Level Four Lockdown – What does this mean in Health and Safety terms for employers and their workforce?
As the South African workforce face an unsure future, fuelled by the global spread of the deadly coronavirus, employers and their work force must accept the serious risks involved if lockdown restrictions are abandoned too soon. Employers are forced to adapt, prepare and deploy health and safety measures to protect their workforce.
There was a countrywide sigh of relief when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a reduction in lockdown restrictions from Level Five to Level Four from the beginning of May 2020. But, for employers and for those hoping to return to work, what does the Level Four lockdown restrictions mean? How does health and safety fit into it all for the general Employer?
Although Level Four is somewhat less restrictive, it still doesn’t mean that it will be “business as usual”. Extensive measures will have to be implemented to safeguard workers from exposure to the coronavirus and social distancing will remain a vital safety element.
Going to Level Four means that the country will begin to slowly move away from a scenario that adopted drastic measures to save lives and contain the spread of the virus. Instead, South Africa will now return to some form of normality with the phased resumption of kick-starting the economy. Businesses will, however, have to adhere to stringent Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) measures in the workplace to contain transmission and the spread of the coronavirus. Makrosafe with SafetyWallet has a Free downloadable Back to Work COVID-19 prevention kit to prepare employers.
Assessing the risks
Assessing the risks of the workplace environment has never been more crucial than now for all industries returning to work. A Health and Safety Risk Assessment forms an integral part of complying with legislation rules and regulations demanded by the OHS Act. No company will be compliant with the OHS Act unless Risk Assessments are undertaken and monitored at regular intervals.
Risk Assessments, as well as Health and Safety in the workplace, is an unending challenge. It requires a thorough understanding of all relevant legislation and the involvement of specialists, such as MAKROSAFE.
To ensure employee safety, the OHS consultancy, MAKROSAFE has a Risk Assessment procedure in place to control, identify and manage risks and hazards in the workplace. MAKROSAFE has drafted well-defined protocols for their assessors to examine risks in the workplace and to identify all issues that pose a threat to that business and the employees.
Who will return to work?
In terms of the Government’s draft for a “risk-adjusted strategy for economic activity”, Level Four allows for the following sectors to return to work:
• Vintners – wine makers
• Mining (open-cast)
• Financial institutions
• Professional services
• Postal and telecommunications
• Forestry, pulp and paper
• Global export market services
• Formal waste recycling
• Taxis (subject to strict passenger-loads and hygiene protocols)
President Ramaphosa, in his most recent address to the nation, made it clear that only one-third of the workforce in each sector will be allowed to return to the workplace. He said businesses that are allowed to resume operations will have to do so in phases. Firstly, workplaces will have to be prepared (risk assessed and sanitised) for the return to operations. Secondly, the workforce will return in batches not exceeding one-third of the employee-ratio.
Those sectors of the industry that are allowed to return to work are still subject to final approval. The President’s cabinet ministers will outline the decisions on which sectors can resume activity following a final round of consultations with various industry lead
Work from Home to be encouraged
The President has also stressed that businesses must encourage a “work from home” policy wherever possible. No doubt this will apply to employees in the financial and professional arenas where admin staff, who can work remotely, must be encouraged to do so.
Working from home presents challenges
Working from home, however, will present unforeseen challenges for businesses, workers and the economy in general. Employers, new to the remote work from home scenario, have to face fears such as lack of productivity by employees working out of sight and without direct supervision. But studies have shown that remote workers are more productive in their home environment. According to a study by researchers at Stanford University, productivity levels increased by up to 21 per cent because remote workers were subjected to fewer interruptions, such as chatting with colleagues and attending staff meetings.
Studies have also found that employees suffered less stress by no longer having to cope with commuting, and enjoyed an improved work-life balance because of the flexibility offered by managing their time. The independence of working from home helps employees to develop new skills such as improved concentration and focus, using remote technology, time-management, self-motivation and self-discipline.
At the other end of the scale, employers can develop metrics and measurable goals for work to be performed remotely. It can also help them to improve communications and technological capabilities.
Safety compliance and the SafetyWallet
MAKROSAFE has the solution for companies launching a Working from Home policy. Combined with its streamlined and constantly upgraded services to improve the culture of health and safety throughout the South African industrial sector, members also have free access to a secure online database, named SafetyWallet
This is a user-friendly online service that provides clear guidelines on how to achieve health and safety in the workplace, including working from home. Occupational Health and Safety legislation is programmed into the app and covers all aspects of the OHS Act. All information on this platform is updated weekly. With the help of the SafetyWallet, clients are guaranteed compliance with all OHS Act health and safety regulations while working from home.
A New World
Nothing will be the same as before when people return to their workplace. Here are some of the challenges both employers and their workers will have to face.
1. Employers will be legally bound to conduct daily screening of staff members for symptoms of COVID-19. Apart from checking on symptoms, temperature assessments will also have to be conducted.
2. Employees will have to wear cloth face masks when social distancing is not possible.
3. All workplaces will have to be equipped with sanitisers or hand washing facilities. Soap will also have to be provided.
4. Other stringent social distancing measures, such as keeping a one-meter distance from other workers, will also have to be implemented.
Focus on risk assessments
The main focus of the phased easing of lockdown restrictions will hinge on risk assessments. This means that employers must adhere to health and safety protocols to protect workers from infection and to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace.
South Africa is now moving away from a situation of high virus spread and/or low readiness, to moderate to high virus spread and low to moderate readiness.
Two of the main criteria to determine which sectors of the economy can return to work are:
1. The risk of transmission in the workplace
2. The value of the sector to the economy, such as its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
The main five contributors to GDP are:
1. Manufacturing sectors
2. Wholesale and retail trade
3. Agriculture and food services
The Government has also identified the sectors that are most vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. This includes the transport industry, particularly those sectors transporting workers such as buses, trains and taxis. However, transport is plays a vital role in the resumption of economic activity.
Other sectors of the economy most vulnerable to COVID-19 are:
• Recreational, cultural and sport
• Hotels, restaurants and take-away outlets
These sectors will remain on the side-lines until such time as the coronavirus no longer poses serious health and safety threats to the population.
FREE work-readiness kit
To help business meet the challenges of COVID-19, MAKROSAFE has drafted a FREE Workplace Readiness Health and Safety Kit. The kit include the following protocols:
• COVID-19 Policy
• Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Policy
• Testing / Screening of Employees for COVID-19 Policy
• Working from Home Policy
• Working from Home Risk Assessment
• Travelling to and from Work using Public Transport Risk Assessment
• Workplace Risk Assessment - Exposure to Infections Diseases
• Workplace Readiness after Lock Down
• Control measures Guidelines
• E-Learning (unlimited) - Managing Infectious Disease in the Workplace - COVID 19
• Induction Booklet
• Toolbox Talks
• Awareness Posters
• Daily Mandatory Checklist
MAKROSAFE Risk Assessments
The consultancy’s risk assessments include:
• The implementation of control measures to safeguard health and safety
• Legal appointments
• Safe Operating Procedures (SOP’s)
• Health and Safety Policies and Procedures
• Health and Safety Training
• Occupational Hygiene Surveys
• Occupational Health (Medicals) and Permits
Risk Assessments are managed and supported by a state-of-the-art management system which ensures that Health and Safety programmes operate at optimal levels.
MAKROSAFE Holdings (Pty) Ltd wishes all employers a safe return to work and a COVID-19-free workplace. For more information, guidance or support, please contact MAKROSAFE Holdings (Pty) LTD on 0861444 777.
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