Councils and the Coronavirus (COVID‑19)

LGNSW has prepared the following advice on the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus and the role of local government in helping to ensure the safety of our communities. 

Duty as a public body

The Office of Local Government has issued a Council Circular on the Coronavirus. More information on this new strain of virus is available at the NSW Health website, which includes an extensive and valuable FAQ and is regularly updated as new information comes to hand. 

For information specific to your local area, and before making any public statements on COVID-19, councils are encouraged to contact their local NSW Health Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055.

Business continuity and pandemic plans for your council

Having a current and well-understood business continuity plan is important, especially if absenteeism rates climb in the coming months.

NSW Health has also advised councils may want to consider:  

  • whether business practices and modes of service delivery (i.e. face-to-face interactions/highly trafficked council areas) could be adjusted to reduce the risk of transmission
  • planning for potentially high rates of absenteeism across all agencies, as people become ill, or need to stay home to care for family
  • reinforcing routine occupational health and safety obligations
  • identifying and protecting critical staff functions (i.e. highly important functions that may only be undertaken by a small number of people)
  • role substitution for vulnerable individuals (current information indicates that people with underlying illnesses that make them more vulnerable to respiratory disease, including those with diabetes, chronic lung disease, kidney failure, people with suppressed immune systems and older people are at a higher risk of serious disease)
  • flexible working arrangements (e.g. working from home)
  • leave considerations 
  • cleaning and other infection control procedures – consider more frequent cleaning in high traffic areas, availability of hand cleaner/facial tissues/rubbish bins

Template Plans

The City of Sydney has made available a range of template plans that councils may wish to consider adapting for their own circumstances. They are:

Supermarket loading hours

The Australian Retailers Association has suggested that councils may wish to review current supermarket delivery curfews, to help facilitate the steady flow of grocery items onto shelves. This is clearly a matter for individual councils, who must balance residents’ amenity with local requirements. 

LGNSW contact person for updates 

The LGNSW contact for general advice around councils and the management of COVID-19  is Strategy Manager Damian Thomas on 02 9242 4063.

Duty in the Workplace

As individuals we all have a role to play in helping to prevent the spread of disease. The easiest and most important thing is to continue to practice good hygiene by covering coughs and sneezes and washing hands thoroughly with soap.

Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, employers must – as far as reasonably possible – ensure the health and safety of workers, contractors and other persons at the workplace are not put at risk in the workplace (s19).

Workers and every other person in a workplace also have a health and safety duty to:

  • take reasonable care for their own health and safety
  • take reasonable care that their acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of others, and
  • comply with any reasonable instruction by their employer (s28 and s29).

Anyone who becomes unwell or suspects they may have symptoms of Coronavirus should notify their manager as soon as practicable.  Managers and impacted staff members should also discuss the situation and respond in a manner that ensures, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of the individual and other persons in the workplace.  

Actions may include, for example:

  • Working from home
  • Taking leave
  • Attending a medical examination
  • Notifying other persons who may have become exposed to the virus and/or
  • Notifying NSW Health and seeking their advice.

Employers have a duty of care obligation to identify health and safety risks in the workplace, to assess the risks, and to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable that risks are eliminated and/or controlled.  

The contacts for specific workplace information related to COVID-19 are the Industrial Officers in LGNSW’s Workplace Relations Unit, who can be contacted on  (02) 9242 4142.