Coronavirus – Occupational health and safety measures in workplaces – South Africa
07 May 2020
On 29 April 2020, a directive addressing the implementation of necessary occupational health and safety measures in workplaces to reduce and eliminate the escalation of Covid-19 infections (“Directive”) was published.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act No. 85 of 1993 (“OHSA”) requires an employer to provide and maintain, as far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of its workers and all persons who may be directly affected by their activities (such as customers, clients or contractors).
The Directive applies to employers and workers in respect of the manufacturing, supply or provision of essential goods or services and any workplace permitted to continue or commence operations under the Disaster Management Regulations. The Directive excludes, inter alia, medical and health care services (other than retail pharmacies). The Directive will remain in force for as long as the declaration of a national disaster remains in force.
Whilst the Directive is extensive and should be carefully considered by all employers, the below contains a summary of the main provisions. Workers are obliged to comply with all measures introduced by their employers in terms of the Directive.
Every employer must:
- undertake a risk assessment to give effect to the minimum measures required in terms of the Directive, and furthermore ensure that the plan is strictly complied with through monitoring and supervision;
- take measures to minimise contact between workers as well as between workers and members of the public;
- notify all workers of the contents of the Directive and the manner in which the employer intends on implementing it;
- notify all workers that if they are sick or show any symptoms associated with Covid-19, that they must not come to work and must take paid sick leave;
- appoint a manager to address employee or workplace representative concerns; and
- provide workers with information that raises awareness, including information on Covid-19 transmission, personal hygiene, use of masks and cough etiquette.
If the employer employs more than 500 people, a record of the risk assessment, together with a written policy concerning the protection of the health and safety of its workers from Covid-19 must be submitted to its health and safety committee and to the Department of Employment and Labour (submissions can be made to the Provincial Chief Inspector at this link).
Should a worker be diagnosed with Covid-19, an employer must inform the Department of Health (through the Covid-19 hotline: 0800 02 9999) and the Department of Employment and Labour. The employer must investigate the cause including control failure and reviewing its risk assessment.
Employers must ensure minimal contact between workers and ensure a minimum of one and a half metres between workers. Reducing the number of workers present in the workplace at any time may assist with achieving social distancing measures. If the minimal distance is impractical, employers must arrange physical barriers to be placed between workstations to provide a solid physical barrier between workers or supply workers with appropriate PPE (face shields, gloves etc). These measures will also apply to workplaces to which the public has access.
Daily symptom screening must take place when workers report for work each day. Employers must comply with the Directive and guidelines issued by the Department of Health in this regard. Workers presenting symptoms must not be permitted to enter the workplace and must be isolated and provided with a FFP1 surgical mask before being transported for medical examination or testing.
Sanitizers, disinfectants and other measures
Every employer must ensure that there are sufficient quantities of hand sanitizer (at least 70% alcohol content) for all persons accessing the workplace. Adequate facilities for washing hands with soap and clean water must be provided and the use of fabric towels to dry hands after washing is prohibited. Every employer must take measures to ensure that all work surfaces and equipment are disinfected before work begins, regularly during the working period and after work ends. Biometric systems must be disabled.
Every person in the workplace must be provided with a minimum of two cloth masks (free of charge). Further requirements are contained in these government issued guidelines. The employer must make appropriate arrangements for the washing, drying and ironing of all cloth masks.
The workplace must be well ventilated, and where reasonably practicable, effective local extraction ventilation systems with high-efficiency particulate air HEPA filters should be used.
Subject to an employer’s obligations under OHSA to conduct a risk assessment, employers with less than 10 employees are only required to apply the following measures:
- arrange the workplace to ensure that employees are at least one and a half metres apart, or if not practicable, place physical barriers between employees to prevent possible transmission of the virus;
- provide each employee with cloth masks to wear whilst at work together with hand sanitizers, soap and clean water to wash their hands and disinfect their workstations;
- ensure that each employee washes and sanitizes their hands regularly;
- ensure workstations are regularly disinfected;
- employees with symptoms must not be permitted to work; and
- immediately contact the Covid-19 hotline (0800 02 9999) for instructions if an employee presents symptoms.
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