Covid-19 workplace compliance is only 60%, says labour department

12 May 2020 by Ed Stoddard

Clearly, the government and the wider public have concerns about the pandemic, and everyone needs to get used to new rules of economic engagement. Yet, one wonders if there is not an overzealousness on the part of inspectors.

In what must be a warning shot about coming battles over Covid-19 policy, the labour department says only 60% of companies are complying with regulations to stem the pandemic’s spread. This is the finding of  2,789 inspections carried out between 30 April and 8 May. The kicker is that SOEs and other government entities scored only 50%. What a shocker.

In a brief statement on Tuesday 12 May, the labour department made clear its displeasure with the rate of compliance as many companies and businesses attempt to reboot under the already stifling rules of lockdown Level 4. It said that its inspectors had found “that two of every five inspected organisations [were] not complying with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA)”. Or 60%, the majority, are compliant, which is more to the point.

“During the inspections, it was found that 1,237 organisations were not compliant, resulting in the issuance of 1,463 notices comprised of Contravention Notices; Improvement Notices and Prohibition Notices. Of these inspections, 411 were conducted at government and or state-owned enterprises where the rate of compliance was at 50%,” it said.

So, one of the silver linings here appears to be that government is realising just how shoddily run SOEs and other arms of government are.

And the tone suggests that non-compliance will not be tolerated by this arm of government, which can probably wield a sledgehammer now if it saw fit – or anyway thinks it can.

“Given the fact that the virus is spreading substantially, it is of great concern especially at those employers where there are long queues or people congregating. This is especially prevalent at government-related workplaces,” Inspector-General Aggy Moiloa was quoted as saying.

“We are shocked that many organisations are still struggling to comply with the OHS Act. It should be every organisation’s habit. No wonder we still have so many workplace accidents. Progressive organisations invest in the wellness of their employees,” Moiloa said.

The use of the term “progressive” is probably instructive here, and not in the US liberal/political sense of the term.

“The department is gearing up for more inspections as more organisations are starting to increase their operations with the result that more employees are anticipated to gradually start working again,” it said. 

It has already signalled it planned to hire 500 more inspectors, which had been budgeted for in 2019 but it somehow did not get around to hiring then. There are only 200 now, according to a recent briefing from Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi, so their ranks are set to swell.

Clearly, the government and the wider public have concerns about the pandemic, and everyone needs to get used to new rules of economic engagement. Yet, one wonders if there is not an overzealousness on the part of inspectors. Some struggling businesses may have hoped to get cut some slack. And according to more than one company, the rules are confusing and shifting. The result in many cases is also no doubt over-compliance.  

Anyway, a genie is out of a bottle now that is going to be very hard to put back. 

Stay tuned as this may also suggest bigger fights around policy within Cabinet, the National Command Council, and the ANC.

Source: Business Maverick at https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2020-05-12-covid-19-workplace-compliance-is-only-60-says-labour-department/