A risk based approach to ensuring safe work environments
Occupational Health and Safety
In February 2020 we published an article Employees health and well-being must your top priority for 2020, little did we know how important this topic will become only months later. Each and every employer are confronted on how it will comply with the responsibility "to provide and maintain a work environment that is safe for its employees and does not hold any risk to the health of its employees" amidst a pandemic.
The Department of Employment and labour has recently released a Directive on COVID-19 Occupational Health and Safety measures in the workplace. It is required of some employers to conduct a risk assessment in relation to COVID-19. Employers with less than 10 employees are only required to comply with certain specific measures set out in the directive.
How do you conduct or update a risk assessment in respect of COVID-19?
Generally speaking, a risk assessment refers to the process to identify the risk or risk factors that may cause harm and analyse and assess the risk associated with those factors identified.
In the context of COVID-19, the risk is focussed on the spread of the infection within the workplace which will result in employees or clients becoming ill. According to the aforementioned directive, employers are required to conduct a risk assessment in terms of which it evaluates which factors within the workplace are more likely to contribute to the risk of the spread of the infectious disease.
Please see an example of the COVID-19 Walk-through Risk Assessment published by the Department of Health earlier in April 2020.
How do you compile a risk management plan in respect of COVID-19?
Once an employer identified factors that pose a high risk it is should ensure that those risks are immediately addressed and ensure that additional resources are allocated to minimize and eliminate the risk of the spread of the infection. An employer may document its risk management efforts in a risk management plan which detail the risk factor, whether it is a high, medium or low risk, what controls are in place to minimize the risk and who will be the responsible person to execute and evaluate the controls.
Larger organisations will be required to compile a written policy as part of its risk management process concerning the health and safety measures in relation to COVID-19.
Implement the control measures indicated in the risk management plan
The employer must implement the control measures in the risk management plan and the measures stipulated in the directive for instance:
Social distancing measures;
Sanitizers, disinfectants and other measures;
Measures in relation to wearing protective masks;
Measures in relation workplace to which the public have access;
Ventilation of the workplace.
Review and monitor
Employers are required to monitor and supervise compliance with the measures and directives implemented. If an employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and employer should investigate the cause, including any control failure, and review the risk assessment or risk management plan and ensure that additional measures are implemented.
It is important that each and every employer read and understand the directives published from time to time by the Department of Labour and employment and consult with a specialist in the field if there are any uncertainties.