Working At Heights: Understanding Suspension Trauma

By Neil Enslin, Occupational Health and Safety Manager

Those writing fall protection plans must understand the hazards of harness hang syndrome in fall protection. Working at height forms an integral part of the construction industry, and proper fall protection equipment is imperative when it comes to getting the job done efficiently and safely. The dangers of working at height do not stop once the worker’s fall-arrest equipment performs effectively to reduce the consequences of a fall from height. The worker may now be at risk of an equally life-threatening emergency; suspension trauma.

How does suspension trauma occur?

Simply put, suspension trauma refers to the loss of consciousness experienced by the hanging individual as a result of being held upright with limited movement for a prolonged period of time. As a result of the loss of consciousness occurring from motionless vertical suspension rather than physical injury, the term “syncope” is also commonly used when this type of accident occurs. The causes of syncope can be classified in various ways, including vascular, cardiac, neurological and metabolic.  Once an individual becomes symptomatic, several symptoms may start to appear, these include:

  • Light-headedness
  • Nausea
  • Tingling / numbness in the arms & legs
  • Faintness
  • Flushing sensations

These symptoms are often referred to as “presyncope” and if nothing is done to aid the suspended individual, they will eventually fall into in a syncope state. Suspension trauma does not occur as a result of one single factor; however, it is usually caused by a combination of a number factors. Commonly, it is caused by too much blood flowing to the legs which then becomes trapped, also known as “blood pooling”, resulting in the brain not receiving an adequate amount of oxygen.

As the human body is not designed to be in an upright position for long periods of time, it does not have the ability to “suck” blood up from our legs once gravity has pulled it down. To counteract this, the body uses four major methods in order to return blood to the heart and other parts of the body, which includes the use of veins and pumping muscles. When suspension trauma arises, a number of key factors are triggered which severely impairs these methods in returning blood from the legs back to the heart, and therefore impacts the amount of oxygen the brain receives. These are:

  1. Body weight in the safety harness compressing veins – Pinched veins result in blood not being able to travel back to the heart and therefore becomes trapped in your legs.
  2. A lack of movement – Due to the body being limited in its movement, muscles are unable to perform in the way they are needed to pump blood back to the heart.
  3. A build-up of toxins within the blood – Due to blood pooling in the legs, there is a lack of oxygen being delivered around the body; this results in organs and muscles releasing toxic waste products at dangerous levels of concentration in order to survive.

The brain has the ability to alter the body’s heart and breathing rates when it detects a problem such as blood pooling. The brain cannot tell the difference between blood pooling and blood loss, so the way it reacts is the same. When blood begins to pool in the legs, the brain increases the body’s breathing and pulse rates, resulting in more blood being pushed to the legs. With increased levels of blood now in the legs, the brain will eventually realise that its own supply is dropping and activates an emergency last-resort to induce fainting so that the blood can make then make its way around the body and back to the brain.

It is not possible to fall over when hanging in a harness, therefore an individual would become unconscious whilst remaining upright. This now places the body in danger as the airway is not safe in this position, which could result in suffocation. The brain still has insufficient oxygen but has no way of getting more.

How to treat suspension trauma

  • The longer an individual is left suspended, the greater the chances are of the above symptoms and resulting effects occurring. These are relieved when the individual starts to recline, so the individual should be removed from an upright position as quick as possible, especially if they are in a motionless state.
  • If the individual is conscious, they should be encouraged to gently exercise their legs in order to stimulate blood circulation and increase the lowered blood pressure.
  • If the individual is not conscious then it is preferable to elevate the lower limbs slightly.
  • If there is any doubt regarding the individual’s state or the period of suspension, alert medical agencies immediately.

How can you prevent suspension trauma?

As is the same with all accidents, prevention is better than cure. When working in an area or a job where the element of suspension is possible, ensure you have an adequate rescue plan in place in order to receive a quick and safe rescue. An important factor to consider is the type of safety harness that is used, as harnesses that restrict movement and tighten the legs when hanging can result in symptoms occurring much faster.

Trauma straps

Fortunately, there is a simple solution to protect against suspension trauma: personal protective equipment known as trauma straps. Trauma straps are a pair of straps, one strap with hooks in it and the other with loops for the hooks to attach to. They are coiled up in pouches and attached to the fall harness at the hips. When a worker falls and comes to rest, he would uncoil the straps, hook them together, and brace his weight against the straps. This allows the fallen worker to stand up in his fall harness, utilizing his leg muscles, taking weight off of his arteries, and restoring blood circulation until help arrives.


