Employers duty to ensure that all necessary health and safety measures have been implemented/adapted at the workplace in light of the COVID 19 virus. What measures are required from the employer?
Employers that are currently operating must adhere to all the necessary steps to ensure that they comply with the regulations and provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS). This is to ensure that a safe working environment is created for employees as well as for customers and service providers.
It is also crucial that employers identify the most vulnerable employees, being those with underlying health issues, pregnant woman, and the elderly. The employer should do a risk assessment and have an action/safety plan to eliminate all possible risks.
Employees who may be potentially exposed should adhere to all Health & Safety measures to prevent the spread of the disease (examples below in ‘4 effective protective measures’). Employees should adhere to instructions from employers and health practitioners, provide training and information to its employees regarding Health and Safety. (refer to section 8 of the Occupation Health and Safety Act, 1993). The training should be clear on the risk factors involved, and proof of training should be kept by the employer.
The employer should open a proper safety file, keep medical records, a Health and Safety Committee should be elected, and proper meetings must be held with the committee and records kept thereof.
Employers can implement policies and procedures and non-adherence to these policies could lead to disciplinary action.
The company needs to set out what the policy stipulates of what the symptoms are. If the employer suspects that certain symptoms are shown by the employee, it is the employer’s duty to ask that this employee leave the premises and quarantines himself for 14 days. This employee should be tested, and the results need to be communicated to the employer. If this employee tests positive, the necessary authorities should be contacted to inform them that there is an employee that tested positive and guidance for further steps to be taken.
There are 4 effective protective measures to be considered:
- Engineering controls – isolating employees from work-related hazards, installing high-efficiency air filters, increasing ventilation rates in the work environment and installing physical barriers such as face shields to provide ventilation.
- Administrative controls – these controls require action by the employee and employer. Examples of administrative controls include: encouraging sick workers to stay at home; minimising contact among workers, clients and customers by replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual communications, e.g. conference calls, Skype, etc.; minimising the number of workers on-site at any given time, e.g. rotation or shift work; discontinuing non-essential local and international travel; regularly check travel advice from the Department of Health at: www.health.gov.za; developing emergency communications plans, including a task team for answering workers’ concerns and internet-based communications, if feasible, providing workers with up-to-date education and training on COVID-19 risk factors and protective behaviours (e.g. cough etiquette and care of PPE); training workers who need to use protective clothing and equipment on how to put it on, use/wear it and take it off correctly, including in the context of their current and potential duties. Training material should be easy to understand and available in the appropriate language and literacy level for all workers.
- Safe Work Practices – these include procedures for safe and proper work used to reduce the duration, frequency, or intensity of exposure to a hazard. Provide resources and a work environment that promotes personal hygiene. For example, no-touch refuse bins, hand soap, alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol, disinfectants, and disposable towels for workers to clean their hands and their work surfaces, regular hand washing or using of alcohol-based hand rubs, all floors and walkways to be swept and sanitised, and display handwashing signs in restrooms.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – while engineering and administrative controls are considered more effective in minimising exposure to SARS-CoV-2, PPE may also be needed to prevent certain exposures. Examples of PPE include: gloves, goggles, face shields, face masks (N95 or N99), gowns, aprons, coats, overalls, hair and shoe covers and respiratory protection, when appropriate. Employers should check the NICD website regularly for updates about recommended PPE.
Proper records must be kept of PPE and cleaning material purchases and records of when, how, and to whom these are issued. Click here for the Occupational Health & Safety checklist that should be used daily by employers which are required by the Inspectors during the lockdown.