Friday, 08 January 2021

Pretoria: With many businesses expected to reopen on Monday following the festive season break, the Department of Employment and Labour has called for the observation of health and safety measures that will not expose employees to COVID-19.

In a statement, the department’s Director-General (DG), Thobile Lamati, said it is crucial that industries, businesses and entities, both private and in the public sector, take all the necessary care to ensure the safety of workers, their families and their clients and suppliers.

“All areas of business must designate a COVID-19 compliance officer who must develop, implement and oversee the plan containing measures to ensure that the workplace meets the standards of health protocols, adequate space for employees and social distancing measures for the public and service providers,” he said.

“Most of the industries, in the first lockdown period did develop these plans and it may be that those plans need to be updated with the new information they have acquired since then or where improvements need to be effected.”

He said the department’s inspectors would continue to ensure that businesses and industries adhere to regulations. However, he emphasised that inspectors cannot be everywhere at the same time.

“Union representatives and ordinary employees provide the first line of compliance and must be on the lookout for conditions that may expose them to danger and either contact employers with a view to improvements or call our inspectors,” said Lamati.

He added that industries and business had just as much responsibility to their clients and suppliers as it did to their employees to ensure that they are safe.

“In the last few weeks, the country has seen major outbreak and high prevalence of COVID-19 and it follows that workplaces are likely to experience significantly higher cases as asymptomatic or untested workers return. This is why issues of health and safety should be uppermost in the minds of employers and employees,” said the DG.

The warning comes as the Compensation Fund reported in their last report that it had received close to 15 000 COVID-19 claims of which 29 were claims in respect to people who had died as a result of contracting the disease on duty.

“A total of R30-million had been paid out in processed claims and with what we have seen of the second wave, we are likely to see exponentially higher numbers of infection if industries and business take the business-as-usual approach,” said Lamati.

In the level 3 adjusted lockdown that is currently in place, businesses are generally allowed to operate on condition that:

  • Relevant health protocols and social distancing measures for persons employed in private residences are adhered to.
  • Relevant health protocols and social distancing measures set out in directions must be adhered to, in addition to the occupational health and safety directions issued by the department and applicable labour legislation.
  • Firms must adhere to any sector -specific health protocols intended to limit the spread of Covid-19 in the sector concerned.
  • Sector -specific health protocols may address matters such as work rotation, staggered working hours, shift systems, remote working arrangements, special measures affecting persons with greater vulnerabilities or similar measures, in order to achieve social distancing, protect employees or limit congestion in public transport and at the workplace.
  • Sector -specific health protocols implemented or be developed and issued in consultation with health department.