At the best of times, attaining and maintaining compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act is a monumental task for South African business owners. Now, with the added pressure of additional COVID-19 workplace safety requirements, employers are hard-pressed to meet the demands of OHS Act measures. Here we discuss some of the health and safety factors to consider in the workplace when the lockdown is lifted to Level Three.
Thousands of more workers will return to their daily jobs when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted to Level Three.
Apart from the re-entry of employment sectors previously excluded from the workplace in Levels Four and Five, major Gross Domestic Product (GDP) industries will be allowed to scale up to 100 per cent production.
This economic rejuvenation will demand increased health and safety vigilance. A rigid set of precautions, demanded by COVID-19 OHS Act requirements, place an added workload on employers to comply with health and safety measures.
Apart from factors like health and safety, employers must also maintain additional risk assessments to identify coronavirus risks and hazards in the workplace.
These risks have to be controlled if OHS Act compliance is to be achieved.
Returning to work
South African industries scaling up to 100 per cent production at Level 3 are mining, automotive manufacturing, cement and construction, steel and metal manufacturing, clothing, chemical manufacturing, textiles and footwear.
Other employment sectors returning to work are:
- Licensing, deeds offices and government services designated by the Minister of Public Service and Administration
- Take-away restaurants and online food delivery
- Hardware stores
- Machinery and equipment
- Bus services, taxi services, e-hailing and private motor vehicles, subject to restrictions
- Train services, subject to restrictions
- Book sales and stationery
- Household appliances
- Clothing, home textiles and footwear
- Postal and courier services
- Real estate
- Motor vehicle sales
- Pool and gardening services
- Laundry and dry-cleaning services
- Domestic air travel (subject to restrictions)
- Alcohol sales (subject to restrictions)
The return to work of all these sectors is not cut-and-dried as the Government has made it clear that Level Three conditions are subject to change.
Source: SA Shares
Medium risk exposure
Level 3 is stipulated as a moderate virus spread level, with moderate readiness.
According to the Department of Employment and Labour, medium exposure risk involves employees who require frequent and close contact with people who could be infected with the coronavirus. Close contact is defined as within two metres.
Areas of ongoing community transmission involve workers in contact with the general public. These high-population-density work environments include:
- High-volume retail settings
- Point of entry personnel, such as airports and border points
- Labour centres
- Consulting rooms
Workplace control implementation
COVID-19 legislation governing workplaces is the amended Occupational Health and Safety Act, read with the regulations governing Hazardous Biological Agents.
The OHS Act calls on the employer, where possible, to provide and maintain a safe, healthy and risk-free working environment. It calls on employers to take whatever steps are necessary to eliminate or mitigate all existing hazards and potential dangers.
To achieve these end-goals, employers must review and update Risk Assessments to encompass the new COVID-19 stipulations.
For many business owners, sifting through the legalese of workplace health and safety requirements demanded by the OHS Act is like translating hieroglyphics.
Key industries that will resume operations in Level Three must decipher the new restrictions. These can be complex and painstakingly detailed. That is why OHS Act compliance should be left in the hands of health and safety experts, like MAKROSAFE.
The Government’s Draft Framework for Sectors provides Level Three guidelines. These are, however, subject to change, leaving employers vulnerable to acceptable workplace implementation controls.
As OHS experts, MAKROSAFE updates its online customer service base daily, ensuring that all legal risk assessment aspects are taken into consideration.
MAKROSAFE assists industry to keep abreast of all COVID-19 hazard identification and risk assessment requirements.
To determine COVID-19 risk exposure and to relay this information to all workers, employers must undertake risk assessments which take into consideration hazards such as:
MAKROSAFE helps employers to implement risk assessments that comply with the OHS Act. This takes into consideration the fact that different workers face different risk exposures.
Examples of this are workers who are exposed to long working hours and who can suffer from fatigue and occupational burnout.
Four protection measures
COVID-19 protection measures have been divided into four categories.
Engineering controls involve the isolation of employees from hazards in the workplace. COVID-19 control measures include:
- Installing high-efficiency air filters
- Increasing ventilation rates
- Using physical barriers such as perspex screens
Administrative controls to reduce or minimize exposure to hazards. Examples include:
- Isolating sick workers at home
- Minimizing personal contact by using virtual communications
- Introducing shift work to reduce the number of employees on site
- Developing emergency communications plans such as task teams to address worker concerns
- Providing education and training for workers on COVID-19 risk factors
- Introducing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as goggles, face masks, gloves, overalls and protective shoes
- Providing training material that is language-appropriate and easy to understand
Safe work practices
Safe work practices include procedures to reduce the duration, frequency and intensity of exposure to hazards. These include:
- Promoting personal hygiene such as no-touch refuse bins, hand soap, hand sanitizer, disinfectants and disposable towels
- Display hygiene signs in restrooms
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
PPE can prevent certain exposures. Examples of PPE are:
- Face shields
- Face masks
- Head and shoe covers
When it comes to health and safety in the workplace, MAKROSAFE echoes the words of President Cyril Ramaphosa when he said: “Life will slowly return but it will not be life as we knew it before.” The president says as COVID-19 safety levels are relaxed, the country can expect infections to rise as more people return to work.
Health and safety in the workplace will never revert to what it was before COVID-19. “We must accept the reality, prepare for it and adapt to it,” are Ramaphosa’s sage words of advice. That is why MAKROSAFE has developed a free online Back-to-Work Safety Kit that is updated daily to keep pace with changing legislation.
This article was published in partnership with MakroSafe.