The Department of Labour has published updated directives for employers to protect their workers from the coronavirus, as South Africa prepares to ease the national lockdown to level 4.
Through the move to level 4, it is anticipated that around 1.5 million employees will return to work in the coming weeks, again increasing the risk of transmission of the virus.
According to the new regulations, gazetted on Wednesday 29 April, employers will need to implement a host of new measures to ensure that their workers are protected and limit the risk of the coronavirus spreading.
Among these measures are things like mandatory screening of employees to see if they exhibit any Covid-19 symptoms, and ensuring those returning to work are protected by providing free masks, hand santitiser and work spacing of at east 1.5 metres apart.
Labour minister Thulas Nxesi said that these guidelines do not remove or replace any other regulations in terms of occupational health and safety, but work along side any other industry-specific requirements.
Businesses which are typically exempt from the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) are exempt from these directives.
“The purpose of these directives is to stipulate measures that must be taken by employers in order to protect the health and safety of workers and members of the public who enter their workplaces or are exposed to their working activities,” he said.
The directives will be in effect for as long as the national disaster is in effect.
Large companies (with more than 500 employees or more) will need to perform a risk assessment to guide their application of the directives. A record of this must be supplied to government.
Employees that present symptoms of the coronavirus must be kept away from work, and if they are diagnosed positively, the department must be informed.
Strict social distancing measures must also be in place, keeping workers apart by at least 1.5 metres, or where this is not practical, a physical barrier must be placed between workers.
Employers have also been directed to screen workers for the virus at the time that they report for work. This is for observable symptoms associated with Covid-19, namely: fever, cough, sore throat, redness of eyes or shortness of breath (or difficulty in breathing).
At the same time, every worker is required to report whether they suffer from any of the following additional symptoms: body aches, loss of smell or loss of taste, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, weakness or tiredness.
If any of these symptoms are screened, workers must be prevented from returning to work, or if they are at work already, must be isolated immediately (but also ensure they are not discriminated against.)
On top of screening measures, employers will also have to provide hand sanitisers, at least two free cloth masks, and ensure work spaces are sanitised regularly.
If a company has less than 10 employees, they are exempt from the more administrative-heavy directives, and are only subject to the following:
- They must arrange the workplace to ensure that employees are at least one and half metres apart or, if not practicable, place physical barriers between them to prevent the possible transmission of the virus;
- they must ensure that employees that present with the symptoms of the virus are not permitted to work, and must immediately contact the Covid-19 hotline: 0800 02 9999 for instruction and direct the employee to act in accordance with those instructions;
- They must provide cloth masks or require an employee to wear some form of cloth covering over their mouth and nose while at work;
- They must provide each employee with hand sanitizers, soap and clean water to wash their hands and disinfectants to sanitise their workstations;
- They must ensure that each employee while at work washes with soap and sanitises their hands; and
- They must ensure that their workstations are disinfected regularly;
- They mus take any other measures indicated by a risk assessment.
An inspector designated in terms of the OHSA is empowered to conduct assessments of these directors, and the punishments for being found in contravention of the regulations are the same as those outlines in the Act. This includes fines and possible jail time.
You can read the full regulations below: