For the past five weeks, most South African businesses have been shut. Responding to government’s “stay at home” Covid-19 directive, employers have had to think outside of the box in an effort to remain financially viable and guarantee health and safety for all when returning to work.
The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed the country’s business landscape. Employers have had to introduce work-from-home policies, while others have been forced to reduce their workforce and/or to place employees on unpaid leave.
As President Cyril Ramaphosa and his cabinet ministers start to ease lockdown restrictions from level 5 to 4, a substantial number of businesses will again resume operations at the beginning of May. These business owners are going to have to introduce upgraded health and safety measures while remaining alert to the legalities and practicalities of new government-imposed regulations.
Easing restrictions and controversies
The easing of lockdown restrictions sees employers facing new controversies from two schools of thought – those employees who feel it is still unsafe to return to the workplace and those who are only too happy to be back in the mainstream. Employers will have to ensure that their workplace is free of health and risk hazards and ready for the safe return of their workers. They will also have to open new lines of direct communication with their workers to convey updated and ongoing Covid-19 regulations.
Now is the time for effective action
Occupational health and safety (OHS) in the workplace has never been more important. Now is the time for employers to take effective action to safeguard their returning workforce. OHS specialist MAKROSAFE warns employers to develop an effective plan of action. The nationwide consultancy says the following aspects of the level-4 lockdown must be taken into consideration:
In a government draft for a “risk-adjusted strategy for economic activity”, level 4 allows for the following sectors to return to work:
- Vintners – winemakers
- Mining (open cast)
- Financial institutions (including the JSE)
- Professional services
- Post and telecommunications
- Forestry, pulp and paper
- Global export market services
- Formal waste recycling
- Taxis (subject to strict passenger loads and hygiene protocols)
When will we be legally permitted to reopen?
MAKROSAFE points out that all these sectors may not be able to reopen from 1 May because provincial leaders have the power to restrict economic activities in their province, based on current Covid-19 outbreaks and fatalities. While essential services and businesses falling under that category have remained active since South Africa introduced lockdown in March, level-4 employers will now have to heed not only state but also provincial restrictions and work within the legal framework of constantly changing rules and regulations.
Who will return to work?
Employers who have had to lay off workers and to grant others leave of absence from work during lockdown must now decide on which people to recall to duty.
During this pandemic crisis, many South Africans have been working remotely from their homes. This exercise has revealed that a work-from-home policy can be beneficial to both the employer and the employee. In many cases, increased productivity by remote workers has shown employers that this could become a viable permanent option. Studies by researchers at Stanford University revealed that people working remotely increased their productivity by as much as 21%. A remote or teleworking policy will relieve pressure by reducing the number of people active at business premises.
Safety precautions in the workplace
MAKROSAFE says employers will have to take calculated steps to ensure that the workplace is risk-free from health and safety hazards. In this regard, the OHS consultancy has developed a Covid-19 Back to Work Prevention Kit that is available free to businesses on its SafetyWallet online site. The Prevention Kit covers every aspect of the coronavirus regulations to ensure the safe return of workers to the economy. The kit includes:
- Covid-19 Policy
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Policy
- Testing/Screening of Employees for Covid-19 Policy
- Working from Home Policy
- Working from Home Risk Assessment
- Travelling to and from Work Using Public Transport Risk Assessment
- Workplace Risk Assessment — Exposure to Infections Diseases
- Workplace Readiness after Lockdown
- Control Measures Guidelines
- E-Learning (unlimited) — Managing Infectious Disease in the Workplace — Covid-19
- Induction Booklet
- Toolbox Talks
- Awareness Posters
- Daily Mandatory Checklist
MAKROSAFE says that with the implementation of the Prevention Kit, employers are empowered to ensure a risk-free working environment.
Uncompromising health and safety measures
Employers must remain heedful of all regulations that have been introduced during the country’s present State of Disaster. Government’s approach to gradually easing lockdown restrictions for a limited number of the economic sectors has been combined with imposing uncompromising health and safety measures. According to the OHS Act, employers have to comply with safety and health regulations and conduct regular risk assessments. These stipulations are in place to provide workers with a risk-free healthy environment that is also free of hazards that can lead to death or serious injury.
Other health and safety measures in the workplace arena are:
- Social distancing — keeping a 2m distance (where possible) between workers
- Staggered shifts — reducing the number of employees in the workplace
- PPEs — providing workers with personal protective equipment such as headwear, goggles, facemasks, overalls, gloves, safety boots and shoe covers
- Screening — testing workers on arrival for Covid-19 symptoms
- Hygiene — providing workers with sanitisers and/or soap with which to wash their hands
- Face masks — these must fully cover both the nose and mouth
- Working remotely — introducing a work-from-home policy wherever possible
MAKROSAFE says Covid-19 preventative measures should embrace administrative and engineering controls applicable to the work environment. The pandemic calls for a robust OHS plan of action to comply with the OHS Act’s risk assessment and health and safety requirements. The OHS consultancy says the adoption of preventive measures will help companies to comply with all areas demanded by the legislation.
Screening employees for symptoms of Covid-19 is critical to the safe return to work of thousands of people. Regular monitoring for detection of the virus is the main component of a safe working environment.
Procedures must be put into place by employers to deal with employees who could potentially be infected. Should a worker be found to be Covid-19 positive, employers must act immediately to safeguard the rest of the workforce.
Infected workers must immediately vacate the premises. Additional measures following a positive Covid-19 diagnosis include contact tracing. Employers will have to identify co-workers who have been in contact with the infected employee and place such people in quarantine by sending them home. Employers will have to adhere to the government-imposed quarantine period.
MAKROSAFE’s Covid-19 Back to Work Prevention Kit covers all of these aspects of the working conditions South Africans now find themselves operating under. Employers are given an insight into Covid-19 policies and are kept abreast of changes with the MAKROSAFE online platform that is updated daily.
Visit our website now for more information.
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