It cannot be denied that COVID-19 has served as a disruptor in the labour context by presenting employers with entirely novel challenges and forcing them to adapt their labour practices to remain commercially viable.
With the number of infections having decreased, and the moving of the country to Level 1, this has resulted in many businesses being able to operate and fewer restrictions being put in place.
In light of this the Department of Labour have gazetted new measures to address, prevent and combat the spread of the virus within the workplace.
The most notable changes and/or additions:
1. Risks assessments and plans for protective measures
There is still a requirement for all employers to undertake a risk assessment and to develop a workplace plan, outlining the protective measures in place for the phased return of employees before opening.
What is new, is that there is now an additional item that must be included in an employer’s workplace plan – a description of the procedure to be followed to resolve any issue that may arise from the exercise by an employee of the right to refuse to work in specific circumstances.
2. Administrative measures – employers with more than 50 employees
Employers with more than 50 employees must submit a record of its risk assessment, as well as its policy regarding the protection of workers from Covid-19 to its Health and Safety Committee and to the Department of Employment and Labour, within 21 days from the 1st of October.
These documents must be sent to the Chief Provincial Inspector. This requirement was previously reserved for employers with more than 500 employees.
In addition an employer who employs more than 50 employees must also now submit a weekly report on a number of issues (e.g. vulnerability status, screening details, testing results, high risk contacts, post infection outcomes) to the National Institute for Occupational Health.
Businesses are further required to inform their employees of the submission and must advise their employees of the business adherence to the Protection of Personal Information Act.
3. Reporting of positive cases at the workplace
While previously employers were required to report each instance in which an employee tested positive for COVID-19 to the NDoH via the COVID-19 hotline number, positive cases must now be reported to the NIOH in the same manner as the reports made by employers with more than 50 employees (described above).
In addition, the Revised OHS Direction requires employers to inform the Compensation Commissioner whenever a worker has been diagnosed with COVID-19 at the workplace, in accordance with the Directive on Compensation for Workplace-acquired Novel Coronavirus Disease.
4. Referral of workers to a public health facility
In the event that a worker displays symptoms of Covid-19 at the workplace, the employer’s obligation is to isolate the worker and to arrange for the worker to be transported to a public health facility (i.e. one of the established testing sites).
5. Isolation and quarantine periods
The 14 day isolation period for Covid-19 positive employees has now officially been reduced to 10 days, providing that the employee wears a surgical mask for 21 days from date of diagnosis, the employer closely monitors his/her symptoms and that personal hygiene in respect of masks, social distancing and cough etiquette is strictly adhered to.
Where there is high-risk exposure, employees exposed must remain in quarantine for 10 days and be placed on sick leave in terms of the BCEA or, if sick leave has been exhausted, apply for an illness benefit.
6. Refusal to work due to exposure to COVID-19
Dispute resolution procedures in respect of employees who refuse to work due to a serious risk of Covid-19 exposure have been introduced
These new regulations create an additional burden on all businesses in these already tough economic times. However, non-compliance could result in a fine of up to R50 000.00, or imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year, or to both a fine and imprisonment being imposed on the business and any person who fails to comply with the Regulations and the OHSA.
Contact Compliance Hub who will gladly assist you with your Health and Safety compliance!