Does your business need a social distancing officer?


Meertens Chartered Accountants partner Austin Taylor.

Australia has made tremendous progress in limiting the spread of COVID-19 and all indications are that we are on the path to socio-economic recovery. For many businesses, this means a return to work for employees who have been working from home. 

Even if we see a relaxation of some COVID-19 restrictions, it’s likely that social distancing guidelines will remain for some time, especially in the workplace.

It is especially important that businesses, of all shapes and sizes, continue to make a positive contribution to the fight against COVID-19. We can’t afford to be complacent now or we could undo all of our good work thus far.

It is with this in mind that I’d like to share an idea for the consideration of fellow business owners: the appointment of a social distancing officer.

When the lockdowns were first announced I immediately appointed one of my staff members to act as a social distancing officer. Why? I believe it is important to adopt a formal approach to compliance with the guidelines presented by health authorities.

Rather than winging it and hoping that staff will do the right thing, I believe that allocating overall responsibility to someone has several benefits, especially for SMEs that do not a staff member responsible for OH&S matters. 

Potential duties of a social distancing officer

Maintaining discipline

Ultimately, the responsibility lies with business owners, but having another staff member to assist in offering gentle reminders to staff who might not be adhering to social distancing guidelines is very worthwhile. 

Identifying ‘risk’ areas

Or, in other words, bottlenecks where people are likely to end up getting too close to each other unintentionally.

For example, the kitchen or other areas where people tend to congregate. 

Identifying risky ‘touch’ points

For example, the control panel of a photocopying machine or the handle of the fridge in the kitchen. These are things that many staff will lay their hands on during the course of most days and therefore contamination is a risk.

The role of the social distancing officer might be to ensure there is sanitiser close at hand and that staff sanitise their hands after touching the fridge door handle or using the photocopying machine. 

Allocating capacity limits in offices and meeting areas

In short, ensuring that social distancing guidelines for the number of people per square metre of space are not exceeded.

This might involve placing a small sign in each room indicating the number of people allowed in that particular space. 

Development and management of a staff roster

In cases where having all staff present at the same time would present a risk, this risk could be reduced by rostering a percentage of staff to work from home. 

Preparing office signage

This would advise visitors to the company’s commitment to social distancing guidelines.

It can never be assumed that visitors are as committed to social distancing as you and your colleagues.

The social distancing officer could, therefore, prepare signage at reception or at the entrance to the premise which clearly describes the company policy and expectations of visitors. 

Sharing information with staff

The social distancing officer could share COVID-19 updates from health authorities with staff.

Management of supplies

In short, ensuring there are sufficient sanitiser and disinfectant on the premises.

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