With a number of South Africans continuing work as essential workers, the Department of Employment and Labour has in addition to new COVID-19 guidelines, advised employers to abide by the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act of 1993.
In a statement today, 17 April 2020, the Department of Employment and Labour advised employees who are currently responsible for essential workers, to abide by the OHS in order to help eradicate the spread of COVID-19. The Department says its COVID-19 planning guidance was developed based on traditional infection prevention and occupational hygiene practices. It orders employers to implement the following interventions; engineering controls, administrative controls, safe work practices and personal protective equipment.
On personal protective equipment (PPE), the guidance compels employers to install high-efficiency air filters, installing physical barriers, limit face-to-face contact and enforce employees to wear gloves, masks, aprons and other protective gear. Employers have also been advised to consult the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) website for PPE-related recommendations.
Section 8(2)(b) of the OHS Act, requires steps such as may be reasonably practicable to eliminate or mitigate any hazard or potential hazard before resorting to personal protective equipment (PPE). And the Department of Labour, in the case of COVID–19, says “a combination of controls is required, although the main principle is to follow the hierarchy of controls. However, before the implementation of control measures, current risk assessments need to be reviewed and updated, taking into account the new hazards posed by exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.”