Lockdown Level 3 Employer Responsibilities
Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post) likens Covid-19 to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius which buried Pompeii and all of its inhabitants under 60 feet of ash and volcanic rock. Huffington says there had been many warning signs – earthquakes, wells running dry and birds no longer breaking out in song. Finally, columns of belching smoke threw dark shadows across the land beneath the volcano and then Mount Vesuvius erupted. She says repeated warnings from health officials over the years have largely been ignored by governments – chronic diseases, mental health crisis, income inequalities and climate change. These, she says, represent the volcano’s belching smoke and now mankind is unable to slow the pernicious spread of the dreaded coronavirus. Standing in the frontline of the fight against the spread of the pandemic are the work givers of South Africa.
South African employers face a huge responsibility for safeguarding the lives of their workers when the country eases into Level Three at the end of May. Their task is made all the more difficult because, as the pool of workers swell, so will the risks of Covid-19 infections rise.
Level Three lockdown regulations present employers with a double-edged sword. The relief of resuming production and earning a living wage, combined with the threat of a coronavirus outbreak in the working environment.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has warned that lifting lockdown to Level Three will threaten the health and safety of the country’s workforce. He said the return to the workplace of millions of more employees will increase the threat of Covid-19 contamination – a threat that employers will have to circumvent with effective occupational health and safety action plans.
The Department of Employment and Labour has formulated regulations to protect employees from risks and hazards posed by the pandemic in the workplace. These directives will also protect customers, contractors and suppliers who come into contact with employees when visiting the working environment.
Employer Daily Responsibilities
Employers must devise an action plan that will involve a daily checklist of Covid-19 precautions. Only when every one of these tasks is performed daily can employers be satisfied that they have done everything they can to protect the health and safety of their workers.
Preparing Premises for the Return of Workers
The working environment must be thoroughly disinfected before workers resume their duties. All working surfaces, floors, canteens, ablution facilities and other communal areas must be disinfected to ensure that workers will return to a germ-free environment.
Daily Cleaning Regime
This cleaning regime must be implemented every day to mitigate the chances of coronavirus infections. Disinfection of all working surfaces is essential because, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Covid-19 is spread by airborne droplets when someone talks, coughs or sneezes. It lands on surfaces where it can survive for up to nine days.
MAKROSAFE Safety Posters available for Download with COVID-19 Back to Work Prevention Kit.
Daily COVID-19 Screening
Workers must be screened for symptoms of the coronavirus when entering the workplace. Symptoms are cough, fever, red eyes, breathing difficulties or shortness of breath and a sore throat. An employee should be appointed as a Health and Safety Officer whose responsibilities will be to observe and to question workers about their health every day. Other Covid-19 symptoms, which will require employees to self-isolate in their homes, are body aches, diarrhoea, fatigue, nausea and loss of taste and smell. Employers must ensure that their workers are informed that revealing symptoms of the virus is required by law.
Steps to be taken with Infected Workers
If an employee shows positive signs of COVID, employers are required by law to:
- Immediately isolate the worker and provide him/her an approved surgical mask
- Arrange transportation for the employee to their home or further medical examination
- Assess the risk of transmission to co-workers and disinfecting all areas of the workplace the sick employee had access
- Refer all vulnerable employees who may have come into contact with the workers for screening and any other appropriate steps to prevent transmission
- Place the ill worker on paid sick leave or apply for a Covid-19 TERS (Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme) benefit
- Employers can also claim compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases if the infected workers contracted COVID-19 because of occupational exposure.
Facemasks and other Hygiene Precautions
Employers must provide at least two cloth facemasks, at no cost, to their workers.
They must also provide handwashing basins and soap, as well as hand sanitizers containing at least 70% alcohol.
An effective ventilation system must also be installed on the premises.
It is the responsibility of employers to educate their workers on the correct use of facemasks and must also arrange for these to be washed and ironed.
They must also display posters throughout the workplace depicting the correct method of handwashing. The posters must be easily understood by all language groups.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Another important Covid-19 precaution is the use of PPE. Depending on the job involved, PPE includes head and footwear covers, goggles, face shields, gloves, gowns, overalls and aprons.
Social Distancing in the Workplace
Work stations must be set up so that employees maintain social distancing of at least 1.5 metres. If this is not practical, then physical barriers must be placed between workers, such as Perspex sheeting.
Penalties for Health and Safety Contraventions
Employers face stiff penalties if failing to implement and maintain OHS Act regulations. They can be fined, have their business shut down, or even be charged with a criminal offence.
To help business owners comply with the demands of the onerous Covid-19 regulations, a leading OHS service provider, MAKROSAFE, is offering a free of charge online prevention kit. Worth R15,000, the kit can be downloaded and used without obligation. The offer also includes a 20-minute face-to-face Zoom conference with a MAKROSAFE health and safety specialist. This online platform is updated by MAKROSAFE daily to keep abreast of changing pandemic regulations.
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