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Returning to the workplace: How should businesses apply their OHSA to COVID-19

During a complete nationwide lockdown, some businesses have had to close their doors for close to two months.  With the recent downgrade to level 4 and future downgrades to level 3 and 2 eminent, many businesses are now looking for guidelines on how they can keep their employees and customers safe when they re-open and what rules need to be complied with to minimise the risk of having to close down again, which could be devastating after losses already suffered.

 

The OHSA (Occupational Health and Safety Act) requires the employer to create a realistic working environment which is safe, not only for employees but also for the customers, clients or contractors and their workers entering the workplace. This applies to all companies including self-employed individuals who have encounters with members of the public.  Each company is different and must carry out a risk assessment in order to develop a unique approach that considers all aspects of how the virus could potentially be transmitted. Measures then need to be put in place to either eliminate or if not possible minimise exposure to the virus by employees, customers and any other person that comes on to the business premises.

In this article we provide some general guidelines that can be applied to any business, no matter the size.

 

Keeping it safe by keeping the distance

The virus is spread through exposure to droplets of fluid released by someone who is infected with the COVID-19 virus. These droplets, released by coughs or exhales, can land on surfaces and objects that people are in physical contact with every day.  You can see why employers are encouraged to let people work from home as far as possible. However, it’s not possible for all businesses to work from home therefore, social distancing remains a key element, especially in the workplace where often employees work in close proximity to each other to maximise the use of office space.

Here are some tips for social distancing in the workplace

  • Ban all kinds of physical contact (meetings, social gatherings and smokers congregating).
  • Place workers who can do their work without assistance in isolation.
  • Move employees further apart by making use of additional space such as open meeting rooms and canteens.
  • Allow vulnerable workers with underlying conditions and those over the age of 60 to work from home, where possible.
  • Communicate and set-up customer distancing guidelines and regulations.
  • Make sure drivers are educated concerning good health protocol by providing them sanitisers and wipes.
  • Minimise the number of employees that make use of common areas like bathrooms and lifts at the same time.

 

Put health and safety measures in place

Companies are required to report to the Health Department of Employment and Labour if an employee is diagnosed with Covid-19. After they have reported it, the cause of infection will be investigated. Be sure to have these health and safety measures in place so that you can prove you took all the steps required towards preventing the spread of the virus:

Symptoms screening

Employers should take course of action to:

  • Screen all employees arriving for work, to see if they can identify any symptoms associated with COVID-19, namely fever, cough, sore throat, redness of eyes or difficulty breathing.
  • Require workers to report any additional symptoms they may suffer from namely, nausea, body aches, loss of smell or taste, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, weakness, or tiredness.

 

Sanitizers, disinfectants and other measures

  • Hand sanitisers must consist of at least 70% alcohol.
  • Every employer should provide, free of charge, an adequate number of hand sanitisers for the number of workers and people who enter the workplace.
  • Every worker who is away from the workplace, other than home, should be provided hand sanitiser.
  • Employers should take measures to ensure that all work surfaces and equipment are disinfected before, during and after work hours.
  • All areas such as restrooms, common areas, door handles and shared devices are regular cleaned and disinfected.
  • There should be enough facilities for washing hands with soap and clean water, hands may only be dried with paper towels.
  • Workers should be obligated to wash and sanitise their hands frequently, especially between each encounter with members of the public.

 


The reason for the continuous sanitising of surfaces in the workplace
is due to the COVID-19 virus being able to survive on certain surfaces for 5 days.

 

 

Keep others safe by wearing masks

Since the virus spreads through droplets from an infected person and the fact that not all people who have the virus have any symptoms, it becomes difficult to know who is or isn’t infected. Therefore, the Department of Health has made it a requirement for everyone to wear cloth masks in public and in the workplace.

Employers are obliged to provide employees with a minimum of two cloth masks, free of charge. These masks should be worn commuting to and from work, in the workplace and when interacting with members of the public. It’s expected from each employer to make sure that workers are informed, instructed and trained to use face masks in the correct manner. They should also make arrangements regarding the washing, drying and ironing of masks according to specific guidelines. Where risk assessments indicate that Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) is required, those specific workers should still be provided with the necessary PPE regardless of the masks already received.

Here are some tips to use masks effectively

  • Don’t touch the mask while wearing it.
  • When removing it, do so in such a manner that you don’t touch the front.
  • After removing the mask or if the mask was accidentally touched, wash your hands with soap or apply a hand sanitiser.
  • Replace your mask when it becomes moistened.
  • Wash or disinfect fabric masks after every use.
  • Don’t re-use masks that were meant for single use, dispose them directly after use.

 

Good ventilation activation

It’s the employer’s responsibility to keep the workplace well ventilated using natural or mechanical resources to reduce the viral load. If possible, make use of an effective local extraction ventilation system with high- efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, which are regularly cleaned and maintained, with vents that do not feedback into open windows. The filters should be cleaned and replaced by a competent person according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Here are some healthy ventilation tips for employees:

  • Try to wear face masks throughout the whole day.
  • Always implement social distancing of a meter and sanitise frequently.
  • If you must cough or sneeze and your mask is not in reaching distance, cover your mouth and nose with you elbow or tissue.
  • Use disposable tissues and throw them away in a closed bin as soon as possible.
  • Separate employees with respiratory symptoms and send them home for self-isolation.

 

In these extraordinary and uncertain times and with the survival of so many businesses as well as the very real and scary risk to human life it is more important than ever to not only take action but to take the right action.

 

WWISE has 12 years of experience in ISO and OHSA consulting specialising in auditing, developing and implementing improved business systems across a wide field of industries

We have applied all our knowledge, expertise and experience to developing products and services to help business get back up and running while keeping the safety of workers and customers paramount.

These include fully customisable emergency kits with a range of PPE for individuals as well as a variety of business sizes. We also offer toolkits containing templates to assist companies to comply with government regulations. Our services in this time extend to consultation on risk assessment, policy and procedure development as well as training on OHS compliance and help with developing your Business’ continuity & emergency preparedness plan.

For more details on how we can assist you please follow this link https://www.wwise.co.za/covid-19-solutions/