Healthcare worker safety

The Department of Health released a statement reaffirming their commitment to securing the health, safety and wellbeing of all frontline health care workers.

The department highlighted the deployment of an Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) workstream as part of the Incident Management Team, which focusses specifically on managing significant outbreaks, as is the case with the current COVID-19 outbreak.

The OHS workstream is comprised of regional, trade union, academic and professional bodies. Working together, these members draft and provide guidelines for health and safety interventions as well as training of healthcare workers through the National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOH). There are OHS Coordinators at provincial Departments of Health and OHS Committees at provincial, district and facility levels in line with the provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, No. 85 of 1993. These committees also have trade union representatives and monitor the health and safety of healthcare workers at their workplaces. The Department acknowledges challenges in the functioning of committees in some provinces and is working hard to ensure that these committees are in place and function in accordance with the legislated framework.

The health and safety of healthcare workers remain a priority for the Minister of Health who have tasked National Health Council and Technical National Health Council to monitor the wellbeing of these workers. This follows earlier initiatives by the Minister requesting the involvement of Unions in OHS committees to ensure the flow of information between employees and management at all levels. Unions also participate in the influential Ministerial Advisory Committee on Social Behavioral Change that provides opportunities to intervene on matters of occupational health.

The provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers is digitally monitored by the Department who reports daily to the Minister, the National Health Council and Technical National Health Council. The system informs the Department on daily national PPE stock levels. The Department acknowledges issues pertain to the movement and distribution or redistribution of stock. This is urgently being addressed at a provincial level, hence the importance of the involvement of Unions to assist with monitoring and reporting impending stock shortage together with management so that employers and employees can work together in a co-operative manner to protect healthcare workers.

National Minister of Health Dr Mkhize concluded, “As a doctor myself, I can never be detached from the experiences, concerns, hopes and aspirations of my colleagues. Our health care workers are the pulse of the COVID-19 response and therefore it is not only our duty but our imperative to protect our frontline workers at all times. I wish to assure my colleagues of our continued commitment to constantly engage and co-operate to find lasting solutions for a healthy workforce.”