The Covid-19 pandemic has required many South Africans to work from home, where it is possible. It has become apparent that working from home has merit and will become more common even if the Covid-19 pandemic comes to an end. Working from home has important consequences under South African Health and Safety Laws, and for the purposes of compensation for occupational injuries and diseases.
South Africa makes provision for different health and safety laws, which regulate health and safety in the workplace. It is the Occupational Health and Safety Act No: 85 of 1993 (OHSA) and the Mine Health and Safety Act No: 29 of 1996. All fatal and non-fatal injuries are compensable under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act No: 130 of 1993. (COIDA). COIDA applies to all employers regardless of the industry. In Section 1 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act No: 85 of 1993, “workplace” is defined as any premises or place where a person performs work in the course of his / her employment. “Work” means to perform tasks in terms of a signed employment contract, and for such purpose, an employee is deemed to be at work during the time he/she is in the course of their employment. Employees that perform work at home will be acting within the scope of their employment and therefore their home constitutes a workplace in terms of OHSA.
The responsibilities that are placed on a company in its capacity as the employer are not absolute, in terms of the OHSA the responsibilities of the employer should be reasonably practical. The employer needs to ensure that employees homes are safe for business and that the employee complies with the health and safety policies of the company. It would be wise to have the employees complete a “working from home survey”. It is advisable that the employer should also inspect the home working space and take a photo for record purpose. Routine inspection may also be done by the employer from time to time. The Employer will be allowed to enter the employees’ place of residence during working hours solely for work purposes. Employers should make sure that their insurance adequately covers employees working from home.
Section 8 and Section 13 of the OHSA requires that employers should implement appropriate training and communication programs which are aimed at communicating the identified hazards and assessed risks, and to establish the preventative measures that need to be implemented. Employers should also conduct an appropriate hazard identification and risk assessment. Section 14 of the OHSA provides that every employee must take reasonable care of their own health and safety and of other persons who may be affected by their act or omissions.
In conclusion, we can safely draw the inference that both the employer and the employee have an obligation to comply and adhere to the health and safety laws and policies of the company to minimize the possibility of injuries or diseases that can be contracted by an employee while working from the home.
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