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Section 8 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993 -Employers have an obligation to provide and maintain, as far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of its employees

Mitigating the Risk

There are a few measures that an employer should implement in order to fully comply with the legal obligations in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993.

A wide range of circumstances will depend, e.g. the number of employees, the type of work, interaction between employees and clients, the movement of people and goods, the prevalence of infection at the given time as well as government intervention.

Measures that employers should implement with immediate effect, - promote good hygiene by educating employees and keeping them informed via information posters and Covid-19 Risk Assessment.

The Department of Health has developed a Covid-19 guideline. This Covid-19 planning guide was developed on traditional infection prevention and occupational hygiene practices. The focus is on the need for employers to implement the following:

  • Engineering controls - isolating employees from work-related hazards, installing high-efficiency air filters, increasing ventilation rates in the work environment and installing physical barriers such as face shields to provide ventilation and protection.

  • Administrative controls – these controls require action by the employee and employer. Examples of administrative controls include: encouraging sick workers to stay at home; minimizing contact among workers, clients and customers by replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual communications e.g. conference calls, Skype, etc.; minimising the number of workers on site at any given time e.g. rotation or shift work; discontinuing nonessential local and international travel; regularly checking travel advice from the Department of Health on; developing emergency communication plans,  a task team for answering workers' concerns and internet-based communication, if feasible provide workers with up-to-date education and training on Covid-19 risk factors and protective behaviours (e.g. cough etiquette and care of PPE); training of workers who need to use protective clothing and equipment on how to put it on, use/wear it and take it off correctly, including in the context of their current and potential duties. Training material should be easy to understand and available in the appropriate language and literacy level for all workers.

  • Safe Work Practices – these include procedures for safe and proper work used to reduce the duration, frequency, or intensity of exposure to a hazard. Provide resources and a work environment that promotes personal hygiene. For example, no-touch refuse bins, hand soap, alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 70 percent alcohol, disinfectants, and disposable towels for workers to clean their hands and their work surfaces, regular hand washing or using of alcohol-based hand rubs, and display hand washing signs in restrooms.

  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – while engineering and administrative controls are considered more effective in minimizing exposure to Covid-19, PPE may also be needed to prevent certain exposures. Examples of PPE include gloves, goggles, face shields, face masks, gowns, aprons, coats, overalls, hair and shoe covers and respiratory protection, when appropriate. Employers should check the National Institute for Communicable Diseases website regularly for updates about recommended PPE.

Employers and workers should use this to help identify risk levels in workplace settings and to determine any appropriate control measures to implement. Additional guidance maybe needed as COVID-19 outbreak conditions change. When new information about the virus, its transmission, and impact, becomes available you may have to modify your plans accordingly.

Article by William van Greunen

OHS Consultant

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