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Covid-19 A safe working environment is essential

September 2021


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent restrictions, everyone has had to adapt quickly to a changing world. Not only are our personal lives affected by the virus, but all aspects of business and education. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a safe working environment has become even more important than before.

It is important that both the employer and employees take responsibility for a safe working environment. According to legislation, employers must ensure a healthy and safe working environment, determine the threats and risks at the workplace and take the necessary steps to eliminate or control them. Under occupational health and safety legislation employees' responsibilities include taking reasonable care of their own safety and health and that of other persons who may be affected by their actions or omissions. They must also work with their employer to ensure a work environment that is free from hazards and health risks. 

According to advocate Bernard Lombard of the Excelsis Group, the pandemic resulted in changes being made to certain legal aspects surrounding occupational safety. ‘It is crucial to have the most relevant information about lockdown regulations.’

He says COVID-19 has brought uncertainties within the work environment about what is permissible. In the past, an employer could not ask an employee about his medical condition because the employee’s right was greater than the employer's need for information. With COVID-19 this has changed as a safe working environment is now of critical importance. ‘A safe working environment is therefore now much more important than any individual's right to privacy,’ says advocate Lombard. ‘The employee has the responsibility of keeping the work environment safe for his colleagues by being honest if he/she has experienced any symptoms or had contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19.’

The most important management practice is to draw up guidelines on procedures and the implementation thereof so that it can be applied consistently. Producers must ensure that adequate arrangements are made for the necessary hygiene practices and other basic provisions to combat COVID-19. The provision of the required personal protective equipment as well as the application of sanitiser in strategic places is required by law. 

Bernard suggests that producers regularly conduct a risk analysis to determine where potential risks may arise. This information will help put measures in place to limit risks. Continuous monitoring of staff by completing daily health questionnaires can also assist to identify risks quickly. 

The employer must also have proper controls or protocols in place for when an employee shows any COVID-19 symptoms or has been in contact with someone who has tested positive. These guidelines then also determine what ‘contact’ is. Close contact means that a person within 1 m had face-to-face contact or was in an enclosed space for more than 15 minutes with a person with COVID-19 who was still ‘contagious’ – that is from two days before to ten days after the onset of symptoms. According to the Department of Health, isolation is seen as sick leave and a medical certificate is not required. There must also be a suitable place for staff to be able to isolate where other employees are not exposed. 

Vaccinations against COVID-19 have provoked much discussion worldwide. According to Bernard, pro forma policies on vaccinations are currently being issued. Most of the Excelsis Group’s agricultural clients leave the decision to the employees. ‘Those who want to go for the vaccinations must be given a day off to do so. Help them to register and provide transport to and from the vaccination centre,’ says Bernard. If someone experiences side effects, he/she must also be given two to five days sick leave to recover.

Bernard suggests that producers look at each job description to determine what impact the vaccinations will have on the farming business. ‘An employer may decide that the vaccination is compulsory for those in essential positions,’ he says. 

Publication: September 2021

Section: Pula/Imvula