BUSINESS MAVERICK

Government ups the ante on Covid-19 safety measures in the workplace 

By Ray Mahlaka 31 May 2020
Caption
Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi was admitted to hospital. (Photo: GCIS/Jairus Mmutle)

About 8-million workers are expected to return to work from 1 June 2020 as SA will move to lockdown Level 3. These workers will be returning to work for the first time since the lockdown started on 27 March. The government wants employers to put in place strict health and safety measures to protect workers. 

As SA prepares to substantially ease lockdown rules from the start of June 2020, the government has intensified Covid-19 health and safety measures that employers should implement in the workplace to protect returning workers. 

About eight million workers are expected to return to work for the first time in two months as SA will move to a less strict lockdown Level 3 from 1 June 2020. 

Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi said workers can refuse to go back to work if employers have not implemented sufficient measures in the workplace to prevent the spread of Covid-19. And workers that have been exposed to someone who tested positive for Covid-19 should be quarantined for 14 days, which should be treated as paid sick leave, he said.

Nxesi was speaking on Friday, 29 May at a Level 3 media briefing, which comprised three economic clusters of the Cabinet, including employment and labour, mineral resources and energy, and trade and industry. 

The government, in consolation with its labour and social partners at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), has drafted amendments to workplace directives, which have upped the ante on the responsibility of employers to protect workers during the pandemic. 

If figures from the government are anything to go by, most companies are not compliant with Covid-19 health and safety measures. According to Nxesi, of the 72 workplaces that were inspected for Covid-19 health and safety measures on 25 May 2020, 44 were not compliant.  

Under the amendments, companies that will reopen their operations during a Level 3 lockdown will be required to appoint a Covid-19 health and safety compliance officer, which will advise companies on developing a plan to protect returning workers. 

The plan should include a risk assessment of the workplace, how to enforce physical distancing between workers, and disinfecting workspaces. “This must be done before they reopen their businesses in consultation with representative trade unions as well as health and safety committees,” said Nxesi. 

If figures from the government are anything to go by, most companies are not compliant with Covid-19 health and safety measures. According to Nxesi, of the 72 workplaces that were inspected for Covid-19 health and safety measures on 25 May 2020, 44 were not compliant.  

And over a longer period – from 30 March to 30 May 2020 – out of the 3,844 workplaces that were inspected, 2,116 complied with health and safety measures while 1,724 failed to comply. Over the same period, a total of 332 prohibition notices were served to non-compliant companies, said Nxesi. A prohibition notice requires immediate cessation of the unsafe activity.

Mining industry 

The mining industry, which hires about 400,000 mineworkers, is another industry that is expected to operate at full capacity under Level 3, but with strict health and safety measures. 

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said all mining companies will be required to prepare a code of good practice for preventing the spread of Covid-19. He said non-compliance with health and safety measures by mining companies is a criminal offense and in breach of mining regulations. 

As of 28 May 2020, the mining industry has tested over 4,600 workers for Covid-19, of which 384 tested positive. “Most mines were doing well on screening mineworkers, but not on testing… We want mining companies to improve testing and screening of mineworkers,” said Mantashe. DM/BM

Gallery

SCORPIO

Ferraris, Bentley, Merc and a mansion — how Free State asbestos ‘loot’ bankrolled a life of luxury

By Pieter-Louis Myburgh for Scorpio