Workplace Preparedness and Government Demands on Health and Safety 
Covid-19 preparedness is vital to the health and safety of thousands of South Africans returning to the workplace at the beginning of May. If the impact of the pandemic is to be controlled, employers must have a prevention and mitigation plan of action enforced when reopening their doors to employees, contractors, and the public at large.
Risk of Lifting Lockdown
Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) consultants, MAKROSAFE, say that while many employers may have prepared their businesses to cope with the annual outbreaks of influenza, they will now have to update their Health and Safety programmes. These should include measures to identify risks of exposure to the virus, the sources of the exposure, ways in which the coronavirus is transmitted and other characteristics unique to Covid-19.
MAKROSAFE amplifies Government warnings that employers prepare themselves for deteriorating pandemic outbreak conditions.
Failure to introduce preventive measures could have a domino-effect of ineffective Covid-19 safeguards. This lack of planning could have a disastrous impact on the workplace and on the employees inadequately trained to perform their duties under pandemic conditions.

COVID-19 planning guide
Taking cognisance of Government guidelines, MAKROSAFE has developed a Covid-19 Back to Work Prevention Kit to help employers to come to grips with OHS health and safety regulations. The information is based on occupational hygiene practices and traditional infection prevention methods. It focuses on the urgent need for business owners to introduce administrative, engineering and work practice controls, such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Employers can use the COVID – 19 Prevention Kit to identify workplace health and safety risk levels and appropriate control measures that should be implemented. 
Because of its very nature, the outbreak of reported Covid-19 deaths and infections is changing daily. For that reason, MAKROSAFE together with SafetyWallet updates information on its online site every day to help keep employers up-to-date with the latest developments and, where necessary, to implement new plans of action.

Reducing the Risk of Infection
South Africa, like other countries worldwide, has adopted basic measures suggested by the World Health Organisation to reduce the risk of becoming infected by the coronavirus. These measures include frequent hand washing of hands with sanitizers or soap, covering mouth and noses when coughing or sneezing, and social distancing.
Risk level lockdown

Exposure risk categories
The risk of exposure to the coronavirus has been categorised as follows:
• Very high
• High
• Medium
• Low 
These risk levels will depend on the sector in which people are employed.

Very high risk
The very high-risk exposure occupations in which employees are exposed to known or suspected victims of COVID-19 are the medical profession, pathologists and other people involved in post-mortem activities and laboratory workers.

High Risk
High risk exposure jobs involve those with high potential for exposure, such as hospital staff entering an infected patient’s room, ambulance drivers and hospital porters.

Workplace Controls
The Occupational Health and Safety Act, 85 of 1993, as amended, read together with the Hazardous Biological Agents Regulations, calls on employers to provide and maintain safe and risk-free working environments.
Workers are subjected to different levels of exposure, depending on their occupation. The most effective Covid-19 protection measures are administrative controls, engineering controls and safe work practices such as the use of Personal Protective Equipment. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) provides fact guide sheets for different sectors of the economy to help fight against Covid-19 infection.

Administrative Controls
Administrative controls require participation by both the employer and his workers. These control measures relate to changes in the work policy or procedures to be undertaken to reduce or minimize exposure to the Covid-19 hazard. They include:
1. Quarantine of sick workers who must remain in their homes.
2. Social distancing practices among workers, clients and customers by replacing personal contact with telecommunication, such as Skype conferencing.
3. Staggered working hours to minimise the number of workers on-site at any given time
4. Introducing emergency communication plans, such as the appointment of a task team to handle worker questions
5. Keeping workers up-to-date with Covid-19 education and training regarding risk factors and protective precautions, such as the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
6. Training workers on the use of PPEs and providing training material in all applicable languages that is easily understood.

Engineering Controls
Engineering controls involve the isolation of employees from work-related hazards. These measures not only reduce exposure to hazards in the workplace but are also a cost-effective solution to fighting the pandemic. Engineering controls include:
1. The installation of high-efficiency air filters
2. Improving ventilation in the working environment
3. Ensuring that workers wear facemasks or shields

Safe Work Practices
Safe work practices are administrative controls that introduce measures to reduce worker exposure to hazards. Examples of Covid-19 safe work practices include the provision of resources and a working environment that promotes the health safety of workers. 

Suggestions are the use of pedal-operated refuse bins

1. Providing soap for handwashing or sanitisers containing at least 70 per cent alcohol
2. Disposable towels to dry hands and clean work surfaces
3. Disinfectants
4. Displaying handwashing instruction posters in restrooms 
5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The importance of PPEs
Although administrative and engineering controls are undoubtedly effective to minimise Covid-19 exposure and infection, the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as an added precautionary measure is highly recommended.
PPE includes hair and shoe covers, goggles, face masks or shields, gloves, gowns, aprons, coats and overalls.
MAKROSAFE keeps employers abreast of PPE recommendations specific to various sectors of the economy. Its database is updated daily, in keeping with changing regulations to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic. PPEs are occupation-specific and risk assessments are constantly updated to protect the South African workforce from the spread of the virus. Employers can also refer to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases website regarding the use of PPE.

PPEs must be selected based on the hazards posed to workers. In industries where workers use respirators, employers must ensure that these are worn correctly and that the equipment is inspected regularly and, where necessary, replaced.
The onus is on employers to provide their workforce with whatever PPE is necessary to safeguard them against the coronavirus while performing their duties. To avoid contamination, all PPE must be cleaned, stored or disposed of (where applicable). 
Respirators should be worn by medical sector employees who work within a two-meter radius of patients known, or suspected, to be infected with the virus. This form of protection must also be work by laboratory technicians who performs aerosol-generating procedures.

Covering all the bases
MAKROSAFE covers all the bases when it comes to providing businesses with the know-how and equipment to transform their workplace into a risk-free health and safety environment. It also helps business owners to comply with the rules and regulations contained in the OHS Act.
With the help of these OHS specialists and armed with their free Back to Work Coid-19 Prevention Kit, the South African economy can move into the Level Four Lockdown stage safe in the knowledge that it has all the necessary measures in place to safeguard their workers from viral infection.

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