On 28 April 2020, the Department of Employment and Labour has released a final directive in relation to health and safety in the workplace. This regulation has been drafted in line with the occupational health and safety act as well as the disaster management act as a guideline to ensure job readiness and safety in the context of the COVID 19 Pandemic.
All employers are compelled to conduct risk assessments. Department of Labour has also indicated that numerous inspectors have been deployed to focus on this measure. Employers employing more than 500 individuals are obligated to submit their Health and Safety plan as well as their risk assessment to the Department of Labour.
All employers will have to ensure that the following requirements are adhered to:
- A manager needs to be appointed for the purpose of overseeing health and safety in the workplace (it is advisable to confirm this appointment as a written mandate stipulating all his/her functions in this position. Inspectors will want to see proof of the appointment).
- Social distancing should be observed by way of staggered working, rotations etc.
- Minimisation of personal contact with co-employees and the public should be implemented.
- Employers should facilitate training and must communicate the contents of this directive to workers.
- PPE must be provided to workers, and it is advisable that a proper record be kept of all items issued.
- The employers must be able to provide contact information to the Department of Health where people are infected.
Social distancing measures
Media has emphasised the importance of social distancing to avoid the spread of the disease. This is reiterated in the directive. The rule of thumb is that employees should be distanced at least 1.5 metres apart. In certain sectors, this distance needs to be increased. The decrease in the number of employees that are permitted to work at the same time may enable this. Where this is not reasonably practicable, alternative measures such as the use of PPE and barriers should be utilised to ensure worker safety.
Common areas, such as ablution facilities and queuing areas outside the workplace also needs to be monitored and managed.
If an employee displays any of the suspicious symptoms, the employer may not be permitted to enter the workplace. Workplace rules need to be adjusted to ensure compulsory reporting before reporting for duty. A practical tool would be where compulsory thermometer readings are taken prior to granting employees access to the workplace.
If the employee has already entered the workplace, the employer should take immediate action.
- The employee must be isolated immediately and must be provided with an FFP1 surgical mask.
- Stringent hygiene measures must be conducted, sanitising etc.
- The employer should arrange for safe transport to the nearest testing station. Testing may not be refused.
- The employee will be entitled to sick leave in terms of section 22 of the BCEA. If the employee’s sick leave entitlement under the section is exhausted, make an application for an illness benefit in terms of clause 4 of the directive issued on 25 March 2020 on the COVID-19 Temporary Employer Relief Scheme under regulation 10(8) of the Regulations promulgated in terms of section 27(2) of the Disaster Management Act;
- Testing positive for COVID 19 now falls under section 6 of the Employment Equity act. In terms thereof, no employee may be discriminated against on this basis.
- If there is evidence that the worker contracted COVID-19 as a result of occupational exposure, lodge a claim for compensation in terms of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, 1993 (Act No. 130 of 1993) in accordance with Notice 193 published on 3 March 2020.
- The directive states that an employer should be mindful of any symptoms upon the employee’s return to work, however, it is advised that the infected employee only commences work with a medical clearance certificate.
Sanitisers, disinfectants and hygiene measures
For the purposes of these clauses, a hand sanitiser must be one that has at least 70% alcohol content and is in accordance with the recommendations of the Department of Health. Where an employee works away from home, adequate amounts should be provided to ensure their health and safety.
- Employers must ensure that there are adequate facilities for the washing of hands with soap and clean water;
- only paper towels are provided to dry hands after washing – the use of fabric towelling is prohibited;
- the workers are required to wash their hands and sanitise their hands regularly while at work;
- the workers interacting with the public are instructed to sanitise their hands between each interaction with the public;
- surfaces that workers and members of the public come into contact with are routinely cleaned and disinfected.
It has now become compulsory to wear a mask when entering a public area. This is due to the fact that some people may carry the virus without showing any symptoms.
- Each worker must be issued with a minimum of two masks.
- The Department of Health has issued requirements for these masks. (Masks made out of material should consist of at least three layers.)
- It is compulsory that all employees wear a mask when rendering services.
- The employer should examine the employee’s working conditions where these masks may become wet or dirty and address these issues accordingly.
- Employees should be trained on the correct use of PPE.
Many employers overlook the importance of proper ventilation in the workplace.
In terms of this directive, each employer must keep the workplace well ventilated by natural or mechanical means to reduce virus build-up. Where reasonably practicable, the workplace must have an effective local extraction ventilation system with high-efficiency particulate air HEPA filters, which should be cleaned and replaced in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions by a competent person.
It is advisable that employers make every effort to ensure that the spread of the disease in workplaces not only to get positive reports on labour inspections but to ensure that it remains operational for as long as possible.