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Regulations have changed: What that means for Covid measures at the workplace

Social distancing seen practised by seamstresses working on sewing machines. Picture: African News Agency(ANA)

Social distancing seen practised by seamstresses working on sewing machines. Picture: African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jul 5, 2022

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This article first appeared in the 29 June 2022 edition of the Cape Argus newspaper.

It is with an enormous amount of relief that workers are finally freed from the onerous restrictions placed on them by our inefficient Department of Health and the Department of Employment and Labour.

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Many will chuckle about some of the most ridiculous regulations conjured by our government. One need only contemplate the restrictions placed on people visiting the beach or walking on the mountains during the harsh lockdown.

One fine Sunday morning, just before daybreak, I was having a quiet walk on Table Mountain with not a soul in sight. As I came down, I was accosted by two policemen who shouted at me, saying that I wasn’t allowed to walk on the mountain during lockdown and I wasn’t wearing a mask.

I didn’t think it was appropriate to tackle them on the ridiculousness of the situation and to explain that I had walked for almost 2 hours and not seen anyone.

The workplace is a different animal to those appearing in public. Just because the minister of health has withdrawn and repealed the regulations does not mean that every workplace automatically becomes mask-free. It also does not mean that the businesses with compulsory vaccination policies will have to reverse this immediately.

Many businesses have contacted me for advice on the way forward. Businesses have policies that are not automatically repealed by the Government Gazette issued on June 22. Remember that it is incumbent upon every business to ensure its staff are healthy and safe.

It must be known that thousands of businesses conducted extensive consultation and most undertook health and risk assessments with regard to their workplace. Many will choose to relook at their situation. It is recommended that new assessments be done in light of the repeal of the regulations.

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We all know that Covid 19 remains a risk. We also know that it is management’s responsibility to manage the risk accordingly.

There is a lot of confusion and many staff, including trade unions, have strange ideas that the employer cannot force them to wear masks or cannot enforce their health and safety policies.

On the other hand, there are some employees who are angry and complaining that they don’t want to come to work when others are not wearing masks.

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Unfortunately, the debate will not be easily resolved.

The hazardous biological agents regulations remain valid and it is vital for every employer to conduct a risk assessment and develop an action plan. The Department of Employment and Labour has a Code of Practice to manage the exposure to Covid-19 in the workplace.

If the risk assessment in a particular workplace calls for the wearing of masks, sanitising and physical distancing, then this has to be adhered to.

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Fortunately, or otherwise, our level of alertness as a society has been heightened and health and safety is more of a concern in the workplace. It is my understanding that inspectors from the Department of Health and the Department of Employment and Labour will be more vigilant.

The minister of employment and labour put out more regulations on June 24 this year, under Volume 684 No 1148. The regulations are once again calling upon the employment environment to conduct a risk assessment at each workplace and take into account the need for masks, sanitising, physical distancing and vaccinations.

The regulation is almost a word-for-word reflection of the previous regulation under the Covid-19 pandemic.

It looks like the minister is desperate to keep negative control over the business community through superfluous regulations.

* Michael Bagraim is a labour lawyer.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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