As South Africa prepares to ease the nationwide lockdown into level 4, the Department of Labour has published updated directives for employees to follow. This is in order to protect employees from COVID-19.
According to the new regulations, which were gazetted on April 29, employers will need to implement a number of new measures. This is to ensure that not only are employees protected; but will also limit the possible spread of the coronavirus.
Labour minister Thulas Nxesi explains the new guidelines do not replace or remove any other regulations in terms of occupational health and safety. Instead, the new regulations work alongside industry-specific requirements.
According to the new regulations, if an employer employs more than 500 employees, the employer must submit a record of its risk assessment together with a written policy concerning the protection of the health and safety of its employees from COVID-19. This must be submitted to the government.
Furthermore, any employee who is sick or has symptoms associated with the COVID–19, must not come to work. The employee is to take paid sick leave in terms of section 22 of the BCEA. The employer must then inform the department.
Social distancing plays an important role in the new regulations.
According to the gazette, as far as practicable, employers must minimize the number of workers at the workplace at any given time.
This can be done through rotation, staggered working hours, shift systems, remote working arrangements or similar measures in order to achieve social distancing. Employers must also take measures to minimize contact between workers, as well as between workers and members of the public.
In fact, every employer needs to arrange the workplace in such a way as to ensure there is a minimum of 1.5 metres between workers.
If it is not practicable to arrange workstations to be spaced at least 1.5 metres apart, the employer must arrange physical barriers to be placed between workstations or erected on workstations to form a solid physical barrier between workers while they are working.
If necessary, employers must supply the employee with appropriate PPE based on a risk assessment of the working place. This must be supplied free of charge.
Employers must also take measures to screen any worker when they report to work. This is to determine if they have any of the observable symptoms associated with COVID-19. This will include symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, redness of eyes or shortness of breath (or difficulty in breathing).
Every employee is also urged to report whether they suffer from any of the following additional symptoms: body aches, loss of smell or loss of taste, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fatigue, weakness or tiredness.
If an employee has any of these symptoms, they will not be permitted to go to the workplace. However, if they are already at work, they must be isolated immediately.
Employers also need to ensure there is enough hand sanitizer. They must also take measures to ensure all work surfaces and equipment are disinfected before work begins, regularly during the working period and after work ends.
All areas such as toilets, common areas, door handles, shared electronic equipment must also be regularly cleaned and disinfected.
Employers must also ensure there are adequate facilities for the washing of hands with soap and clean water. Only paper towels to dry hands after washing are to be used. According to the gazette, the use of fabric towelling is prohibited.
As face masks will be compulsory as of May 1, employers must provide employees with a minimum of two cloth masks. Employees are not to be charged for their face masks.
The face masks must comply with the necessary requirements. Employees are to wear the face masks while at work, as well as while commuting to and from work. Employees must wear their face masks while at their workplace as well.
Furthermore, every employer must keep the workplace well ventilated by natural or mechanical means.
Where reasonably practicable, the workplace must have an effective local extraction ventilation system with high-efficiency particulate air HEPA filters. This must be regularly cleaned and maintained, and its vents do not feed back in through open windows. Employers must also ensure that filters are cleaned and replaced in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions by a competent person.
As a number of employees brace themselves to return to work, people are encouraged to practice caution. Adhere to the safety regulations. By doing your part, you can protect yourself, your family and community.