Suspension trauma poses a serious risk to workers at heights. The physiological response to the known symptoms of suspension trauma confirms that this hazard can be lethal. However, there are simple steps that can be taken to mitigate the hazard of suspension trauma, including trauma straps on all fall gear, a fall protection plan for all work at heights that includes a rescue plan, and training on the hazards within the use of fall protection equipment.

With greater knowledge of what suspension trauma is and how it affects the body, we can plan better for the hazards and continue to improve the safety of our workplaces.





Extracts From “Ventilation And Covid-19” By Garth Hunter, Occupational Hygienist MSc, ROH SAIOH, CM Saiosh

The size of the droplet / aerosol is critical

The airborne virus is not naked and the size of the carrier drop or aerosol defines transport: how long it stays afloat, how far it can travel, how quickly it falls to surfaces, where it deposits in the respiratory system and how efficiently it is removed by masks and filters. Physics is the same for all viruses.

Many visualisations of the of coronavirus are incorrect. Fallacies include the aerosols looking too small relative to the virus, looking like water and virus only and the mass fraction of the virus being very high. More correct is few microns per aerosol, resembling mucin, NaCI, water and a sprinkle of virus, and the mass fraction of the virus being very low.

Droplets versus aerosols

Droplets have traditionally been defined as >5 µm in size. Regarding particles settling in still air, a particle of 0,5 µm takes 41 hours, while a particle of 100 µm only takes 5,8 seconds. Speaking produces 100x more aerosol than droplets.  Droplets / aerosols inside the body and outside the body are different sizes, which is important for ventilation.

  • Inside the body: Respiratory vs non-respiratory > 5 µm URT < 5 µm LRT
  • Outside the body: Droplets, physics-based cut off 60-100 µm
  • Sprayed: Ballistic drops > 100 µm, direct hit on eye nostril or mouth

Large droplets are sprayed onto the body, and are a form of contact transmission. Aerosols are inhaled into the respiratory system. The primary transmission mechanism of Covid-19 is through aerosol, not large droplets. Measles has an R0 (the reproduction number – how contagious an infectious disease is) of 15; Covid-19 has an R0 of 5,7 and flu has an R0 of 1.3. Covid-19 does not spread between floors on multistorey buildings.

Measles is a high-contagiousness aerosol-driven disease. Covid-19 is likely a lower-contagiousness aerosol driven disease. It infects best at close proximity, also at the room scale if we “help it along” (indoors, low ventilation, long time, no masks). And it has trouble infecting at long range.

Virus concentration and ventilation

Ventilation referred to here can be defined as the designed supply and removal of air to and from a treated space. The particles generated by respiratory activities are small enough to stay suspended in the air for a long time, unless they are removed from the air by ventilation (and other processes).

The ventilation standard in SA is SANS 10400 O (2011): Buildings either naturally ventilated (4.3.1) or artificially ventilated (4.3.2). Two air changes per hour in buildings allows comfort and prevents body odour – the building interior doesn’t smell stuffy. Twelve air changes per hour in buildings prevents the transmission of HBA influenza and Covid-19.

Natural ventilation

There are three fundamental approaches to natural ventilation:

  • Wind-driven cross ventilation (preferred)
  • Buoyancy-driven stack ventilation, and
  • Single-sided ventilation

With no artificial ventilation system present, the only ventilation possible is through opening windows / doors. This tends to present cross-contamination and no dilution of the virus. With a split of a unit air-conditioner and mechanical ventilation, there is no cross-contamination and positive dilution of the virus. Here, the supply of outdoor air is provided to each room, and is extracted and expelled outdoors. Virus concentration is reduced through dilution with provided outdoor air.

Regarding atmospheric pollution, the is no one size fits all solution: with higher atmospheric pollution, there is more reliance on filters and with lower atmospheric pollution, there is more reliance on outdoor air.

See also:



Pandemics manifest in various ways, impacting all of us and leaving behind pain, suffering and disbelief. Not only is the coronavirus on the rampage, but Britain has in the past year experienced more than 2 000 asbestos-related deaths especially in construction related industries.

For many years, asbestos was used in almost every public and commercial building constructed before the 1980s across all continents. As a fireproofing material, it was applied on steel beams and columns during the construction of multi-storey buildings. Due to its strength, asbestos was added to concrete, asphalt, vinyl materials, roof shingles, pipes, siding, wall board, floor tiles, joint compounds and adhesives. Its heat-resistant qualities made asbestos the perfect thermal insulation material. The material was also used in acoustical plaster and as a component of a mixture sprayed on ceilings and walls. In short, it was the miracle material of the building industry.

