As everyone is already aware, the use of face masks in Victoria is now mandatory. Similarly, most are aware of the ‘exemption’ for ‘strenuous work and physical activity’. This exemption implies that both the employer and the worker have the ‘excuse’ to not to use this ‘safety device’. After speaking with a few members in the last couple of days , I thought it was necessary to reiterate the point, that just because there is a written exemption to not wear face masks (safety device), please do not take this as a free pass to operate as ‘normal’.
As part of an employer’s workplace health and safety requirements, the employer has an ‘over-arching’ obligation to ensure that workers are safe. Safety is the priority, work is not. In other words, it sits above ‘getting the job done’. Therefore, if you are going to allow workers to not wear face masks when shearing or even rousabouting, then you need to consider what other control measure you can implement, to offset this Safety requirement (and effectively a directive of the Victorian Health Department).
Unfortunately workplace health and safety is always judged in hindsight. If nothing goes wrong then great, but should one of your workers become infected, who is not wearing a face mask and then spreads the virus amongst other workers in your workplace, the argument that it was ‘OK not to use the face mask’ (read: protective safety barrier) is going to be problematic. If you chose to work-on without implementing other control measures, such as greater than 1.5 meter physical distancing or similar , then unfortunately you may not be ‘off the hook’ when it comes to penalties and costs, such as workers compensation. In other words, if you cannot implement alternative safety controls, such as minimum distances between workers (at, at least 1.5 metres), then you may need to insist on your workers wearing the face masks or not work.
As a follow on to this point, you need to have strong communication process with all your workers, especially if there are workers in your team without face masks: You need to remind all your staff that they have the option to not work, should they feel nervous or anxious about working in the current environment, especially with co-workers not wearing face masks.
Remember the law implies, ‘if you can’t keep your workers safe, then don’t work until it is safe’.