WORKPLACE SAFETY: TOP 28 QUESTIONS ANSWERED

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Published: June 25, 2020

WORKPLACE SAFETY:  WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT WORKPLACE SAFETY COVID-19 IN SOUTH AFRICA?

 

COVID-19 has transformed the world of work.  Work from home, video meetings and productivity tools are the order of the day for some businesses. But many companies need to return to their premises.  Which means these firms have a pivotal role to play by providing a safe return to work for their employees, suppliers and customers.  Here are the top 28 questions asked about workplace safety relating to COVID-19 and the implementation and compliance thereof.

 

WHO know the symptoms

BY SUPPORTBUSINESS.CO.ZA

 

The responsibility of workplace safety does not just rest on your shoulders as the business owner. Your employees also need to know the established requirements for the re-opening and continued operations of their workplace.

At supportbusiness.co.za, a Western Cape Government, City of Cape Town, Wesgro/private sector collaboration, we have seen an increase in queries from small businesses regarding workplace safety and the implementation thereof.

To help you, we’ve collated the top 28 questions asked by small business owners about adopting the right measures to prevent contagion. We have also sourced FREE business tools from Western Cape businesses and the Western Cape Government to assist you.

If you have more questions, TELL US HOW WE CAN HELP YOU? Email supportbusiness@wesgro.co.za

TOP 28 QUESTIONS ABOUT WORKPLACE SAFETY IN SOUTH AFRICA

What are the most important things that I should do to ensure I don’t get infected or risk infecting my colleagues at work or loved ones at home?  

The best thing you and your staff can do is work from home if possible.  But if this is not possible, then stay home if you are feeling unwell.  Always remember to practice social distancing and stay 1.5 metres apart from other people at all time.  Washing or sanitising your hands regularly and not touching your face is also an easy good hygiene practice that can make a big difference.  And wear a face mask or face covering when in public.

But don’t just practice these few basic hygiene practices at work, make sure you practice them at home and in communal workspaces such as the canteen.

 

Should vulnerable employees be at work?

What is a vulnerable employee?

A “vulnerable employee” means any employee (a) with known or disclosed health issues or comorbidities or any other condition that may place the employee at a higher risk of complications or death than other employees if infected with COVID-19 (e.g. heart disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease & cancer); or (b) above the age of 60 years who is at a higher risk of complications or death if infected.

Businesses must take measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 infection for vulnerable employees.

What are the special measures?

1. Identify all vulnerable employees

2. Where possible, enable these employees to work from home

3. Change the nature of these employees work, isolate their area of work or place them on paid special leave if the other options are unavailable.

 

Must staff wear a face mask the whole time at work?

Yes, staff must wear face masks or face coverings at all times when at work except when having something to eat or drink. Face masks should be carefully taken off by the strings/elastic bands and stored in a clean bag when not in use.

The World Health Organisation has developed a short informative video for you to share with your staff.

 

 

 

 

And the Western Cape Government has developed a poster in IsiXhosa, English and Afrikaans for you to place in communal workspaces to help inform your employees.

Download the poster here.

 

Must customers or suppliers also wear a face mask?

Yes, every person in the workplace, including customers and clients, must wear a face mask or another appropriate item to cover their nose and mouth when in public.

  

If your staff don’t have face masks, must you as an employer provide one?

Yes, by law every employer must provide every employee free of charge, with a minimum of two cloth masks, which comply with the requirement set out in the guidelines issued by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, for the employee to wear while at work and while commuting to and from work. Additionally, employers must make sure that employees are informed, instructed and trained on how to use masks correctly.

  

Must you as an employer provide hand sanitiser?

Yes, as an employer you must ensure that there is sufficient quantity of hand sanitiser at crucial points of need in the workplace, for example, work entrances, canteens and toilets based on the number of workers or persons who access the workplace. Employers should ideally ensure that sanitisers are readily available, so they’re easy to access and use.

This does not mean that you must provide each employee with free hand sanitiser. Provide those employees who don’t work away home and those that interact with the public with an adequate supply of hand sanitise. 

 Employees are required to wash and sanitise their hands at frequent intervals and particularly after contact with other people and after contact with surfaces/objects touched by other people.    

