New Covid-19 rules: What your workplace needs to look like

4 May 2020 by Helena Wasserman

Labour minister Thulas Nxesi. Photo: GCISLabour minister Thulas Nxesi. Photo: GCIS

  • Businesses must comply with new regulations to protect their workers against the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
  • This includes maintaining a 1.5m distance between them, or putting up barriers between employees
  • During lockdown, nine SA businesses were closed for violations of Covid-19 safety rules every day.
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

With some 1.5 million South Africans returning to work this week, businesses are required to comply with strict new health and safety regulations to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Businesses re-opening must put these measures in place before restarting work, minister of labour Thulas Nxesi said during a briefing at the weekend. Failure to do so could result in criminal prosecution.

He admitted, however, that while government is recruiting, there are currently only 170 inspectors in the field.

“It would be impossible to inspect every one of the 1.8 million businesses,” Nxesi admitted. “Therefore, inspectors rely upon the support of individual workers, unions and socially responsible employers in providing vital information – which in turn allows the inspectors to focus on hotspots and to make an example of particular offenders.”

During the first phase of lockdown, inspectors shut down (or partially closed) nine businesses a day for violations.

The new regulations demand that companies must ensure that employees who can work from home, stay at home. For those who have to be on the premises, contact between them and the public must be minimised. Businesses must minimise the number of workers at the workplace at any given time through rotation, staggered working hours and shifts. Face-to-face meetings must also be restricted.

Here’s what else new regulations require from businesses:

Distancing

All customers and employees must maintain a distance of one and a half metres from each other at all times. Work stations must be to be spaced at least one and a half metres apart – and if that isn’t possible, “solid, physical barriers” must be placed between work stations. In stores, if it isn’t possible to maintain one and half metres, workers must get a face shield or visor, or physical barriers must be installed.

Companies must determine how big their floor space is in square metres, and then determine how many clients and employees can be inside at any time.

Businesses must implement queue control – and maintain physical distancing in its canteens and lavatories. “These measures may include dividing the workforce into groups or staggering break-times to avoid the concentration of workers in common areas.”

Covid compliance official

Businesses need to assign an employee as a “compliance official”. He or she needs to ensure that the company complies with the new regulations. (In shops, the name of the official must be displayed prominently in the store.)

Hand sanitiser

There must be hand sanitiser (with at least 70% alcohol content) for customers and employees at the entrance to the premises.

If a worker interacts with the public, the worker must have sufficient supplies of hand-sanitiser at his or her workstation for both the worker and clients. Workers must sanitise their hands between each interaction with the public.

Workers must wash, or sanitise, their hands regularly while at work.

Cleaning and disinfecting

All work surfaces and equipment must be disinfected before work begins, regularly during the day and after work ends. Toilets, common areas, door handles and shared electronic equipment must be regularly cleaned and disinfected.

No fabric towels

There must be adequate facilities for the washing of hands with soap and clean water, but fabric towels are prohibited – paper towels must be used.

Fingerprint systems

Companies must disable their biometric systems or make them “Covid-19-proof”.

Masks

Everyone on the premises – including suppliers – must wear masks at all time. A minimum of two cloth masks must be provided to each employees, free of charge. One can be used on the commute to and from work, the other while at the workplace. An employer must ensure that these masks are washed, dried, and ironed.

Workers must also be educated about how to correctly use cloth masks.

Ultimately, the employer remains responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of personal protective equipment, the regulations say. Workers who are at greater risk must be provided with the “appropriate” personal protective equipment (PPE), for example N95 or N97 masks. These PPE must be free.

Ventilation

“Every workplace must be well ventilated to reduce the viral load.” If reasonably practicable”, an extraction ventilation system must  be used.

Sick employees

Companies are required to inform employees that if they are sick or have symptoms associated with the Covid–19 they must not come to work and that they will get paid sick leave.

At the start of their shifts, all workers must be screened for “observable” symptoms associated with Covid-19: fever, cough, sore throat, redness of eyes or shortness of breath. Workers must also report whether they have body aches, loss of smell or loss of taste, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fatigue, weakness or tiredness. If they have these symptoms, they must inform their employer. Not doing so is illegal.

The company mustn’t allow workers with symptoms to enter the workplace. Sick workers must be isolated, and should receive a FFP1 surgical mask. The company must then arrange for the worker to be safely transported to be self-isolated, or for a medical examination or testing. The company must ensure that the worker is tested, and company must then disinfect the area and the worker’s workstation.

If Covid-19 is diagnosed, it must be reported to the Department of Health as well as the Department of Employment and Labour, and the company must investigate how the worker was infected.

Workers with Covid-like symptoms can only return to work if they have been tested negative for Covid-19.

Companies are also obliged to raise awareness via leaflets and notices about the dangers of the virus, the manner of its transmission, the measures to prevent transmission such as personal hygiene, social distancing, use of masks, cough etiquette and where to go for screening or testing.

Risk assessment and policy

Large companies (with more than 500 employees) must submit a risk assessment and written policy about how the health and safety of its employees will be protected against Covid-19. All workers must be notified about the document. A manager must be appointed to address employee concerns and to keep them informed.

For small businesses (with fewer than 10 staff)

Employees must stay at least one and half metres apart or, if not practicable, physical barriers must be placed between them.

If a worker has Covid-19 symptoms, they must not be allowed to work, and the employer must call the Covid-19 hotline on 0800 02 9999 for instruction.

Small companies must provide cloth masks or require an employee to wear some form of cloth covering over their mouth and nose while at work.

All employees must be provided with hand sanitisers, soap and clean water to wash their hands, and disinfectants to sanitise their workstations.

All employees must wash their hands with soap, and ensure that their workstations are disinfected regularly.

(Compiled by Helena Wasserman.)

Source: Business Insider at https://www.businessinsider.co.za/covid19-coronavirus-rules-business-companies-workplace-regulations-masks-2020-5