New Occupational Health and Safety Measures

INTRODUCTION

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown, the Department of Labour has issued directives (Consolidated Directions on Occupational Health and Safety Measures in Certain Workplaces), giving guidance on the measures that companies need to take to ensure that their workplaces are as safe as possible and to prevent the transmission of the virus.

On 1st October 2020, a new Directive was published which requires that all companies with more than 50 employees will have to comply with administrative duties which before were only required by companies with more than 500 employees.

WHAT IS NEW

Companies have previously had to undertake a risk assessment and to develop a workplace plan to implement the safe return of employees to the workplace. This plan must now include a dispute process to manage the process where there are employees who refuse to return to work because of fears of infection.

Companies with over 50 employees must:

  1. Submit a record of their risk assessment together with a written COVID-19 Occupational Health and Safety Policy to the Department of Employment and Labour by no later than the 21st October 2020.
  2. They must also submit the following data to the National Institute for Occupational Health:
    1. To be submitted once
      1. Each employee’s vulnerability status for serious outcomes of a Covid-19 infection.
    2. To be submitted weekly
      1. Details of the daily symptom screening data
      2. Details of employees who test positive for COVID-19
      3. The number of employees identified as high-risk contacts (and who have been quarantined) as a result of exposure to a worker who has tested positive for Covid-19 and
      4. Details on the post-infection outcomes of those testing positive, including the return to work assessment outcome.
  1. Report employees who display symptoms of Covid-19 and are suspected to have contracted the virus in the workplace to the Compensation Commissioner following the guidelines in the directive on Compensation for Workplace acquired Novel Corona Virus Disease.

WHAT TO DO IF A PERSON SHOWS SYMPTOMS OF COVID INFECTION

If an employee shows symptoms at the workplace, the employer must arrange for the worker to be transported to a public health facility for testing.
The employee is required to self-isolate and exposed employees are required to self-quarantine for 10 days (reduced from 14).

EMPLOYEES WHO REFUSE TO WORK

In previous directives there were guidelines of the steps to be taken if an employee refuses to work if circumstances arise which, with reasonable justification, appear to the employee to pose a risk of exposure to Covid-19.
The new directive requires that where the matter cannot be resolved by the safety representative (committee) and the Compliance Officer, the employee must refer it to an inspector within 24 hours and all parties must be informed of the referral.
The inspector is empowered to issue a prohibition notice in terms of section 38 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act if they are of the opinion that the conditions in the workplace threatens the safety of any person.

We were really hoping that the lockdown would be lifted before having to comply with this legislation, but as it has been extended for another month, we will be required to comply. Failure to do so could mean a fine in terms of section 38 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (currently R50 000-00 or one year in prison). We have developed formats for the reporting requirements and have posted all relevant legislation on our website.

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