Asbestos only becomes a hazard when it is not kept in a well-maintained state and exposed to weather conditions, or mistakenly damaged by renovators, installers, electricians, plumbers, etc. This poses a health risk to building occupants, employees, and maintenance workers due to the fine invisible fibres released into the air. If inhaled, it can penetrate into the deep gas exchange areas of the lungs. As a result of its characteristic properties, these almost chemically inert, aerodynamic and lightweight fibres cannot be removed from the lungs resulting in chronic illness and adverse, irreversible health effects. The risk is even greater, if the building is demolished, renovated, remodelled without adequate control measures in place. Repeated exposure to asbestos increases the risk of developing asbestos-related diseases with a cumulative effect.

In the Republic of South Africa, the Zondo Commission have recently untangled the corruption surrounding Asbestos in the Free State Province where a useful Asbestos Management tool was used to swindle millions out of taxpayers’ pockets. The occupants are still no closer to being rid of the silent killer in their houses.

Master Builders Association North (MBA North) facilitated various discussions and workshops with regards to the impact of the Asbestos Abatement Regulation in the construction Industry. The new Asbestos Abatement Regulation has finally been signed in Parliament and is underway to the Government printers. These regulations give guidance to all employers on the safe work management of asbestos, asbestos-containing materials and the recommended steps which need to be taken by the asbestos owner or persons employing individuals to work on asbestos.

For the first time, the Abatement Regulation calls for the owner of a building to have a document declaring that the building is free of asbestos. If asbestos is identified in the building, an Asbestos Management Plan and a Phase-out Plan for any asbestos on site is required. Banking and insurance industry are more knowledgeable on financing buildings containing asbestos owing to containing poorly maintained buildings which may be damaged extensively during heavy storms which may require repairs and pay-outs.

Before the commencement of maintenance, refurbishment, demolition of pre-existing structures or excavations where asbestos pipes / materials are found underground, the risk of potential exposure should be known and included in the management and or project plan. All hazardous chemical substances identified on the site should be removed before the dismantling and or demolition of structures is started. This asbestos work should be performed by a registered asbestos contractor and all waste which potentially contain asbestos, must be disposed of on a high hazardous (HH) waste facility.  The originator of such waste must retain a safe disposal certificate as proof thereof.

The Asbestos Abatement Regulation now also bans the use of high-pressure water jetting to clean asbestos containing materials as this may contribute to the release of debris which can lead to airborne asbestos fibres.

With the introduction of a new Regulation, the Chief Inspector of the Department of Employment and Labour pledged that the 500 newly appointed inspectors will be more proactive in enforcing the Occupational Health and Safety Act and its Regulations which includes the Asbestos Abatement Regulation.




Construction transport safety vital to reduce R352m spend

South Africa has one of the worst overall motor vehicle accident (MVA) rates in the world, according to the latest World Health Organization’s road safety report published in 2018. The report revealed that there are around 1 million accidents per year and 31.9% fatalities per 100 000 people.

Deon Bester, Occupational Health and Safety Manager at Master Builders Association Western Cape (MBAWC) says that according to Federated Employers Mutual Assurance Company (RF) (Pty) Ltd (FEM) – the workmen’s compensation insurer for the building industry – 929 of these accidents per year involved people working within the construction industry. “While this may seem low, the cost per accident is detrimental.”

“FEM’s latest statistics that show the total number of vehicle crashes in the construction industry amounted to 4 602 from January 2015 to December 2019, which cost a whopping R 351 945 735.00 with 66 883 workdays lost,” he adds.

In order to address health and safety issues, FEM started a campaign several years ago called ‘Safetember’ which was targeted at reducing the high number of accidents with the focus of the first campaign being on motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) in the construction industry. “The campaign was aimed at making policyholders more aware of the current situation and sought to find ways to address the problem. This campaign now encapsulates all the health and safety issues related to construction, including the MVAs which account for around 10% of all injuries related to construction work,” said Bester.

He points out that an industry that is currently experiencing one of its worst downturns, with limited work available, can ill afford to spend almost R352 million on accidents that are avoidable according to the statistics provided by FEM. “The cost of implementing measures to mitigate these accidents are negligible compared to the cost of these accidents – even before taking into account the loss of life. In many instances, the person who loses his or her life is the main breadwinner in a home.”

These numbers are quite high considering the type of legislation South Africa has in place, both governing the use of public roads and the Construction Regulations of 2014, says Bester. “The allowable method of the transportation of workers in the back of a goods vehicle (‘bakkie’) is very clearly described in the legislation and, as such, enforcement of this legislation remains one of the fundamental issues.”

