Thursday | 19 March | 2020
By Reon Janse van Rensburg
It is normal that people are worried about their health as well as job security and how the virus will affect their personal future while the coronavirus is currently spreading in South Africa. However, it is important that people do not become panicked and take distressed steps that might have consequences in the future. Act responsibly and inform yourself about the uncertainties.
Regarding the coronavirus, the principles of a safe and healthy work environment as prescribed in the Occupational Health and Safety Act which determines that the employer is obligated to identify and analyse all risks in the workplace and to put appropriate measures in place to protect its employees.
Solidarity spoke to Advocate Hanlie van Vuuren, Head of Occupational Health and Safety at Solidarity, about the implications of the coronavirus and the implications it might have on the workplace, employees and employers.
“Employees must be informed about the dangers in the
workplace and how it is addressed and receive training to apply the protective
measures effectively. In terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (No.
85 of 1993), also known as the OHS Act, employers are obligated to ensure a
safe and healthy work environment, and may not allow, as far as reasonably possible,
that an employee does any work unless the necessary precautions were taken to
protect the health and safety of persons in the workplace. The OHS Act also
determines that all employees have an obligation to accept responsibility for
their own and their colleagues’ safety and health in the workplace,” she said.
Read together with the Constitutional rights to life,
a healthy and safe work environment and bodily integrity, there is thus no
doubt that all employees in South Africa has the right to refuse to work in
dangerous or unhealthy work circumstances. This right are not specifically
mentioned in the OHS Act, but it is mentioned in the Mine Health and Safety Act
(No. 29 of 1996) which is applicable in the mining industry.
What are the obligations of employers toward employees
in terms of the OHS Act?
of employers in terms of the OHS Act:
8 places employers under the obligation to, as far as reasonably possible:
- ensure and
maintain a safe and risk-free work environment;
health or safety threats of persons bound to any work done, any object or
substance produced, processed, utilised, handled, stored or transported, and
any industrial equipment or machinery used in the enterprise; and
- to determine
which preventative measures must be put into place to eliminate these threats.
This includes the provision of personal protective equipment.
only employees must be protected at work. All employers, including persons in
their own employment, has the responsibility to, as far as reasonably possible,
conduct its business in such a way that persons who are not employed and
directly affected by its activities are not thereby exposed to threats to their
health or safety.
The OHS Act
repetitively refers to the term “reasonably practicable” and defines this term
in section 1. To determine whether something is “reasonably practicable”, the
following factors must be considered:
- The severity
and extent of the threat or risk involved
- The state of
readily available knowledge regarding that threat or risk and of any method to
remove or mitigate the threat or risk
availability and appropriateness of methods to remove or mitigate that threat
- The cost
associated with removing or reducing that threat or risk in relation to the
benefits arising from it
obligations in terms of the OHS Act:
Pursuant to the
provision of sections 14 and 15 of the OHS Act, employees, among others, are required
reasonable care of his own safety and health and those of other persons who may
be affected by his actions or failures;
with the employer to enable the duties and requirements under the Act to be
performed or fulfilled;
- carry out
any lawful instruction given to the employee and obey the health and safety
rules and procedures prescribed by his employer in the interest of health or
- report as
soon as possible any unsafe or unhealthy circumstances at the employer or the
health and safety representative for his or her workplace;
before the end of that shift or as soon as possible thereafter, any incident
where he or she is involved and that can influence their health, or who has
- not to
damage or misuse or interfere with any occupational health and safety items.
From the above it is clear that the employer has the
duty to provide a safe and healthy workplace as well as the duty to identify
and address hazards and threats to safety and health by eliminating or
mitigating the threat. However, it is subject to what is reasonably practicable
under the circumstances. Given that employees work with multiple people, it is
reasonable to expect and employer to take the necessary precautions to protect
his or her staff against the virus and any other communicable disease.
Advocate van Vuuren’s advice to employees are to
converse with their employers and the request precautions (of which hand
sanitisers are one) be put into place so that the spread of the virus can be
prevented or limited. Should an employer fail to comply, an employee may
contact the Department of Employment and Labour and request that an inspector
investigate the matter.
Should you have any inquiries surrounding the
coronavirus and the influence thereof on your work, please visit the following
link where you can place questions that will be answered by a legal expert: https://corona.org.za/
* All information was correct at the time of publication.