In our Series 001 & 002, MMW Advocates intimated that employers have an obligation towards ensuring that the workspace is safe. This is geared towards avoiding absenteeism on the basis of the anxieties caused by COVID-19.
While the Government has encouraged businesses to have their employees work from home, the uptake of this directive has been low. Critical services and economic considerations have left most businesses still operational despite this pandemic.
And, while this may be driven by the need for businesses to sustain their operations, employers need to keep in mind that the Law requires that the workplace should meet a certain threshold to be considered a safe working environment.
THE OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ACT, 2007
The Act provides for various measures of maintaining occupational safety that are geared towards an influenza free workplace. These include but are not limited to routine and regular cleaning the workplace, ensuring that the work space is not overcrowded and is well ventilated.
The 2020 OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ADVISORY ON CORONA VIRUS (COVID-19)
On14th of March 2020 the Director of Occupational Safety and Health services issued an advisory to guide employers whose businesses revolve around Critical infrastructure and Key Resources. The advisory provides for;
- Promotion of Hygiene: Employers should provide for hand washing facilities, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, sufficient tissue boxes, regular cleaning of objects that are touched frequently and removal of magazines and newspapers from the waiting areas to avoid transmission of the virus.
- Travel Limitations: Employers should employ the use of social distancing techniques, work from home policies, avoid use of public transportation during peak hours by making provision for flexi-hours and conduct risk assessment for business travel.
- Safe Food Handling: Employers should limit food sharing, increase cafeteria staff screening and foster hygiene practices among the cafeteria staff.
- Home stay policies: Employers should create policies that ensure that sick employees stay at home or go to the hospital. Where an employee has a sick family member they should also stay home. (This however should be done upon production of a medical certificate to prove the need for sick leave. Read Series 001 on Sick Leave).
- Communication policies: Businesses should employ the use of technology-based communication policies.
The uncertainty around the longevity of the Covid-19 Pandemic requires employers to ensure occupational safety in the workspace reigns supreme. This can only be achieved by the creation of and strict adherence to the policies as stated by the Advisory above.
It is imperative to state that while during a public health crisis the safety of the employers and employees is cardinal, all precautions should be taken with the provisions of the law in mind and the adherence to the legal/statutory duties of both the employer and employee.