Reducing risks for staff's return to workplace
The regulations allow for a number of industries to return to work. There are, however, measures that the employer must put in place prior to the return of employees to the workplace.
The Department of Employment and Labour published a directive on the Covid-19 Occupational Health and Safety measures in workplaces which required the employer to provide and maintain as far as reasonably practicable a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of workers.
The directive requires all employers to conduct a risk assessment of the workplace which would include identifying the employees at risk and the risk for transmission of Covid-19 in the work environment.
The employer must notify all their staff of the content of the OHS directive and how it will be implemented in the workplace.
The directive requires employers to minimise the number of employees at the workplace through rotation, staggered working hours, shift systems, remote working arrangements or similar measures to ensure social distancing. The minimum required distance between employees is 1.5 metres, however, the distance may need to be greater depending on the workplace or nature of the sector. If it is not possible to implement the minimum distance between workstations, physical barriers may be placed with personal protection equipment.
Employers are required to provide 70 percent alcohol hand sanitisers at the workplace or at any other place of work other than at home. If employees interact with the public, the hand sanitiser must be sufficient for both the worker and the person with whom the worker is interacting. The employer must take measures to ensure that the work surfaces, equipment and all areas are regularly disinfected. There must be adequate facilities for washing of hands with soap and clean water and only paper towels may be provided to dry hands. Employers must also provide each employee, free of charge, with a minimum of two cloth masks which comply with the requirement set out by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition.
The regulations require an employer to implement "special measures" for employees over the age of 60 and those with known or disclosed health issues or co-morbidities. This, along with the broad range of possible risks facing this group of employees, requires the employer to focus on these employees if they intend allowing them to return to work in the short term.
Jacques van Wyk is director and labour law specialist at Werksmans Attorneys.