This legislation essentially means that you are not allowed to carry people in a goods vehicle such as a bakkie or truck unless there is a barrier high and strong enough to prevent them from falling out during an accident. If seated, the barrier must be at least 350mm and if standing it must be at least 900mm high. Any tools or goods must be carried in such a way that they cannot fly around and injure the passengers during an accident.

“My own experience while travelling on our major highways is that it is rare to see one of these vehicles that fail to meet the safety guidelines being pulled off the road by law enforcement officials,” adds Bester. “It is my contention that there needs to be a specialised licensing procedure for anyone who transports employees in the load bay of a bakkie. This would go far to make the drivers aware of the dangers they pose to the persons seated on these vehicles and should help reduce the high number of accidents currently experienced in the industry.”

Contractors have no,  or very little, control over what happens on the highways and Bester believes that they are relying on the traffic law enforcement officers to police the vehicles being used to transport workers. He goes on further to say that it is important to understand that transporting employees on open vehicles is and will always be part of the industry in South Africa.

Current information shows that the main causes of accidents in the construction industry are due to speeding, drivers not taking into consideration the load on the vehicle, overloading of vehicles, unroadworthy vehicles and incompetent drivers.

Bester concludes by saying that: “We need to accept that the status quo will not change in the foreseeable future, employees will continue to be transported on open vehicles, it is how we manage it into the future that will determine our success in reducing motor vehicle accidents.”

IWH Trade Association And Professional Body

The Institute for Work at Height (IWH) was initially formed as a trade association in January 2009, being a merger of the Specialised Access Engineering Manufacturers Association (SAEMA) and the Rope Access And Fall Arrest Association (RAFAA), desirous of creating safety awareness and in turn “professionalism in the overall Work At Height Industry”. Soon other sectors of the work at height industry joined, and the seven different chambers were created.

The members all agreed that their input in the development of the necessary skills was lacking and they thus decided to apply for the registration of a Professional Body, and in November 2012, the Institute for Work at Height Professional Body received official recognition from SAQA.

Work at Height is a specialisation for other occupations to allow these occupations to work safely at elevated heights, by means of specialised equipment which include:


  • Rope access
  • Steel scaffolding
  • Access towers and ladders
  • Mobile elevating work platforms
  • Temporary suspended platforms
  • Falsework, as well as
  • Fall protection (which is generic to all work at height trades)

Working at height cuts across a large spectrum of industries such as construction, building, maintenance, electrical work, welding, telecoms and other infrastructure developments. The IWH Professional Body is in fact a key player in the training process. Having the Trade Association as its ‘bed partner’, the IWH PB is indeed ideally suited to undertake this role simply because it represents the voice of the Industry.

In its initial formation, the IWH spend a lot of time in improving all the other chambers, but Scaffolding and Falsework had its own challenges which was difficult to resolve.

Scaffolding and Falsework

The IWH started a process of assisting the scaffold and falsework industry in 2014. The challenges in this industry was unique, as the members that were experiencing problems were those who employed permanent scaffold and falsework erectors, and not those who use these structures simply for access.

Construction crews rely on scaffolders to erect sturdy platforms for them to stand on when they work on tall buildings, stadiums, bridges and other lofty structures. Some even work in the shipping, oil and mining industries so builders can construct ships, erect oil derricks and support mines. Scaffolders calculate the amount of materials they need for construction projects, such as the wood and steel support tubes, and test the scaffolding for durability. They must also disassemble the scaffolding when projects are completed.

Scaffolding can be very dangerous and consistently results in accidents for construction workers. It has statically been noted that while falls are a major source of personal injury in the construction injury, falls from scaffolding is one of the leading reasons for a fall.

Internationally, scaffolding is being trained as a proper occupational qualification and, in some cases, as a registered trade, whilst in South Africa it was structured as short unit standard-based programmes. Although SANS 10085 indicated how the training should have been structured so that the person are trained over two to three years, inclusive of workplace experience, this was hardly checked for compliance in the industry.

The construction and various other industries have identified a need to develop a proper “scaffolding qualification” to address one of the scarce skills identified by the NSDS. Scaffolding services in South Africa have become an increasing necessity in the transformation of the country into a first world entity, with a thriving infrastructure of buildings and construction works encompassing all wet and dry trades. Scaffolding services are required for a variety of projects taking place daily in South Africa.

Various scaffolding systems provide contractors with a lot of benefits due to their increased safety, ease of assembly and dismantling of scaffolding structures. Scaffolding is a key element of the construction industry. With the use of scaffolding, structures can be constructed. Scaffolding is used to create support for formwork to be completed in building construction. Scaffolding services are also used as a support structure for workers to access parts of the permanent structure which are difficult and dangerous to reach or to perform various other tasks within or around a permanent structure.

