Government launches new coronavirus guidelines for South African businesses

The Department of Employment and Labour has developed Covid-19 guidelines for South African businesses.

Employers and workers should use this planning guidance to help identify risk levels in workplace settings and to determine any appropriate control measures to implement, it said in a statement on Tuesday (17 March).

“Additional guidance may be needed as Covid-19 outbreak conditions change,” it said. “In the event that new information about the virus, its transmission, and impact, becomes available you may have to modify your plans accordingly.”

The department said that the guideline focuses on the following areas – engineering controls, administrative controls, safe work practices and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Engineering controls 

These 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.

Administrative controls

These controls require action by the employee and employer, including:

  • Encouraging sick workers to stay at home;
  • Minimising contact among workers, clients and customers by replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual communications e.g. conference calls, Skype, etc.;
  • Minimising the number of workers on-site at any given time e.g. rotation or shift work;
  • Discontinuing nonessential local and international travel;
  • Regularly check 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 Covid-19 risk factors and protective behaviours (e.g. cough etiquette and care of 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.

Safe Work Practices

These include:

  • Procedures for safe and proper work used to reduce the duration, frequency, or intensity of exposure to a hazard.
  • 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 (PPE)

While engineering and administrative controls are considered more effective in minimising exposure to SARS-CoV-2, PPE may also be needed to prevent certain exposures, the department said.

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 NICD website regularly for updates about recommended PPE.


Follow existing guidelines

The Department of Labour also appealed to employers to use the prescriptions of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) in governing workplaces in relation to the growing coronavirus pandemic.

The OHS read with the Hazardous Biological Agents Regulations requires the employer to provide and maintain as far as is reasonably practicable a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees, the department said.

“Section 8(2)(b) requires steps such as may be reasonably practicable to eliminate or mitigate any hazard or potential hazard before resorting to personal protective equipment (PPE). However, in the case of Covid-19 a combination of controls is required, although the main principle is to follow the hierarchy of controls.

“However, before the implementation of control measures, current risk assessments need to be reviewed and updated, taking into account the new hazards posed by exposure to Covid-19 in the workplace. This is in accordance with Section 8 (2) (d) of the OHS Act”.

The department further appealed to employers to prepare themselves and their workers as far in advance as possible of potentially worsening outbreak conditions.

It advises employers to ‘go back to basics’ by conducting hazard identification and risk assessment to determine the level of risk exposure and communicate to all workers.

“Employers and workers should use this planning guidance to help identify risk levels in workplace settings and to determine any appropriate control measures to implement.

“Additional guidance may be needed as Covid-19 outbreak conditions change. In the event that new information about the virus, its transmission, and impact, becomes available you may have to modify your plans accordingly.”


Read: Domestic workers and the coronavirus in South Africa – what you need to know

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Government launches new coronavirus guidelines for South African businesses