 

What cleaning measures must you, as an employer, take to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace?

Every employer must ensure that all work surfaces and equipment are disinfected before work begins, regularly during the work period and at the end of the daily work period.  Regularly clean and disinfect all heavily used areas such as toilets, common areas, door handles and shared electronic equipment.

Biometric systems should be disabled or used in a non-touch mode. Employees are likely to be required to help clean/disinfect their workspaces as cleaning staff will be unable to undertake all the extra cleaning/disinfecting needed regularly.

 

What are physical distancing measures required to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace?

Employers must arrange the workplace to ensure minimal contact between workers, and as far as practicable, ensuring that there is a minimum of 1.5 metres between people in the workplace.

The national regulations do not define the number of people in the workplace (including employees and customers), the Western Cape Department of Health recommends that the number of people in a workplace should be limited to one person per 6m2 (i.e. the floor meterage divided by 6).

A practical tip to achieve safe physical distancing is to reduce the number of workers present at the workplace at any time. Look at allowing all employees who can work from home to do so, implementing shift working, working on alternative days, staggered start hours, staggered lunch and tea breaks and/or limiting each employee’s physical area of work. Employees must not shake hands, hug, fist bump, or elbow bump and must keep their distance from fellow employees and customers as far as is possible.

 

What if the workspace does not allow for appropriate physical distancing?

As the employer, you must then arrange for physical barriers to be placed between work stations to form a solid physical barrier between workers if you are unable to separate employees by at least 1.5 metres.

Note that the directive from the Department of Labour excludes specific workplaces, such as medical and health care services.

As per the recommendations from the Western Cape Department of Health, where possible employees should not share work surfaces or use the same equipment. Clean workstations and equipment between shifts/use if they need to be shared.

Employers should also prevent employees from being in contact with many other employees as far as possible by keeping them working in the same small team and not shifting employees between groups.

 

What is the difference between isolation and quarantine?

Isolation is for those who are already sick and/or have tested positive for COVID-19 but don’t require hospital admission for medical care.

Quarantine is for people or groups who were exposed to COVID-19 by being in close contact with someone who has or might have been infected, and therefore might be infected with COVID-19. Quarantine keeps these people away from others, so they do not unknowingly infect anyone if they have been infected. Some people quarantined would have been infected, and some would not have been infected. Quarantine should last for 14 days from when the person was last in contact with the sick person.

 

What is the difference between screening and testing?

Screening is undertaken through a questionnaire to determine whether a person has any symptoms and a possible temperature check. Those who “screen positive”, i.e. display symptoms of COVID-19 might have been infected. If they are over 55 yrs and/or have comorbidities, they will be tested for COVID-19 and asked to isolate while they await the test results. If they are under 55 years and/or have no comorbidities, they will be asked to isolate for 14 days. If a person “screens negative” they will be allowed to continue with their work.

Testing is a laboratory test to find out if a person has COVID-19. If you test positive for COVID-19, you will be asked to isolate to prevent you from infecting others.

  

What screening measures must an employer have at the workplace?

Every employer must take measures to screen every worker at the time they report for work to determine if they have any of the observable symptoms associated with COVID-19. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, or loss of smell or taste; and determine whether they suffer from any of the following additional symptoms: fever, body aches, redness of eyes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fatigue, weakness or tiredness.

Employees should be reminded not to come to work if they develop symptoms of COVID-19, and they must report these to their supervisors. If there has previously been a positive case at the workplace, who this person may have come into contact with, they should go for testing.

Should an employee feel unwell during the working day, they should be screened again for symptoms of COVID-19 and managed accordingly.

 

What if an employee has COVID-19 symptoms?

The employer must not permit the employee to enter the workplace or to report for work. If the employee is already at work, ensure that the employee is isolated; provided with a surgical mask and hands washed. Arrange transport for the person in a manner that does not place others at risk. If the employee is under 55 years with no comorbidities, they will need to self-isolate. If the employee is over 55 years and/or with comorbidities, they will need to go for a medical examination or testing. While the employee awaits their test results, the employee must remain in self-isolation.

