With more employers embracing the return to work, employers must be up to speed on what is currently required when an employee becomes infected with COVID-19 at the workplace. Here are 5 practical steps to take when an employee is infected at your workplace:
Step 1: Report
If an employee is confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 at the workplace, an employer must immediately inform the:
- National Institution for Communicable Diseases (NICD) (firstname.lastname@example.org);
- Department of Employment and Labour’s provincial chief inspectors (Johannesburg: Michael.Msiza@labour.gov.za Cape Town: David.Esau@labour.gov.za) Durban: Edward.Khambula@labour.gov.za Eastern Cape: Lucky.Mkhonto@labour.gov.za)
- National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOH) (OHSworkplace@nioh.ac.za or via the online platform at http://ohss.nioh.ac.za/).
- Compensation Commissioner in respect of all confirmed cases resulting from infection at work. Reporting must be in accordance with the latest Directive (online claims can be made via www.labour.gov.za and email claims via the email addresses contained in the Directive).
The Department of Health has released a Guideline, which streamlines all reporting to the National Department of Health via the NIOH. As of 1 October 2020, the reporting requirements contained in this guideline has become mandatory for employers.
The Guideline requires employers to submit data to the NIOH once-off in respect of each employee’s vulnerability status (i.e. whether they are a vulnerable employee or not). Vulnerable employees include those over 60 years old and those with impaired function of certain organs (heart, lung, kidneys) or a depressed immune system. See the Vulnerable Employees Guideline for a list of medical conditions that would assist in identifying such employees.
Employers must also submit data of the previous week to the NIOH before Tuesday of each week in respect of:
- The COVID-19 daily screening results for all employees.
- Details of employees who test positive for the COVID -19 virus and the type of testing utilised (antigen or antibody).
- A record of the risk assessments conducted after a confirmed case of COVID-19 is identified in the workplace.
- Details on the post-infection outcomes of those testing positive (whether an employee has recovered or deceased).
Employees must be informed that their data is being submitted to the NIOH and that the processing of that data is in compliance with the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI).
Step 2: Communicate
Employers must initiate a joint meeting with the relevant authorities (indicated above), the COVID-19 compliance officer, safety officers, health and safety committees, and relevant management staff to outline actions taken to date, as well as the proposed plans of action and timelines to reduce further exposure and transmission risk.
Details of the incident must also be communicated to staff and staff must be informed of the steps taken to mitigate risk (whilst maintaining confidentiality of infected employees).
Step 3: Clean
After a confirmed case is identified the workplace must be cleaned and decontaminated as per COVID-19 national IPC Guidelines. Despite recent marketing in the industry, it is not a requirement to obtain a certificate of cleaning for the workplace after a positive case has been identified. Cleaning can be done internally.
Step 4: Conduct a further risk assessment
In order to ensure the safety of your employees and be regulatory compliant, employers must conduct a further risk assessment to determine whether employees are high or low risk depending on their contact with the infected employee and take appropriate action depending on the outcome of such assessment.
The subsequent risk assessments to be conducted on identification of a confirmed case in the workplace must be done in accordance with the Guidelines for symptom monitoring and management of workers for COVID-19 infection. The following procedure must be followed:
- Where the risk of transmission is high (i.e. close contact within 1 metre of a confirmed COVID-19 case for more than 15 minutes without PPE), the employer must instruct the relevant employee to remain in self-quarantine for 10 days. The employee must be placed on sick leave, or if sick leave is exhausted, the employer must apply for the illness benefit in terms of the COVID-19 Temporary Employer Relief Scheme. If the employee remains asymptomatic no further testing is required before the employee may return to work.
- Low risk employees (i.e. those whose exposure was more than 1 metre away from a confirmed COVID-19 case for less than 15 minutes or within 1 metre but wearing PPE) can return to work immediately as long as they continue to work using their cloth masks and observing the standard precautions. Low risk employees’ symptoms must be monitored for 10 days from the first point of contact that they had with the confirmed case.
Step 5: Permit employees to return to work, with precaution
An employee who has been infected with COVID-19 may return to work if they have isolated for 10 days from:
- the date of the onset of symptoms in respect of mild cases of infection (not requiring hospitalisation);
- the date of achieving clinical stability in respect of moderate to severe cases of the infection (requiring supplemental oxygen or hospitalisation); or
- an earlier date if the employee has undergone a medical evaluation confirming their fitness to work.
After an employee with a previously confirmed case has returned to the workplace an employer must:
- monitor the employee’s symptoms for 10 days;
- ensure that hygiene, wearing of masks, social distancing, and cough etiquette is strictly adhered to by the employee; and
- ensure a surgical mask is worn by the employee for 21 days from the date of diagnosis. A surgical mask is defined as a: “Class A medical device (3-ply mask) categorised by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority. Surgical masks must be fluid-resistant, disposable, and loose -fitting devices covering the mouth, nose and chin that create a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and the immediate environment.”
Follow these steps to avoid costly stoppages of production from the authorities or from employees dissatisfied with your organisation’s compliance.