By Nikki Prinsloo
The Covid-19 period is an uncertain time for us to find ourselves in. The way of going about business has been turned upside down in most industries, businesses, mines, schools and even in churches. All employers had to stay afloat and had to introduce the necessary safety precautions.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) research shows that one in five people who tests positive for the coronavirus may need hospital treatment. It is therefore important for employers to reflect on the effects of Covid-19 in the workplace and to put the necessary measures in place.
We are concerned about the increase in positive cases in South Africa. We follow the latest statistics on a daily basis as they are released. We equip ourselves with hand sanitisers, wear masks in public places and obey the regulations the state has introduced to curb the spread of Covid-19.
In these times we are particularly concerned about our health and the best hygienic practices must be followed at all times to prevent exposure to the virus and to prevent its spread. Hand sanitiser stands have been put in place at shopping malls and workplaces. Before we can enter a public place our body temperature is measured by an electronic thermometer. Floors are marked with lines indicating the prescribed distance for social distancing (1,5 m) to avoid close contact between persons. Screens have been put up between us and cashiers. All of these measures have been put in place to protect us against the coronavirus.
The same rules apply in the workplace. In this case the employer has a duty to ensure the health and safety of employees performing their duties at work.
Measures for social distancing at a workplace
On 4 June 2020 the Minister of Employment and Labour issued the Consildated Directive on how to deal with Covid-19 in the workplace. Clause 22 of the Directive deals with measures pertaining to social distancing which include, among others, that:
- Each employer must arrange the workplace in such a way as to avoid contact between employees and has to ensure that workstations are set apart by at least one-and-a-half meters.
Clause 20.8 of the Directive stipulates that employee numbers must at any given time be limited by regularly rotating employees on a shift basis, or by allowing employees to work from home to achieve social distance at work.
If it is not possible to arrange the workplace in such a way to ensure a space of 1,5 meters between workstations:
- Physical barriers must be placed between workstations to create distance between employees; and
- The necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) must be provided based on the risk analysis.
Do I have to take my own hand sanitiser to work?
No, in terms of Clause 33 of the directive issued by the Minister in terms of Regulation 4(10) of the National Disaster Regulations, employers must see to it that an adequate supply of sanitiser is provided at no cost to the employee for the number of employees in the workplace and persons who have access to it. In addition, every employee working at a place other than the workplace (but not from home) should be provided with an adequate supply of hand sanitiser.
Do I have to provide my own mask at my own cost for use at the workplace?
No, in terms of Regulation 38 of the Directive, each employer must provide an employee with a minimum of two masks, as prescribed, for use at work. In addition, the General Safety Regulation 2(2) issued in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act No. 85 of 1993, stipulates that:
- Employers will provide personal protective equipment to employees free of charge.
I am concerned that the coronavirus may be present on work surfaces. Should I as an employee constantly disinfect all surfaces?
No, in terms of Clause 35 of the Directive, employers must ensure that:
- All work surfaces and equipment are disinfected before work commences, during work time and after work; and
- All areas such as toilets, communal areas, door handles and electronic equipment are cleaned and disinfected regularly.