As part of the relaxation of restrictions on businesses within the different alert levels, there are a number of significant new requirements and regulations that employers must address to get their offices and worksites ready for their employees. Amidst Cabinet’s often-befuddling messages to the public, business owners and managers would be forgiven for being confused by all the compliance prescriptions under the Government’s COVID-19 Disaster Management and Regulations Act.
In reality, the guidelines are fairly clear, but there is a heavy burden on employers to ensure a risk-free return to work for their employees. Business leaders have been dealt a double-blow in recent months. First there was the anxiety that came with keeping the business afloat and employees paid. And now many clients are expressing their nervousness in ensuring that their workplace is safe, because the cost of non-compliance could carry heavier consequences than the initial economic blow.
It is always recommended that companies share the burden of compliance with their labour law advisers and then develop a well-defined work readiness playbook before venturing further into the new normal.
PLAN TO SUCCEED
Before agreeing to a start date, company owners must carry out a full risk assessment of the work environment by identifying the workplace areas where employees are most at risk for contracting COVID-19 and ensuring that all work areas are sanitised and that the necessary steps are in place to accommodate all work tasks and client interactions safely.
The risk assessment activates the health and safety directives of the government – and as such, waste management, emergency protocols, health & safety training and the appointment of a COVID-19 Compliance Officer must form part of your plan to provide a safe return to work for your team. If you’ve already begun operations, now is a good time to make sure you’ve addressed all of the directives.
Your emergency protocols should address the procedures that will take place should anyone be suspected of having COVID-19 – including testing processes and facilities for keeping and assisting sick employees. There are a number of excellent examples available online. Health & safety training is mandatory under the government directives. All your employees will need to be aware of the precautions that they are expected to follow should there be an emergency.
How are you disposing of your waste? All wet and dry COVID-19 related waste must be disposed of in a safe manner so that employees and cleaners are not at risk.
Finally, a COVID-19 Compliance Officer must be appointed by all business owners – preferably someone in your Human Resources department. This person will be responsible for updating a COVID-19 Risk Management Matrix – a file that contains all records and procedures and that must be available to inspectors whenever required. The Compliance Manager will have to be familiar with all the directives and regulations of the COVID-19 Disaster Management Act.
ACT FOR SUCCESS
It will be fundamental to have a communications plan in place, allowing for a consistent communication of policies and practices to internal and external stakeholders. Communication will need to be unambiguous and direct because safety and care for the team comes first. If necessary, over-communicate, often.
An important part of your communication function will relate to all the necessary documentation your employees will be requiring in order to carry out their duties correctly. These documents include; a Workforce Plan or Policy, to be accepted and signed by all employees, encapsulating the COVID-19 provisions; an Employee Indemnity Form with regards to COVID-19; and any Employee Travel Permits.
This documentation, along with the prevention measures you put in place, will ensure that your company is compliant and will be able to continue to work. The documentation must also be clear about your policies on Social Distancing, access and wearing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), daily screening procedures, and general hygiene requirements and protocols.
Employers are encouraged to schedule regular progress checks to ensure that the Workplace Readiness Playbook is being followed and that employees understand the various processes and rules.
Chanique Rautenbach | Attorney | Associate