The employer is not obliged to test everyone in the business. Should an employee test positive; the employer should identify close contacts of the employee and either send these people for testing or self-quarantine depending on whether they have symptoms or not and on whether they meet the testing criteria or not (over 55 years old and/or comorbidities).

The employer should also disinfect the area that the employee had to operate in and the employee’s workstation.

 

Must you as the employer pay for the testing?

As an employer, you don’t have to cover the cost of any private or public testing fees incurred.

  

Must my business close if an employee tests positive for Coronavirus?

Not automatically. The closure of the business depends on the number of employees who have tested positive. The exposure of these employees to others in the company and the area of the business affected.

If there is a positive case of COVID-19 in a workplace, the employer has to immediately notify the Western Cape Department of Health and the National Department of Employment and Labour. They will decide whether it is necessary to close the business. Even if the authorities determine that it is not required to close the company, a business may for operating reasons decide to close temporarily. Such a decision is the business’ choice, and no approval is needed from a third party for the company to re-open under such circumstances.

 

Is approval needed for my business to re-open after it has closed due to an employee testing positive?

If a business has closed itself due to an employee testing positive, it should indicate that it has undertaken all steps to comply with the regulations and guidelines for disinfecting the workplace. It may then re-open itself and does not require a formal permit from the government.

If the business has been closed by the Department of Employment & Labour, it will need permission from the Department of Employment & Labour to re-open.

 

Must the whole workplace be deep cleaned or decontaminated by a registered cleaning company?

No. The amount of cleaning will depend on the number of people that could have been infected and the extent to which these people (cases) moved around the workplace. If the cases ‘passed through’ the workplace without touching anything and without spending much time in face-to-face communication with other employees, then simple cleaning measures are appropriate. 

However, if they spent a lot of time in the workplace, touched and handled many objects and surfaces and had close contact with many people.  Then a more comprehensive cleaning of the environment would be warranted, and it will take more time to interview contacts and determine if they had close contact. 

If an employee tests positive, all areas where the employee worked or visited in the work site should be thoroughly cleaned with soap and water and wiped down with a diluted bleach solution (dilute 30ml of bleach per litre of water to give a 0.1% mixture). If the area cannot be cleaned with soap and water, then it should be wiped down carefully with a bleach solution, or a 70% alcohol solution.  

The area to be cleaned will be specific to each case and includes the kitchen, staff room, canteen, toilet facilities, trolleys, baskets, door handles, work stations, computers and counters among others. If large surface areas and large numbers of objects need to be cleaned and disinfected, then the work site may need to close temporarily while this is being done.

The deep cleaning does not need to be done by a registered cleaning company. The Western Cape Department of Health does not endorse or require cleaning that involves fumigation, fogging or demisting, nor does the WC Department of Health require a ‘certificate of cleaning’. 

 

If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, must all other employees in the business also be tested?

If an employee tests positive, interview all other employees in the business to assess their level of exposure and whether quarantine is needed or not.

If an employee has been in close contact (less than 1m for more than 15 minutes) with the positive employee and displays COVID-19 symptoms, and if they are over 55 years and/or have comorbidities, they should go for testing. If they are under 55 years and have no comorbidities, they should be sent home for self-isolation.

If an employee has been in close contact with the positive employee and had no or inadequate PPE, but has no COVID-19 symptoms, they should be sent home for self-quarantine for 14 days from the last date of contact with the positive employee. If they start to show signs, they should go for testing if they are over 55 years and/or have comorbidities.

If an employee was in close contact with the positive employee but was wearing PPE and had no COVID-19 symptoms.  Or if an employee has not been in close contact with the positive employee and has no COVID-19 signs, they may continue working but should self-monitor for 14 days. If they begin to show symptoms, manage accordingly. 

 If clusters of employees are tested positive, the whole relevant shift may have to go into quarantine and be asked to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms.

 

If an employee tests positive, can they only return to work if they have tested negative?

If an employee tests positive, they do not need to test negative before returning to work. Instead, an employee should return to work based on the following:

· Asymptomatic positive COVID-19 patient: Return to work 14 days after the date of testing positive for COVID-19

· Mild disease positive COVID-19 patient: Return to work 14 days after symptoms are displayed.

