Government Media Briefing on Stage Four Direction on Health and Safety Regulations
03.05.2020 TW Nxesi
Minister of Employment and Labour Protocol
1. Direction for Stage 4
My main task today is to provide information on the
preparations for the move to stage 4 of the lockdown
and the partial return to workplaces tomorrow. This is
the focus of today. However, the Deputy Minister will
also provide additional information regarding the
Department’s other services.
Government has said that the easing of the lockdown
will be a carefully phased process based on a risk
2. assessment and the necessary levels of preparation.
Therefore, in returning to work it cannot be business as
With this in mind, as the Minister of Employment and
Labour, I issued a Direction – in terms of Regulation 10
(8) of the Regulations issued by the Minister of
Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs in terms
of Section 27 (2) of the Disaster Management Act, 2002
(Act No. 57 of 2002). The Direction sets out the
measures that employers are required to take to prevent
the transmission of COVID19 in workplaces.
The Department is working closely with the Department
of Health in creating an environment to support
employers in combatting the disease. It should also be
flagged that the inspectorate conducts inspections at all
workplaces including health care facilities in terms of the
Regulations for Hazardous Biological Agents to ensure
safe and hygienic conditions.
3. The Direction seeks to ensure that the measures taken
by employers under the Occupational Health and Safety
Act are consistent with the overall national strategies
and policies to minimise the spread of COVID-19. The
Direction reflects all that we have learnt about the virus
and how to combat it over the period of the lockdown,
and from international best practice.
The Direction contains the basic measures that
employers must take to prevent the transmission of the
corona virus in the workplace. Businesses that are reopening
must put these measures in place before
restarting work. A risk assessment or risk assessment
review must be undertaken to adapt the provisions of
the Direction to the specific requirements of individual
workplaces. The Direction in no way reduces the
existing obligations on employers in terms of the
Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993.
The Direction is based on infection transmission
prevention and specific occupational hygiene practices
4. that focus on the need for employers to implement
measures to mitigate or eliminate the transmission of the
virus in the workplace.
Employers must take measures to protect the health and
safety of everyone in their workplace. This includes
employees of contractors, self-employed persons and
volunteers. The process starts with a risk assessment in
the workplace and a clear plan to implement the
measures contained in the Direction.
Every employer must:
Notify workers of the contents of the Direction and
how it will be implemented.
They must inform employees that if they have COVID
19 symptoms they must not be at work and grant paid
sick leave or apply for COVID19 TERS benefits.
The employer must appoint a manager (from within
the existing structure) to address the concerns of
employees and workplace representatives.
They must take measures to minimise the contact
between workers and between workers and the public
to prevent transmission.
They must minimise the number of workers in the
workplace at any time through shift or working
arrangements to achieve social distancing.
The employer must provide employees with
information concerning COVID19 and how to prevent
They must report any diagnosis of COVID19 at work
to the Department of Health and the Department of
Employment and Labour, investigate the cause, and
take appropriate measures. It is a contravention not
to do so as an employer.
They must support any contact tracing measures
initiated by the Department of Health.
With regard to social distancing, workplaces must be
arranged to ensure a minimum of 1½ meters between
workers. If this is not practicable, physical barriers must
be erected and workers must be supplied free of charge
with appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Social distancing must be implemented in all common
areas in and around the workplace to prevent crowding
(including working spaces, canteens, meeting rooms
In relation to screening – Employers must screen
workers for symptoms of COVID19 at the time that they
report for work, namely: fever, cough, sore throat,
redness of eyes or shortness of breath (or difficulty in
breathing); body aches, loss of smell or loss of taste,
nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fatigue, weakness or
Workers should immediately inform the employer if they
experience any symptoms while at work. Not doing so
is a contravention of the Occupational Health and Safety
Act by the worker. More importantly, the worker puts
themselves – and their co-workers – at risk.
Workers with symptoms must be placed in isolation and
arrangements made for their safe transport for a medical
examination or for self-isolation.
Shops (and other workplaces to which the public have
access) must screen all persons entering the workplace
Employees who recover from COVID19 may return to
work after a medical evaluation and subject to ongoing
monitoring, in line with instructions of the Department of
In relation to sanitisers and disinfectants, employers
provide sufficient quantities of hand sanitiser with at
least 70% alcohol content;
ensure that work surfaces, equipment and common
areas such as toilets, door handles and shared
equipment are regularly cleaned and disinfected; and
provide adequate facilities for hand washing with soap
and clean water and sufficient paper towels.
Masks – Workers must wear masks at work. Employers
must also require members of the public entering a
workplace to wear masks.
Employers must provide each employee, free of charge,
with at least two cloth masks to wear while at work or
commuting. There must be suitable arrangements for
washing and drying masks. Ultimately, the employer
remains responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of
PPEs. Where a risk assessment indicates, workers must
be provided with alternative appropriate PPE (eg N95 or
N97 masks) to provide a greater level of protection.
Every workplace must be well ventilated to reduce the
In relation to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE),
employers must keep up to date with recommendations
from agencies such as the National Institute for
Communicable Diseases and the National Institute for
Occupational Health on the appropriate steps to take to
prevent transmission in their workplaces and for the
provision of PPE.
In relation to enforcement, Labour Inspectors are
empowered to promote, monitor and enforce compliance
with the Direction. An employer who does not comply
with the Direction may be ordered to close their
In addition, as the failure to comply fully with the OHSA
(Occupational Health and Safety Act) is a criminal
offence, failure to take the necessary measures to
prevent the transmission of COVID19 may result in
Investigation and Enforcement Services
Those are the regulations … but I also need to update
you on the state of readiness, inspection and
enforcement of the regulations.
