Hundreds of thousands of people will be returning to work when Covid-19 lockdown restrictions are lifted to Level Three. Among them will be workers from South Africa’s largest employment sectors. These include construction, chemical, steel and metal manufacturing, mining, automotive, retail and wholesale industries, as well as professional services.
Prevent the Spread
As the country’s employment pool swells, so will the importance of controlling the risk increase to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Level Three will add impetus to health and safety measures in the workplace if employers are to maintain standards that comply with the OHS Act.
The Covid-19 principles of personal and industrial hygiene can be categorised as:
- Elimination or isolation of workplace hazards
- Minimising virus transmission
- Providing workers with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
A leading OHS consultancy, MAKROSAFE, points out that eliminating or isolating Covid-19 hazards in the workplace is near-impossible because of the human factor. Employees, contractors, customers and visitors could be carriers of the virus, increasing the dangers of cross-contamination.
MAKROSAFE endorses the following Covid-19 strategies to minimise risks.
Workers must frequently wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizers. Employers must ensure that hygiene stations are created at strategic points throughout the work area.
Self-explanatory posters, showing how to do thoroughly wash hands, should also be displayed at strategic locations throughout the workplace. These should be easily understood by all language-groups and show workers how to disinfect their hands using soap, detergent and water for at least 20 seconds.
Employers should supply disposable towels and avoid using air-blown dryers which could cause a spread of the virus.
Another important hygiene control in the working environment is that workers should avoid touching their face.
The promotion of good respiratory hygiene should also be encouraged. Workers must be instructed to cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
Employers should also introduce regular communication streams with their workers, such as training and education meetings.
Hygiene in the Workplace
A housekeeping regime of frequent disinfection and cleaning of all worktop surfaces to include:
- Touch screens
- Office equipment
- Staircase bannisters
Kitchens and canteens must be thoroughly and regularly cleaned.
In terms of risk assessment management, MAKROSAFE says that any surfaces contaminated with bodily fluids should immediately be disinfected. Surfaces should be cleaned with alcohol, hydrogen peroxide or chlorine bleach. A frequent housekeeping regime can reduce the transmission of the virus. This is particularly important in sectors of the industry that operate shift-work programmes.
Employers must ensure that adequate supplies of cleaning products, as well as first aid and PPE, are always kept in stock.
Other Preventative Measures
MAKROSAFE says the spread of the coronavirus can be curtailed with preventative measures such as:
- Good ventilation
- Social distancing
- Sift work to reduce numbers of employees on the premises at any given time
- Cancelling non-essential travel
- Using telecommunication, such as Zoom and Skype, when conducting meetings
- Introducing a working from home programme for high-risk employees or those with pre-existing medical conditions
Suspected Cases of Sick or Infected Workers
Employers must take immediate steps if a worker is suspected of being ill or infected with the virus. They must:
- Seek medical advice
- Either send the employee home or to a hospital
- Place the employee in isolation while waiting for transportation
- Ensure that the sick person is wearing a face mask to reduce the spread of the virus via airborne droplets
- Disinfect all surfaces and items that could have been touched by the worker
- Identify and monitor all other workers who had contact with the sick employee
Stay at Home Policy
MAKROSAFE says social protection is another all-important aspect of health and safety in the workplace. Work-givers should adopt a “stay at home” policy to isolate sick employees from their workmates. It is up to employers to help workers understand that even mild Covid-19 symptoms, like a cough or a slight fever, are red flags that indicate they should “stay at home”. Salaries should be guaranteed so that workers will not be tempted to report for duty when ill.
Joint Task Forces
To effectively control hazards in the workplace, employers are urged to establish Joint Health and Safety Committees and to appoint safety representatives. They will be responsible for the introduction, implementation and monitoring of policies, procedures and programmes in the workplace. These measures should be adopted as a joint task force policy in which all members concerned will play a vital role.
The Mother of Prevention
Risk assessments to identify health and safety hazards in the workplace are the mother of prevention. It is in this field that OHS specialists, MAKROSAFE, play an important role to safeguard the lives of millions of workers employed by the South African industry.
With its finger on the pulse of daily changes in this global pandemic, MAKROSAFE is constantly updating its online platform with SafetyWallet to keep employers abreast of the latest legislation affecting their workplace. One of its latest contributions to the OHS field is the development of a FREE Back to Work Prevention Kit. This is a one-stop Covid-19 operating manual that is invaluable to all sectors of the economy that have to comply with the OHS Act coronavirus legislation.
This Back to Work Prevention Kit arms employers with all the necessary know-how in the fight to curb the spread of the virus and to safeguard the workplace.
The Back to Work Prevention Kit includes the following:
- Covid-19 Policy
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Policy
- Testing / Screening of Employees for COVID-19 Policy
- Working from Home Policy
- Working from Home Risk Assessment
- Travelling to and from Work using Public Transport Risk Assessment
- Workplace Risk Assessment – Exposure to Infections Diseases
- Workplace Readiness after Lock
- Control measures Guidelines
- E-Learning (unlimited) – Managing Infectious Disease in the Workplace – COVID 19
- Induction Booklet
- Toolbox Talks
- Awareness Posters
- Daily Mandatory Checklist