Summary: New COVID-19 Health and Safety requirements for workplaces

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On 1 October 2020, the Minister of Employment and Labour issued a consolidated directive on occupational health and safety measures in workplaces, in terms of the regulations of the Disaster Management Act.

The consolidated directive retains the do’s and don’ts contained in directives issued previously, and introduces a few new features which require immediate administrative effort on the part of employers.

Any attempt to examine and compare past directives is an exercise of futility because all prior directives issued on health and safety measures have since been repealed and replaced with the consolidated directive, effective 1 October 2020.

From now, every employer must:

  • Appoint a COVID-19 compliance officer
  • Request employees to disclose any condition that renders the employee at serious risk
  • Inform employees about the provisions of the directive
  • Undertake a risk assessment
  • Develop a plan outlining the protective measures in place at the workplace
  • Consult on the risk assessment and plan with any representative trade union and any health and safety committee or, in the absence of such a committee, health and safety representative designated in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA)
  • Make the plan available for inspection
  • Ensure the plan covers prescribed items
  • Implement and monitor social distancing
  • Implement and monitor symptom screening
  • Provide, at no cost, hand sanitizer and access to water for washing hands
  • Provide, at no cost, paper towels for drying of hands (cloth towels are not allowed)
  • Provide, at no cost, two cloth masks to each employee
  • Ensure that the workplace is adequately ventilated by natural or mechanical means
  • Disinfect the workplace, including equipment and tools, regularly

 

Employers with over 50 employees must, in addition to the requirements set out above:

  • Submit a record of its risk assessment, together with the written policy concerning the protection of the health and safety of its employees from COVID-19 to:
    • Its health and safety committee established in terms of section 19 of the OHSA; and
    • The Department of Employment and Labour by 21 October 2020
  • Submit each employee’s vulnerability status for serious outcomes of COVID-19 infection (once off)
  • Submit by Tuesday each week, details of the COVID-19 screening of employees who are symptomatic, in respect of the previous calendar week
  • Submit by Tuesday each week, details of employees who tested positive, in respect of the previous calendar week
  • Submit by Tuesday each week, the number of employees identified as high-risk contacts within the workplace, in respect of the previous calendar week
  • Submit by Tuesday each week, details of post-infection outcomes of those testing positive, including the return to work assessment outcome, in respect of the previous calendar week

A distinctive new feature is that an employee’s right to refuse to work, based on reasonable justification of an imminent and serious risk of the exposure to COVID-19, is now firmly guaranteed. If the reason for concern is not resolved internally, then the employer is duty bound to alert an inspector of the Department of Labour, within 24 hours.  The inspector is empowered to investigate and may issue a prohibition in terms of section 30 of the OHSA if the cause of complaint is determined by the inspector to be valid. The test will be based on whether there  exists “reasonable justification” for the refusal to work.