Coronavirus and Occupational Health & Safety

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Whilst there have been no reported cases of the Coronavirus in South Africa it is important to continue to monitor the development of the virus and analyse whether employees could be at actual risk of exposure. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). The WHO is, with a broad range of global experts, governments and partners, expanding scientific knowledge on this new virus, to track the spread and to provide advice to countries and individuals on measures to protect health and prevent the spread of the outbreak.

According to Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, South Africa is prepared for active surveillance and the early detection of the virus. The Charlotte Maxeke, Steve Biko, and Tembisa hospitals are the three facilities that have been prepared to receive potential cases. South Africa has also published travel advice based on WHO recommendations, which is updated on a regular basis and should be monitored should any of your employees be travelling internationally.

In terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS Act), companies must, where reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a safe and healthy work environment that is without risk to employees. Further to this, businesses must identify hazards at the workplace, and the associated risks, and do what is reasonably practicable to mitigate the risks. Coronavirus is a hazard and organisations need to be able to identify when this hazard may be present at the workplace, and the level of risk it might pose to other employees. Whilst this is currently not a concern in South Africa, it is important that the situation is continually monitored through knowledge resources such as the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (www.nicd.ac.za) and that risk assessments are amended and updated to cater for any changes to the current status.

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