7 ways to stay COVID-safe at work

Feeling uneasy about heading back to work as coronavirus restrictions are eased? Use this expert advice to stay safe.

Life might feel as though it’s getting back to a new kind of normal, but even though most Australians say they’re on board with the pace restrictions are relaxing, research also shows that seven out of 10 of us are still worried about coronavirus.

If you’re one of them, and it’s time to head back work, it’s not surprising if you’re feeling concerned or stressed about what you need to do to protect yourself and your colleagues.

The first thing to know is that employers have legal obligations around ensuring your health and safety in relation to COVID-19 when you’re at work, including whether or not “hot desking” should continue – and, if it does, the hygiene precautions needed to make it “safe”.

So rest assured – many measures will already be in place. But there are things you can do to double down on them.

1. Only take the essentials to work

“Avoid the temptation to bring too much unnecessary stuff to work each day,” says University of New South Wales virologist Dr Sacha Stelzer-Braid.

“And try to make sure whatever you do bring is a surface that can be wiped down with a disinfectant wipe or cleaned using an alcohol-based spray.”

2. Wipe your equipment down at least once a day

Dr Stelzer-Braid does this first thing every morning.

“Before you start work, wipe down the high-traffic areas of your work station – for example, your keyboard and mouse if you sit at a desk – using a disinfectant wipe or an alcohol-based spray,” she says. “And don’t forget to clean your mobile phone as well.”

3. Keep your stationery to yourself

“Given how people tend to inadvertently touch their faces with pencils and pens, and even put them in their mouths, I’d suggest quitting sharing these,” says Dr Stelzer-Braid.

“It’s also a good idea to clean your pens once a day, too.”

4. Remember physical distancing

This is especially important after the results of a US study released in May found that droplets emitted when speaking can remain in the air for eight minutes or longer.

That means talking and breathing may potentially spread COVID-19, says Queensland University of Technology International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health director Prof Lidia Morawska.

“Small droplets can be expelled by breathing or talking and become airborne, travel on airflow and potentially infect people who inhale them,” she says.

While it might not always be possible to keep at least 1.5 metres apart from your co-workers depending on your job, maintain your distance as much as you can.

Eat lunch at your desk or outside, and avoiding gathering with others for non-essential reasons.

5. Wash your hands regularly

Dr Stelzer-Braid says washing hands is more effective than becoming overly paranoid about not touching things.

“It’s not practical to be at work and think you’re going to be able to avoid touching everything, including things like toilet door handles,” she says.

“What’s most important is that you wash your hands often, with either soap and water, or hand sanitiser, particularly after touching communal, high-traffic areas at work and before touching your face or eating something using your hands.”

QUT researcher Dr Elke Hacker stresses that correct hand-washing technique is key.

“Most of us, before the coronavirus epidemic, washed our hands for about five seconds, but since the outbreak we are taking longer washing them,” she says.

“Correct handwashing must involve washing between the fingers and rotational rubbing around the thumb and paying attention to nails and palms.”

6. Clean kitchen utensils before you use them

“Your risk of picking up coronavirus from clean cutlery, cups or plates in the staff kitchen is low if things have been washed properly and thoroughly,” says Dr Stelzer-Braid.

“But just to be sure, I rinse anything from our staff kitchen with hot water and some detergent, and then use a disposable paper towel, rather than a cloth tea towel, to dry it, before I use it.”

Sharing food with your workmates should be avoided though.

7. Stay home if you’re sick

If you feel at all unwell, even mildly, with COVID-19 symptoms, like a sore throat, a runny nose and a cough, you should stay home from work and get tested for coronavirus.

Where to get essential coronavirus information

If you are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, call the 24/7 hotline on 1800 675 398. You can also use the Healthdirect symptom checker.

Instant Consult offers on-the-spot online GP consultations and can issue medical certificates, prescriptions, radiology and pathology requests and specialist referrals.

Information, news and government guidance on COVID-19 changes regularly. For the latest official health and government advice, visit:

Written by Karen Fittall.