In a press release today, 17 March 2020, the Department of Employment and Labour (the “Department”) appealed to employers to use the prescriptions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993 in governing workplaces in relation to Covid-19, also known as the Coronavirus.
The Department has implored employers to prepare themselves and their employees as far in advance as possible for potentially worsening outbreak conditions. Employers were encouraged to “go back to basics" by conducting hazard identification and risk assessments to determine the level of risk. In light of the impact that the Coronavirus has on the workplace, the Department has developed a Coronavirus guideline to assist employers in readying themselves. The guideline focuses on the need for employers to implement the following:
- Engineering controls – these controls include 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.
controls – these controls require action by both 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 eg, conference calls, Skype, etc;
- minimising the number of workers on site at any given time eg, rotation or shift work;
- discontinuing non-essential local and international travel;
- regularly checking 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 Coronavirus risk factors and protective behaviours (eg, cough etiquette and care of personal protective equipment (“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. Employers should 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 70% 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, and display handwashing signs in restrooms.
- Personal protective equipment – while engineering and administrative controls are considered more effective in minimizing exposure to the Coronavirus, PPE may also be needed to prevent certain exposures. Examples of PPE include: gloves, goggles, face shields, face masks, gowns, aprons, coats, overalls, hair and shoe covers and respiratory protection, when appropriate. Employers should check the National Institute for Communicable Diseases website regularly for updates about recommended PPE.
The Department stated that additional guidance may be needed as the Coronavirus outbreak conditions change. In the event that new information about the virus, its transmission, and impact becomes available, employers may have to modify their plans accordingly.