Even though the World Health Organisation (WHO) only recommends persons to wear protective face masks, each country should follow their own health and safety legislation in this regard.
As a result of South Africa’s lockdown, the Minister of Trade and Industry published a list of essential services which will be applicable during the lockdown period.
These include, for example, companies that transport and sell foods and health services. It is the norm for health care providers which include nurses, general practitioners and surgeons (not an all-inclusive list) to wear personal protective equipment during the course of their employment.
It is an odd sight to see a truck driver wear a mask and gloves as he transports foods from the supplier to the shops as this is not a common practice as in the health care sector.
The question arises whether the truck driver can refuse to report for duty if his employer fails to supply him with personal protective equipment?
In terms of Section 8 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 (OHSA), every employer shall provide and maintain, as far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of its employees.
The legislation stipulates these duties and refer thereto as the following:
- the provision and maintenance of systems of work, plant and machinery that, as far as is reasonably practicable, are safe and without risks to health;
- taking such steps as may be reasonably practicable to eliminate or mitigate any hazard or potential hazard to the safety or health of employees, before resorting to personal protective equipment;
- making arrangements for ensuring, as far as is reasonably practicable, the safety and absence of risks to health in connection with the production, processing, use, handling, storage or transport of articles or substances;
- establishing, as far as is reasonably practicable, what hazards to the health or safety of persons are attached to any work which is performed, any article or substance which is produced, processed, used, handled, stored or transported and any plant or machinery which is used in his business, and he shall, as far as is reasonably practicable, further establish what precautionary measures should be taken with respect to such work, article, substance, plant or machinery in order to protect the health and safety of persons, and he shall provide the necessary means to apply such precautionary measures;
- providing such information, instructions, training and supervision as may be necessary to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees;
- as far as is reasonably practicable, not permitting any employee to do any work or to produce, process, use, handle, store or transport any article or substance or to operate any plant or machinery, unless the precautionary measures contemplated in paragraphs (b) and (d), or any other precautionary measures which may be prescribed, have been taken;
- taking all necessary measures to ensure that tire requirements of this Act are complied with by every person in his employment or on premises under his control where plant or machinery is used;
- enforcing such measures as may be necessary in the interest of health and safety;
- ensuring that work is performed and that plant or machinery is used under the general supervision of a person trained to understand the hazards associated with it and who has the authority to ensure that precautionary measures taken by the employer are implemented; and
Taking the above mentioned into account, it is of utmost importance for an employer to ensure that it has adopted a plan in minimising the possibility of spreading of the virus.
These may include but are not limited to- requesting employees to stay at home should they feel ill, avoiding any physical contact with co-workers or clients or ensuring a sufficient supply of hand sanitisers.
Yes, the employer has an obligation to ensure that it has systems in place to minimise or mitigate and deal with the outbreak. The employee also has an obligation to ensure health and safety in the workplace by way of ensuring that all measures that are put in place are followed and inform the employer if they feel that they are vulnerable in a specific area.
Both the employer and employee should adopt a pro-active approach in these uncertain times by risk of exposure to the virus.
The South African government is busy issuing new directives that compel a person/employee to wear specific protective equipment, like face masks and gloves to ensure that employees and customers remain safe during this period.
Therefore, it would be wise for employers to do everything within their power to supply their employees with appropriate protective equipment as prescribed by legislation.
Article by: Gerhard Strydom & Meghan Louw
Dispute Resolution Officials