A medical staff member gestures inside an isolation ward at Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on March 10, 2020. Picture: AFP/STRINGER
A medical staff member gestures inside an isolation ward at Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on March 10, 2020. Picture: AFP/STRINGER

A Cosatu union has called on employers to stop using breathalysers in an effort aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus in SA, where seven cases have been confirmed.

The Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers' Union (Ceppwawu) said stopping the use of breathalysers would “protect all employees” from the spread of Covid-19, which has disrupted global trade and hammered financial markets.

A breathalyser is a device used for estimating the amount of alcohol in the breath. It is often used by law enforcement officials to test people suspected of drunk driving. Some employers use it to test workers suspected of reporting for duty under the influence.

Ceppwawu said the risk of getting infected through a breathalyser is high as the virus is concentrated in one place and that cleaning it with alcohol after every use is not practical.

“Therefore, the union directs all shop stewards to be vigilant and protect all employees, irrespective of their union affiliation,” Ceppawu said.

The union also called on the departments of health, education employment & labour, and trade & industry “to communicate clearly to employers, workers and citizens, and make use of all available medium of communication to educate the nation and combat this virus”.

In a new report, “The coronavirus: implications for employers in SA” law firm Webber Wentzel partners Johan Olivier, Kate Collier, Lizle Louw and Shane Johnson point out that the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 places an express obligation on the employer to maintain a safe and healthy working environment.

“The employer should consistently provide updates on Covid-19 to employees and its approach at work regarding attendance and preventing the spread of infection. The employer may also wish to display posters that provide information on the illness and hygiene,” the report says.

“To manage the risk of contamination effectively, employers should consider appointing an internal committee of professionals. The committee will be responsible for issues such as monitoring the spread of Covid-19, assessing the risk of contamination and taking measures to ensure that the workplace is healthy and safe.” 

The authors add that the committee should include representatives from the health & safety, human resources and risk and compliance departments of the employer.

Meanwhile, the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union, one of the largest public sector unions in SA, said its members will “partake in all the processes of testing, quarantining and treating those who have come in contact with the virus”.

It called on government to provide support to its members based in ports of entries where “detection must take place”, saying it will work closely with government departments to educate members best practices and ways to avoid getting infected.


Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.