Health and Safety has been, is and will always be a priority in each and every workplace, big or small. The Occupational Health & Safety Act mentions that every employer must do everything reasonably practicable to keep the employees, and visitors/clients, of the company safe from harm.
With the current COVID-19 regulations enforced by the South African Government, we have to change our mindset with regards to Health and Safety. The Final COVID-19 directive mentions that if an employee can work from home, he or she must be afforded the opportunity to do so. The same goes for employees over the age of 60 and or with underlying health conditions that will be susceptible to the COVID-19 virus must also work from home.
This is where it gets interesting, the Occupational Health & Safety Act defines the word “workplace” in the occupational health and safety act as any premises or place where a person performs work in the course of his employment. A premise includes any building, vehicle, vessel, train or aircraft. Thus, meaning that if an employee works from home, his or her home will also be a place of work. As mentioned above, the employer must create a safe and healthy environment for all his or her employees.
This basically means that the employer must make sure that:
- The employee has received sanitizers, hand soap, paper towels, face mask, etc.
- Workplace protocols have been communicated to staff working from home.
- Awareness training has been done as the regulations requires it.
- A risk assessment has been compiled, indicating the risk that the employee working from home might face as well as control measures that must be implemented.
Due to the lockdown in South Africa, together with travel restrictions and required permits, it will be a daunting task for all employers to make sure that the required control measures are implemented and adhered to on a daily basis.
Even though we all strive to create a Health and Safety compliant workplace, ensuring that every employee working from home complies, will unfortunately not be possible to maintain for the majority of employers. This is why most companies are going with the route of issuing indemnity forms to staff working from home, indicating that they are aware of the risks involved working from home and that they have been made aware of COVID-19 and risk involved. The employees must also then indicate that the employer did everything reasonably practicable to ensure his/her employees are safe from harm as well as issuing them the required personal protective equipment and sanitizing products.
Even though COID (Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases) does offer protection for employers in this situation, they might still be held liable for employees getting injured, or getting infected with the COVID-19 virus due to working from home offices.
At the end of the day, each employee’s health and wellbeing remains a top priority. That being said, every employer must still, as far as possible, create COVID-19 and general Health & Safety awareness for their employees as well and equip them with correct tools so that they themselves can make sure that they stay safe and healthy.
written by Henk Horn – Health and Safety Advisor