With the majority of employees are expected to return to work in June concerns are rising on their health and safety, as employers are found to not be complying with government’s Covid-19 regulations.
Between March and May, when large parts of the economy were not operational, inspectors were issuing out an average of nine prohibition notices a day to non-compliant employers, said Labour and Employment Minister Thulas Nxesi.
Nxesi was speaking at a briefing of the National Coronavirus Command Council’s economic cluster briefing on Friday.
“The state of compliance leaves much to be desired,” said Nxesi.
“We would expect every employer to jump at the opportunity of saving their company by protecting their key asset – their workers,” he added.
Since March a total of 332 prohibition notices have been served – an average of about nine prohibition notices per day. Out of the total 3 844 inspections, 55% were compliant.
Among other things employers are expected to ensure that workers are screened daily at work, adhere to physical distancing, that workplaces are disinfected daily and that employees are given sanitisers and face masks.
Nxesi said prohibition notices were issued where between 50% and 100% of the regulations related to Covid-19 and the known conditions stipulated in the Occupational Health and Safety Act were not adhered to.
“Prohibition is when there is total neglect and it’s clear to see that workers are in danger because employers have not put any of the (measures) we have recommended [in place],” he said.
Where there’s a complete disregard for the regulations, companies are ordered to close and if there are some lapses, they are given notice to fix those within a specified period, after which an inspector will return to determine if the workplace is safe.
On Monday alone, inspectors visited 72 workplaces and less than 40% had been complaint.
“As a result, the inspectors served six prohibition notices, 37 contraventions, and six improvement notices – just on the one day,” said Nxesi.
“The situation is now further complicated by the fact that at Level 3 of lockdown, many more manual workers will be returning to work – often working for smaller, less-resourced employers.
“It is therefore critical, that all parties are alert and redouble efforts to safeguard the workplace against the spread of the virus.”
Inspections will continue as the country moves to Level 3.
Nxesi said that the department will rely on shop stewards from organised labour to monitor whether employers are compliant with government’s health and safety regulations.
The level three regulations also call for businesses to appoint a Covid-19 health and safety officer, whose job will be to oversee the implementation of the workplace safety regulations as outlined in each individual business’s Covid-19 workplace plan.
Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe said in monitoring compliance in mines, the department found that while most were screening employees they were lagging on testing.
“Our insistence on screening and testing of all persons at mines, has enabled us to detect the virus in various mining areas,” said Mantashe.
As of Thursday, over 4 600 workers in mines have been tested of which 384 tested positive.
AngloGold Ashanti closed up shop at its Mponeng mine on Sunday, after 164 workers tested positive for Covid-19.
Mantashe said Dwarsrivier Chrome Mine was instructed to close after a worker tested positive for Covid-19. During a visit to the mine, the department discovered that the mine was not screening workers or testing them.
“It is not the primary intention to close operations,” said Mantashe.
“The primary objective is to detect the extent of infections in the mine so we know the size of the issue that we are dealing with.”
In alert Level 5 lockdown only coal mines that supply Eskom and refineries were allowed to operate at full capacity. This was extended to open cast mines in alert Level 4; deep level mines where physical distancing is more difficult, are allowed to operate at 50% capacity.
Under level 3 the whole industry will be brought to full capacity.
In addition to screening and ensuring social distancing, the mine regulations require mining employers to actively test workers, give workers flu vaccinations, as well as disinfect their transport and accommodation.
Mantashe said that companies must accept that regional inspectors will make regular unannounced and scheduled visits to mine operations to ensure that there is compliance.
“Any mine that tries to hide Covid-19 cases is actually bordering on treason,” said Mantashe.
“Because when you do that you are a threat to the industry.”