· Severe disease positive COVID-19 patient: Return to work 14 days after clinical stability achieved. The staff at the hospital will determine this date. 

· If the patient was sent for testing and is awaiting results while in isolation, and then tests negative: return to work the day after they receive the negative test result. 

· Contacts in quarantine: return to work 14 days after potential exposure

 

Is an employee entitled to sick leave if sick or if the employee has symptoms associated with COVID-19?

Yes. If an employee is sick or has symptoms associated with COVID-19, they must inform their employer, self-quarantine and not go to work. Employees will be entitled to take paid sick leave in terms of section 22 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

 

What happens if the employee does not have any more sick leave left?

If the employee does not have sick leave left, the employer must make an application for an illness benefit in terms of clause 4 of the directive issued on 25 March 2020 on the COVID-19 Temporary Employer Relief Scheme under regulation 10(8) of the Regulations promulgated in terms of section 27(2) of the Disaster Management Act.

   

Must I, as an employer, inform anyone if an employee has been tested positive for COVID-19?

Yes. The employer must inform the Department of Health on 0800 02 9999 and the Department of Employment and Labour and email: david.esau@labour.gov.za.

Employers must also inform the Western Cape Department of Health Provincial COVID-19, click here for more information.

 

Are employees permitted to be discriminated against if they have tested positive for COVID-19?

No. Employers must ensure that employees are not discriminated against if they have tested positive for COVID-19 in terms of section 6 of the Employment Equity. 

 

What if an employee contracted COVID-19 while they were in the workplace?

If there is evidence that an employee became infected by COVID-19 because they were exposed in the workplace, the employer must lodge a claim for compensation in terms of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, 1993 (Act No. 130 of 1993) in accordance with Notice 193 published on 3 March 2020 (13 GG 43126 GN193 of 23 March 2020.)

In addition to the obligations of employees under the OHSA, every worker must comply with measures introduced by their employer as required by the Directive: COVID-19 Occupational Health and Safety Measures in Workplaces, 2020 (Issued by DoEL on 4 June 2020).

  

Is there a low-risk work environment?

All workplaces have an element of risk, including workplaces such as hospitals which have very stringent health and safety measures. Employees can play a crucial role in managing risks in the workplace by:

  • Practising social distancing by staying 1.5 metres from others at all times.
  • Washing or sanitising hands regularly.
  • Wearing face masks or a face covering when in public.
  • Practising good hygiene in your workspace as well as in communal break areas, such as canteens and smoke areas.

  

If an employee tests positive and, after 14 days, someone in their family tests positive, may the employee return to work?

Yes, the employee can return work and will not pose an infectious risk to others after 14 days. As a precautionary measure, employees are encouraged to abide by the necessary infection control measures at home and work, i.e. the person at home who is infected should be self-isolating. At work, practising handwashing, physical distancing and wearing a face mask as required by the labour regulations.

  

What are the responsibilities of employees in terms of workplace health and safety?

Employees have an essential role to play in managing the spread of COVID-19, and should:

  • Immediately inform the employer if they are tested positive for COVID-19 or have been in close contact with a positive case.
  • Try as much as possible to always travel in the same transport, work in the same place or production line and have break times with the same colleagues observing physical distancing measures and wearing face masks wherever possible. These protocols will help reduce the potential spread of infection and make it easier for the employer and health officials to determine which employees have been in contact with where there is a positive case of COVID-19.
  • Inform their employer if they are sick and not come to work if infected or sick.
  • Take responsibility for their health by:
    • Practising social distancing and staying 1.5 metres away from others at all times.
    • Washing or sanitising hands regularly.
    • Wearing face masks or a face covering when in public.

The Western Cape Government has developed a range of posters for communal staff areas with helpful guides and reminders on how being safe is everyone’s responsibility. Click here to download your poster.

 

Where can I find a range of PPE’s for my business?

Supportbusiness.co.za has developed a free marketplace for buyers and sellers of PPEs including manufacturers, suppliers and service providers. There are over 400 vendors listed on the platform and an easy “request a quote” form for you to fill in. Visit PPE Marketplace today.

 

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