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COVID-19 Response

SIMS' Response to COVID-19

Last updated: 14/4/2020 

Please note this is a living document and will be updated regularly as things change. Please check back regularly.

 

Information regarding Coronavirus and COVID-19 

SIMS is closely monitoring the outbreak of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and has made changes to our business operations based on information from the Federal Department of Health and NSW Health. We encourage our staff and researchers to regularly review these sources of information for the latest advice on government mandated restrictions and updates on the Australian covid-19 situation.

During the COVID-19 pandemic SIMS acknowledges that efforts to reduce the potential for community transmission should take precedence above all else for Australian businesses. However, given the context of SIMS’ on-site operation, the position of SIMS management is that a balance between supporting ongoing research activities while adhering to current government mandated social distancing measures can be achieved, providing a safe working environment for SIMS staff, students and researchers.

 

The general advice is that in order to protect others you must:

 

Current Australian government restrictions that impact SIMS (this list is not exhaustive) include:

  • Public gatherings reduced to a maximum of two people
  • Everyone should stay home unless you are conducting an essential activity such as travelling to and from work, which cannot be conducted from home

 

Information regarding SIMS business operations

SIMS remains open, however the number of people at the site has been reduced significantly to ensure social distancing controls are easier to implement and more effective. The majority of staff are working from home. Only essential activities that can adhere to the strict social distancing and hygiene directives as per Australian Government guidelines will be allowed to continue on-site.

Activities include:

  • Limited administration support (courier, finance) for which there is no alternative
  • Laboratory- and aquarium-based research activities where approved by the SIMS management and relevant home institute directives
  • Technical support for approved laboratory and aquarium research activities including continued on-call emergency support
  • Maintenance of required on-site infrastructure  
  • Lecture recording for remote teaching 
  • Accommodation support
  • Limited fieldwork activities
  • No other activities will be conducted on-site at Chowder Bay

 

SIMS' Covid-19 Action plan

In the event a SIMS staff member or researcher suspects they may have symptoms of or tests positive for covid-19 SIMS has developed an Action Plan which can be located here.

Currently SafeWork NSW considers a positive case of covid-19 as a notifiable illness.

 

Information for staff

The Australian Government requires that people only travel for essential reasons such as to a workplace where that work cannot be conducted from home. We are requesting that all staff who can work effectively from home, do so.

SIMS has key technical staff who are required to continue coming to site to conduct critical tasks such as maintenance and provision of technical support for on-going research at SIMS. These staff have already been relocated to specific buildings to reduce face to face interaction during their daily activities. We ask all other staff to ensure movement through SIMS buildings is kept to a minimum so as to not expose yourselves or these key technical staff unnecessarily to ensure we can continue these maintenance and technical operations.

Working from home

For staff working from home, SIMS understands that for some there may be a period of adjustment during the transition to remote working. Practical or personal challenges in working remotely, where appropriate, should be discussed with your supervisor. We understand that some may find it difficult to work from home, SIMS will work with staff through this challenging time.

When working from home, workers are still covered under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. This means employers continue to have an obligation to make sure the health and safety of their workers is maintained when they work at home and also that employees maintain communication with their employers regarding any health and safety issues that may arise while they are working from home.

Staff are required to set-up their home workspaces with safety and ergonomics in mind. Workcover NSW has developed a quick checklist for home office setups, and staff will need to complete a working from home Risk Assessment Checklist available here.

Technology and Communication

Staff are encouraged to use a variety of technology platforms to stay connected & arrange meetings with colleagues, collaborators and supervisors thus avoiding face-face meetings for the foreseeable future. Platforms available for SIMS Staff include:

  •      Office 365/ Microsoft Teams
  •      Zoom

Please contact info@sims.org.au if you need access to a zoom pro account. Almost all partner universities who use Zoom have extended the Zoom Pro account access to all staff and researchers/student. See your home institutes covid-19 IT support pages for more details.

 

Providing additional support to staff

Many of us are now working remotely, some for the first time, and it’s important to think differently about the way we work together. Some people will experience this change in different ways, and it will be easier for some than others. We will all have unique ways of coping with this sudden change in behaviour and routine.

For staff who may have caring responsibilities, be self-isolating or find it harder to do their work from home, this is an especially challenging time. There is also the addition of many of our staff needing to factor in keeping children occupied if childcare and schools are not available.

There are lots of things to consider as we make this transition, and it’s important that we also remember to factor in self-care during this time. Keeping to a routine, maintaining a work/life balance, checking in on each other and communicating clearly are just some of the ways we can make this transition smoother. We encourage any staff member who is needing to reach out for support to do so as we are, after all, all in this together. Many mental health and wellbeing organisations have released resources focused on COVID-19, workplace mental health and working from home & we encourage staff to have a look at these resources at any time. The Black Dog Institute has compiled a ‘Working from home checklist’, while Lifeline has developed a tool kit — ‘Working from home — how to maintain our mental health wellbeing’.

SIMS provides access to an employee assistance program through PeopleSense should an employee need additional support. Details for this service can be found here. Access to this service is completely confidential.

 

Information regarding SIMS Fieldwork during the COVID-19 restrictions

To ensure the safety of our staff and researchers through social distancing, we have paused the majority of our field work. Whilst we continue to monitor the situation closely, SIMS will approve essential fieldwork on a case-by-case basis.

Essential fieldwork includes:

  • critical, long-term studies that would have to be repeated if interrupted or if time-sensitive data collection were to be impacted; and
  • work required to prevent damage to equipment that cannot be shut down temporarily

To qualify for consideration, applicants must be able to clearly communicate why the fieldwork is essential and demonstrate any significant negative impact from the postponement of fieldwork.

Further to being essential, the fieldwork leader must provide a risk assessment for the fieldwork specifically identifying tasks and situations where risks associated with the transmission of COVID-19 occur. The risk assessment must include information demonstrating how controls will be implemented to eliminate or mitigate each risk identified. This risk assessment must consider potential risks and impacts to the field team as well as the public.

Fieldwork leaders must be able to demonstrate how the proposed fieldwork will be implemented in a socially responsible way that is congruent with the current advice, information and restrictions being communicated by the State and Federal Governments and Safe Work NSW. That is:

  •      Can fieldwork be completed safely, with no more than 2 people maintaining safe distances?
  •      Is the fieldwork local?
  •      Can fieldworkers travel in separate vehicles?
  •      Is the location highly visible to the public?
  •      Do they have adequate procedures in place to sanitise equipment or limit the sharing of equipment all together i.e. snorkelling or scuba gear, general equipment such as tools

The above information applies to boating, diving and general fieldwork.

 

Information regarding Research at SIMS during the COVID-19 restrictions

SIMS will continue to support essential research on-site. Controls currently in place include:

  • SIMS management are assessing daily, via a Microsoft Form Survey, staff and researcher movements on-site to ensure the appropriate level of technical support is available
  • SIMS is ensuring we are meeting government mandated social distancing requirements in research spaces by limiting personnel numbers based on floor space of laboratories
  • Limiting the start up of new projects for the short-term due to limited ability for SIMS technical staff to provide hands-on training on specialist equipment – this is on a case-by-case basis
  • Working with our member universities in their application of their specific covid-19 planning and restrictions, and ensuring researchers adhere to SIMS policies and procedures or that of their home institution, whichever is stricter. 

 

Additional measures may be brought into place in line with government mandated measures or any controls specifically requested by university partners of their employees working at SIMS.