A safe working environment and COVID-19

Category: BCEA
Date: 9 March 2020

COVID-19 coronavirus continues to create a stir in the world and now as it hits South African shores, how do employers deal with the potential threat of contagion in the workplace? The International Labour Organisation states clearly that the responsibility of the Employer to keep their employees safe from harm and in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act  (OHS) Act 85 of 1993 is the law that seeks to protect the well-being of workers – both physical and mental.

What do Employers need to know about COVID-19?

Let’s keep it real – the COVID-19 is an illness caused by a coronavirus which in humans is common and are typically associated with mild illnesses, similar to the common cold.

Each year a new strain of cold and flu virus rears itself and laughs in the face of flu vaccinations everywhere as it continues to spread around people who live in close proximity to an infected person, and between people in the different environments in which they find themselves in their day to day lives, including at work. Often, those who suffer from a low immune system will fall victim to any opportunistic illness first while those who are maintaining their health and stress levels, will fair better. Older folks and youngsters may also be vulnerable.

Symptoms may take up to 14 days to appear after exposure to the virus and include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing

Since these viruses are most commonly spread from an infected person through ventilation systems or through water its important for employers to understand that where a group of people gather, there is a higher chance of contamination.

9 things Employers should do immediately:

  1. Acknowledge the situation now in South Africa and discuss this with staff
  2. Quell fears of their Employees by providing them with the facts about the virus
  3. Focus on the positive full recovery figures of 95% vs the fear-based figures which are focusing on those who have succumb to the virus.
  4. Educate your employees on the symptoms of the illness
  5. Educate your employees on how to prevent contamination
  6. Support staff who may feel discrimination as a result of illness, that they will be supported in the workplace to ensure that fears are minimized
  7. Prevention is better than cure – Provide additional sanitation options, such as soaps and disinfectant wipes, especially in large and medium companies. If gloves are available, provide them to your staff.
  8. If any employee suspects that they have come in contact with someone who has been sick or is currently sick with the symptoms similar to those of the coronavirus, to self-quarantine and report their absence to their employer
  9. Have a strategy in place in the even that the company has an employee who has been positively identified with the virus