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REPORT: Failure to enforce Covid-19 rules at work is a criminal offence

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Thulas Nxesi

REPORT: Failure to enforce Covid-19 rules at work is a criminal offence

A back-to-work direction (regulation) has now been gazetted which seeks to ensure that the measures taken by employers under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS) were consistent with the overall national policies and strategies aimed at minimising the spread of coronavirus.

Failure to take the necessary measures to prevent the transmission of Covid-19 may result in criminal prosecution, Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi said on Sunday.

Nxesi was on Sunday briefing the country on back to work readiness ahead of the first working day on Level 4 lockdown since President Cyril Ramaphosa eased South Africa coronavirus lockdown regulations.

Among other things, the direction compels employers to conduct a risk assessment review of the workplace and production of a plan, implementation of hygiene and protective measures for all those present in their premises, including taking responsibility for providing protective gear to employees.

“The direction contains the basic measure that employers must take to prevent the transmission of coronavirus in the workplace. Businesses that are reopening must put these measures in place before restarting the work,” Nxesi said.

He said: “Labour Inspectors are empowered to promote, monitor and enforce compliance with the Direction. An employer who does not comply with the Direction may be ordered to close their business.”

“In addition, as the failure to comply fully with the OHSA (Occupational Health and Safety Act) is a criminal offence, failure to take the necessary measures to prevent the transmission of Covid-19 may result in criminal prosecution.”Nxesi expressed concerns about the ability of his department to enforce compliance of all companies.

“It will be impossible to inspect every one of the 1.8 million businesses, therefore inspectors will rely on the support of the individual workers and the unions in providing vital information which in turn allows the inspectors to focus on the hot spots and to make an example of a particular offender,” Nxesi said.

He said it would be in breach of the OHS for employees to not declare Covid-19 symptoms and for employers to not investigate cases and inform the department.

“Employers must screen workers for symptoms of Covid-19 at the time that they report for work, mainly fever, cough, sore throat, redness of eyes or shortness of breath, loss of smell and taste, nausea, diarrhoea fatigue and tiredness…You can see we are talking about responsibility from both side of the employer and employee,” he said.

But, he said, workers also had a responsibility.

“Whilst we depend on the goodwill of responsible employers, workers also have a responsibility here: to wash or sanitise their hands, to wear the PPEs provided, to keep their workstations clean, and to follow directives in relation to health and safety. This is in everyone’s interests – so that everyone remains safe and we curb the spread of the coronavirus.”

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