such as where the clients building site is more than 25km from their home.

It is however clear that a client cannot leave Melbourne to inspect a building site in regional Victoria as this would require crossing the ring of steel. It is expected that this will continue to be banned until at least 8 November 2020.

HIA continues to recommend that builders book inspections with clients and send them a letter to confirm the details of the site and time of the inspection. Builders and clients also need to be aware that normal requirements under the Domestic Building Contracts Act continue to apply if an inspection is allowed under the COVID-19 directions. This means that builders must allow reasonable access to the client upon notice and that clients must give reasonable notice and not interfere with or delay building work.

COVIDSafe Plans

COVIDSafe Plans continue to be required at all workplaces in Victoria but the High Risk COVIDSafe Plans are no longer required for construction. High Risk COVIDSafe Plans may continue to be used if already in place. More information about COVIDSafe Plans are available here.

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