With many industries and businesses due back at work on Monday (11 January) following the festive season, the Department of Employment and Labour has urged all businesses to prioritise the health and safety of its employees and to take all necessary steps to ensure they are not exposed to Covid-19.
“It is crucial that industries, businesses and entities, both private and in the public sector must take all the necessary care to ensure safety of workers, their families and the clients/suppliers,” said the department’s director-general Thobile Lamati.
“All areas of business must designate a Covid-19 compliance officer who must develop, implement and oversee the plan containing measures to ensure that the workplace meets the standards of health protocols, adequate space for employees and social distancing measures for the public and service providers.”
Lamati said that most of the industries, in the first lockdown period, did develop these plans and it may be that those plans need to be updated with the new information they have acquired since then or where improvements need to be effected.
“Our inspectors will continue to ensure that businesses and industries adhere to regulations but our inspectors cannot be everywhere at the same time.
“Union representatives and ordinary employees provide the first line of compliance and must be on the lookout for conditions that may expose them to danger and either contact employers with a view to improvements or call our inspectors,”
He said that industries and business had just as much responsibility to their clients and suppliers as it did to their employees to ensure that they are safe.
“In the last few weeks, the country has seen major outbreak and high prevalence of Covid-19 and it follows that workplaces are likely to experience significantly higher cases as asymptomatic or untested workers return. This is why issues of health and safety should be uppermost in the minds of employers and employees,” said Lamati.
The warning comes as the Compensation Fund reported in their last report that it had received close to 15,000 Covid-19 claims of which 29 were claims in respect to people who had died as a result of contracting the disease on duty.
“A total of R30-million had been paid out in processed claims and with what we have seen of the second wave, we are likely to see exponentially higher numbers of infection if industries and business take the business-as-usual approach,” Lamati said.
He said that while the level 3 adjusted lockdown that is currently in operation, businesses are generally allowed to operate on condition that:
- Relevant health protocols and social distancing measures for persons employed in private residences must are adhered to;
- Relevant health protocols and social distancing measures set out in directions must be adhered to, in addition to the occupational health and safety directions issued by the department and applicable labour legislation;
- Firms must adhere to any sector-specific health protocols intended to limit the spread of Covid-19 in the sector concerned;
- Sector-specific health protocols may address matters such as work rotation, staggered working hours, shift systems, remote working arrangements, special measures affecting persons with greater vulnerabilities or similar measures, in order to achieve social distancing, protect employees or limit congestion in public transport and at the workplace;
- Sector-specific health protocols implemented or be developed and issued in consultation with health department.
According to law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, where an employee is able to work from home while quarantining, the employee may do so and will therefore be entitled to their full salary.
It added that employers should alert employees to the fact they will be required to self-quarantine upon return from a hotspot area and that they will need to make use of annual leave or unpaid leave for this period where they are unable to work from home.
It said that an employer has the following obligations and responsibilities in terms of the adjusted level 3 regulations:
- To adhere to all sector-specific or other health and safety protocols issued to date;
- To appoint a compliance officer to enforce compliance with the adjusted level 3 regulations and all other health and safety protocols issued to date;
- Prohibit employees from entering the workplace or performing their duties unless an employee is wearing a face mask;
- Determine the floor plan area of the workplace and the number of persons who may enter the workplace based on the floor plan area, while still maintaining a physical distance of 1.5 metres;
- Ensure all persons queuing either inside or outside their premises maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres;
- Take measures to enforce physical distancing of 1.5 metres in its workplace, including implementing measures such as remote work, restrictions on face-to-face meetings and taking special measures in relation to employees who are considered vulnerable due to their age or co-morbidities;
- Provide hand sanitisers outside its premises.
Workplace gatherings are permitted provided persons maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres and adhere to all health and safety protocols including sanitation and the wearing of face masks.
All business premises are limited to 50% capacity of its floor space which includes both customers and employees, subject to strict health protocols and physical distancing restrictions.