Kathleen Davis (NWU Health and Safety Officer)

As the lock down is gradually lifted in phases, more and more people will be travelling and businesses will be opening. The threat of Covid-19 remains and the public health authorities have published Guidelines for Businesses/Facilities/Institutions Reopening after lifting of Restrictions Post COVID-19.

They have highlighted three key areas as part of a continuing defence:

● Sanitising

● Distancing

● Wearing a mask

Sanitising means washing your hands at regular intervals for at least 20 seconds and includes using a sanitiser. Social distancing is about keeping at least six feet away from the next person. And wearing a mask, uncomfortable as it may seem, is an elementary precaution to avoid spreading the droplets that may contain the Covid-19 virus.

Here comes the real challenge. When we go back to work can we achieve these objectives? More importantly, will the employer have those same objectives or put production and profits first?

We do not have to be reliant on the employer and we can take things into our own hands. By using a mixture of the law, collective action and solidarity, we can impose a safe working environment on the employer.

Section 6(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act is clear on the duties of every employer:

“It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of all his employees.”

That means the employer has a primary duty to ensure they provide a working environment which satisfies the three key public health authorities objectives of sanitising, social distancing and wearing a mask.

If they refuse, Section 15 of the OSH Act opens the door to direct action by workers to defend themselves:

“An employee may refuse to work or do particular work where he has sufficient reason to believe that there is serious and imminent danger to himself or unusual circumstances have arisen which are hazardous or injurious to his health or life”

It is important to stop work in the correct way so that you can get full pay and the union can defend your actions…

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