The Labour Inspectors have carried out some 2,226
inspections during the lockdown. This includes public
sector premises and 86 health facilities. The rate of
compliance by employers has increased from 50% to
over 60% over the period of the lockdown. The
Inspectors inform me that basic hygiene measures
and PPEs are increasingly evident in most
workplaces. Where this was not the case, on average
of 9 Prohibition Orders were issued per day – leading
to total or partial shutdown.
Currently there are 170 Inspectors in the field (out of a
total of 200). I need to mention that these include
highly experienced and qualified inspectors, used to
working with hazardous materials.
In the 2019 budget, provision was made to employ an
additional 500 Inspectors. This process is now being
expedited to meet the demands of the pandemic. The
Department is also looking at using accredited,
registered inspection bodies to increase its reach.
It would be impossible to inspect every one of the 1.8
million businesses. Therefore, Inspectors rely upon
the support of individual workers, unions and socially
responsible employers in providing vital information –
which in turn allows the Inspectors to focus on
hotspots and to make an example of particular
offenders. In turn, this leads to greater self-regulation
I need to make the point, that whilst we depend on the
good will of responsible employers, workers also have
a responsibility here: to wash or sanitise their hands,
to wear the PPEs provided, to keep their workstations
clean, and to follow directives in relation to health and
safety. This is in everyone’s interests – so that
everyone remains safe and we curb the spread of the
We need to also stress the role of stakeholders in the
workplace – the safety reps and Health and Safety
Committees – which have come into their own during
the present pandemic. It is vital that we get buy in
from the workers in the implementation of this
Direction, and we draw on the expertise that exists on
the shop floor.
In addition, at national level, at Nedlac, we are
discussing a framework to allow union leadership to
move around to address disputes in individual
workplaces. It is important that we acknowledge the
role of the social partners and Nedlac in the
development of the Direction.
We are also mindful that the Direction imposes a
number of additional burdens upon the employers,
and we will monitor this situation closely.
The COVID19 crisis has highlighted a number of gaps in
our social provision. In relation to the UIF, there are
important groups that are not covered – the informal
sector, non-standard and freelance workers. These
issues have been raised by the ILO (International labour
Organisation) in relation to the Future of Work – where a
growing number of persons do not fit into the traditional
employer-employee relationship. This matter is firmly on
the agenda. At this point, the responsibility remains
within the realm of Social Development and the
President’s undertaking to expand the social security
Thank you. Let me hand over to the Chief Inspector,
who will address:
The development of sector guidelines; and
Technical aspects of the Direction.
II. Chief Inspector to present
III. DM: UPDATE ON OTHER SERVICES OF THE
DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT AND LABOUR
One of our major tasks as the Department of
Employment and Labour during the lockdown has been
to repurpose the UIF (Unemployment Insurance Fund)
to facilitate the flow of benefit payments to mitigate the
effects of lay-offs. The introduction of the COVID19
TERS Benefit Scheme and the attendant massive
increase in claims required that we completely redesign
the architecture and supporting systems of the UIF
Shifting from individual walk-in claims to mass
distribution hubs through online applications
supported by the Call Centre for enquiries;
this required engagement with the social partners –
labour and businesses – at Nedlac – and signing
Memoranda of Agreements with all the employers and
This meant initial delays – which are still reflected in
sectors of the media, even today – but I can now report
the following progress:
Bulk disbursements of COVID19 TERS benefits of
R5.3 billion through bargaining councils and
employers – reaching 98 thousand employers and 1.1
A further R2.4 billion in COVID19 TERS benefits has
been cleared for payment on Monday morning to 29
There are still a number of outstanding claims which
are still to be processed – from 74 thousand
employers, representing 481 thousand workers and
an amount of R1.9 billion in benefits. SARS has
already validated 87% of these claims and these shall
be paid next week.
Let me emphasise: it would not have been possible to
shift to a system of mass distribution hubs without the
active support of business.
Ordinary UIF claims have continued uninterrupted
during the lockdown – with some R 1 billion disbursed
to 65 thousand claimants.
Remember, also, that each recipient is probably
supporting a family and dependents – greatly
multiplying the reach of UIF benefits.
To give assurance that, despite these large
disbursements, the Fund is able to meet its
obligations, some R13.8 billion of investments has
been freed up to strengthen the liquidity of the Fund.
In addition to the systems assistance we have already
received from SARS and the private sector, the
company – Interfile – has offered to run the UIF SMS
service at no cost. This is an important part of our
service particularly to those working in isolated
environments – such as domestic and farm labour.
Challenges remain, particularly where employers are
not assisting their employees to claim.
In response to the declaration of a pandemic, the CF
has established its Crisis Management Committee
and developed a COVID-19 Response Plan to focus
on COID Services (Compensation for Occupational
Injuries and Diseases), Medical Benefits,
Rehabilitation and Account Payable.
Dedicated National and Provincial Response Teams
have been established, comprising medical
professionals and claim processors, to manage
Like the UIF, the Compensation Fund has opted for
online applications, backed by a Call Centre, for the
protection of claimants and staff, and to streamline
processing and payment.
Few claims have been registered as yet. This will
change as COVID19 contracted in the workplace will
be compensated as an occupational disease.