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‘Protect your workers’ against coronavirus

The department of employment and labour has urged employers to prepare themselves and their workers in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

By Monday, there were 62 positive cases of the Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, in South Africa. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize confirmed in a statement that two cases of local transmissions are under investigation by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the department said it has developed a “Covid-19 guideline”, which focuses on the need for employers to implement a number of measures to protect workers in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The guideline advises employers to:

  • Isolate workers from work-related hazards by installing high-efficiency air filters and providing face shields;  
  • Encourage sick workers to stay at home, minimise contact among employees, clients and customers by replacing face-to-face meetings with online meetings and reduce the number of workers on site at any given time by, for example, rotation or shift work; 
  • Discontinue local and international travel;
  • Develop emergency communications plans, including setting up task teams to answer workers’ concerns and providing them with up-to-date information on how to protect themselves from Covid-19; 
  • Train workers who need to use protective clothing and equipment; and 
  • Provide resources and a work environment that promotes personal hygiene. 

“Additional guidance may be needed as Covid-19 outbreak conditions change,” the statement reads. “In the event that new information about the virus, its transmission, and impact, becomes available you may have to modify your plans accordingly.”

The statement comes shortly after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that a national disaster had been declared to contain the outbreak of Covid-19. Addressing the nation on Sunday night, he announced a number of measures to manage the disease and reduce its effect on people and the economy.

Ramaphosa called on businesses to ensure that they take all necessary measures to intensify hygiene control

On Monday, the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) released a statement welcoming the interventions announced by the president, but noted its concern about “the state of some of our public hospitals that have been earmarked for treating patients who have tested positive”. 

Nehawu is trade union federation Cosatu’s biggest affiliate and the biggest public sector union. Its members are on the frontline of government’s efforts to test, quarantine and treat those who have come in contact with the virus. 

“Generally, there is a collapse in the laundry systems of various hospitals. Our major concern is the health of our members who must render service in hospitals with no functional laundry systems,” the statement reads.

Nehawu also mentioned concerns about “its members who deal with large numbers of clients” in government institutions such as the South African Social Security Agency and the home affairs department.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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