Occupational health and safety in the Covid-19 workplace in South Africa, during and after

Occupational health and safety in the Covid-19 workplace in South Africa, during and after

OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY IN THE WORKPLACE

We as human beings respond to disasters in various ways. The various proactive and reactive responses to the current COVID-19 pandemic by individuals, states, governments and organisations illustrate the ways in which we are different. In South Africa, we have noted a mixed bag of responses.

The most concerning factor regarding the response to COVID-19 is the apparent hurry-up-and-wait approach, resulting in anxiety, fear, panic buying and fake news, to name but a few.

 

The response to available information by individuals and groups depends on factors such as age, gender, culture, education, economic status and geographical location. These varied responses form the basis of the concern relating to South Africa’s success in containing the COVID-19 virus.

Given this pandemic, globally and locally, we will have to take a big step back and review our input to secure the future of employers and employees.

Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) on the backfoot

Where, in all this madness and chaos, are the Health and Safety Professionals?

South Africans can be quite ignorant in matters concerning our livelihood and our future and tend to imagine that matters such as COVID-19 and others cannot affect them or will only affect some. Such attitudes affect the work conducted by Health and Safety Professionals across South Africa.

Health and Safety Professionals are contracted to advise CEOs, board members, managers and employees, who might be reluctant to acknowledge the concern within our country, or their company. Furthermore, not all professionals are registered with a platform to assist and support them during times when the information available is overwhelming and finding the truth seems nearly impossible.

The Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), World Health Organisation (WHO), National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), South African Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (SAIOSH) and various other institutions, globally and nationally, made information available prior to the lockdown. Even the Department of Employment and Labour published various articles but, as mentioned, ignorance and lack of awareness relating to the severity of COVID-19 among OHS Professionals varied and resulted in a variety of responses.

Since the lockdown, everyone has been up in arms about measures that need to be taken, which led to a multitude of webinars and conferences regarding the fight against COVID-19. Information includes what personal protective equipment (PPE) to use, how to conduct an effective risk assessment, what control measures to consider and what resources are available to OHS practitioners and employers.

These attitudes and varied responses have put the Health and Safety of businesses, specifically Health and Safety professionals, on the back burner.

Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) in your business during lockdown and beyond:

Echoing across the globe, we are told to take care of ourselves, our families, our colleagues and our clients. Businesses should take precautions to protect their employees and their clients, while employees should protect themselves, their colleagues and their employer’s clients.

This, however, is not a new concept and has been formalised in sections 8 and 14 of the Occupational Health & Safety Act, Act 85 of 1993 (OHS Act), which clearly outlines the responsibilities of employers and employees.

The COVID-19 pandemic presents South Africa with new challenges, requiring that policies, procedures and possibly legislation be reviewed and revised to safeguard our businesses in the future, for example:

  • Remote working, including at the employee’s house and accommodation when travelling.
  • Is the employee’s personal workplace or designated work area free from harm?
  • How do you manage IODs at the employee’s personal workplace?
  • How do you stay in touch and encourage productivity?
  • Is the employee mentally capable of working at home, and how will it affect their wellbeing?
  • Simplifying the continuation of essential services.
  • Going 100% digital in managing your Health and Safety Management System.
  • Cyber security for when employees work at home.

It is important to note that once lockdown restrictions have been lifted, OHS procedures should not fall on the back burner and should be reviewed to ensure that they are integrated into your daily operations to avoid future hiccups when operations are influenced by a disaster.

Simplifying Occupational Health and Safety for COVID-19:

To determine whether you have ‘disaster-proofed’ your business to a reasonable extent, follow this checklist and ensure that you have these measures in place when you are operational during lockdown or back at work with restrictive measures:

OHSA CHECKLIST DURING COVID-19

During these trying times the various demands on businesses might be overwhelming. SERR Synergy provides a comprehensive Covid-19 compliance service that includes the Covid-19 Assessment Plan, Workplace Protocols and Policies, Daily Screening documents and Checklists. Our team of OHS Professionals can relieve the stress and concerns that might affect your business’ capability to stay operational during time of disaster. 

About the author: Ilse-Marie van de Wall started her career as a Human Resources and Industrial Relations Practitioner in 2007. She holds a degree from the University of Pretoria and certificates in both NEBOSH and SAMTRAC. She is currently busy with a National Diploma in Safety Management at UNISA. As a professional Health and Safety Practitioner she is registered with SAIOSH and the SACPCMP. She started with SERR Synergy in 2016 as an Occupational Health and Safety Practitioner and currently holds the title of National Occupational Health and Safety Manager.

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