Elevators and lifts will be an area of concern when offices and commercial buildings reopen, Australia’s workplace safety agency has warned.

In its latest guidance, Safe Work Australia has warned that lift areas are a risk for the spread of COVID-19 when workers return to offices.

“Even if workers and others only spend a short amount of time in a lift each day, there is still a risk of exposure to COVID-19 that you must eliminate or minimise so far as reasonably practicable,” the agency told employers.

In its guidance, Safe Work Australia says requirement to provide four square meters of space per person do not apply to lift areas.

Nevertheless, it says employers must ensure that distancing within these areas is maintained as much as possible.

To do this, it says several actions are needed.

First, employers should consider staggering start and finish times as well as meal breaks in order to reduce the flow of workers who need to use elevators during peak periods.

Elevators themselves should be programmed to facilitate the most efficient flow of users.

This could include reducing how long doors stay open on each floor or assigning specific lifts to certain floors based on demand.

Other measures include:

  • Floor markings or queuing systems to facilitate distancing within lobby areas
  • Specific pathways and movement for those entering or exiting elevators.
  • Regular cleaning of touchpoints such as lift buttons and railings
  • Advisory limits for passengers within each lift
  • Signage within lifts reminding workers to wash hands or use sanitiser after exiting lifts – especially where they have touched buttons, rails or doors.
  • Signage around lift waiting areas reminding workers to practice physical distancing and good hygiene while waiting for and using lifts – including to wait for another lift is the lift is full
  • Ensuring that workers observe physical distancing as much as possible, avoid overcrowding of lifts and practice good hygiene such as coughing or sneezing into their arm.
  • Ensuring that workers who feel unwell do not come to work.

As well, Safe Work stresses the need to manage new risks which may emerge as a result of COVID-19.

Given the risks associated with elevators, one option might be for more people to use stairs.

This, however, could increase the level of risk associated with slips, trips and falls, opening heavy fire doors or becoming trapped in stairwells.

Meanwhile, emergency plans need to be considered amid greater use of emergency exits and greater risk of fire doors being left open.

The guidance also talks about worker interactions and tasks, workplace layout, staff gatherings and training, workplace facility and risks associated with visitors to workplaces such as delivery personnel.

Property Council of Australia chief executive officer Ken Morrison welcomed the guidance.

‘The new guidelines on lift usage are sensible and practical, and give our building owners, managers and their tenants the certainty they need to plan their return to the office in coming weeks,’

‘We have greatly appreciated the very constructive dialogue we have had with the Attorney-General and Safe Work Australia on these guidelines.”