The IWH PB is in the final stage of submitting new scaffold and falsework qualifications to the QCTO for registration, which will allow learners to develop skills required in the workplace. The generic competence will enable learners to transfer this competence to other streams of specialisation within the building and civil construction Industry.

The scaffold qualification will include proficiencies to work as a:

  • General worker
  • Scaffold hand
  • Scaffold fixer
  • Scaffold erector
  • Scaffold inspector; and
  • Scaffold supervisor

The falsework qualification will include proficiencies to work as a:

  • General worker
  • Shutter hand
  • Falsework erector
  • Class A1 falsework inspector, and
  • Falsework foreman

There is a critical need in the industry to have suitably trained people who can conduct the essential scaffolding and falsework operations associated within the industry safely and efficiently. This will lead to competence in the scaffold industry to grow the South African economy and boost much-needed job creation. It will also lead to a balanced society in that learners will understand how the work they do, fits into the greater construction industry and contributes to inclusive economic growth and social development.

 The newly developed scaffold and falsework qualifications will enhance safe working conditions and decrease the number of incidents at height. It should have a strong secondary effect on industry growth by professionalising the environment and enhancing skills of unskilled labourers, thus increasing employability in the country through the correct behaviour in the industry enhancing safety and creating employment.

For more information you are welcome to email the CEO, Dr Alti Kriel, at


Sub-Standard Handrailing A Safety Concern

In this tough economic climate purchasing decisions are, in many cases, based on price alone. This is of major concern, as individuals with little understanding of the technical aspects behind a product such as handrailing can unwittingly compromise the safety of people.

Dean Weil, Operations Executive of Mentis Africa, cautions those making this type of purchasing decision to carefully review its selection of handrailing more thoroughly.

“Cheaper handrailing invariably means that thinner material is being used,” Weil says. “This could have a serious impact on the safety of personnel working on the plants where the product is installed. Thinner material being used in handrail manufacture obviously impacts on its structural integrity and will affect its strength over the long term.”

“In the event that the sub-standard product fails, the consequences to the company concerned could be much higher than the original savings it managed to achieve,” he says. “It makes good business sense to buy products of the correct quality, with sound structural integrity, that will contribute towards a safe working environment.”

The quality of handrailing systems in South Africa is governed by an industry standard arrived at by independent authorities, based on numerous tests to determine the correct material and specifications that ensure handrail is able to withstand a certain level of pressure and force. This includes the stanchions or uprights, as well as the horizontal rails.

The standard accepted base plate in local industry for a stanchion or upright is, for example, 10mm thick, in order to deliver the appropriate load-bearing support for the stanchion and meet all safety requirements.

“Bases are being made available to the market that are only 8mm thick,” Weil says. “Someone without sufficient technical knowledge could easily assume that a difference of just 2mm cannot make a significant difference to the integrity of the product. Yet tests have proved that a 10mm base is almost twice as strong as an 8mm base.”

According to the industry standard, the bottom tube of the stanchion should have a wall thickness of 2,5mm. Weil says the same applies here — inferior products with wall thicknesses of 2mm and 1,6mm are currently being put into use. Again, tubes with the specified 2,5mm wall thickness have been tested and shown to be at least 20% stronger than the 2mm and 1,6mm tubes. The top tube should also have a minimum 2mm wall thickness, but inferior products with a wall thickness of 1,6mm are presently being utilised.

Handrails for industrial and general purposes should normally be of the two-rail type — comprising a handrail and a knee rail, supported on standards placed at suitable intervals. Handrailing should preferably, and always in areas where there are stairs, be continuous and have no obstruction on, above or near to it that could obstruct people’s hands as they move along it.

The recommended clearance between a handrail and any wall or object behind or below it is 65mm.

Mentis Africa is the leading local manufacturer of high-quality grating, expanded metal and handrailing systems in South Africa. With a legacy that goes back more than 70 years, today the company operates a comprehensively equipped facility in Johannesburg which is ISO accredited.



Extracts From “Guidance On Routine And Deep Cleaning Of Workplaces When Covid-19 Positive Cases Have Been Identified”, By Dr Charlene Andraos

Frequency of cleaning/disinfection

  • Workplaces to be cleaned daily.
  • The frequency of cleaning will increase if:
  • Workplace operates in shifts (clean between shifts).
  • Equipment is shared (clean between uses).
  • Disinfect when there is likelihood of contamination:
  • Suspected/confirmed case of COVID-19 at the workplace.
  • At workplaces with high volume of workers, customers or visitors that are likely to touch surfaces.

Terminal/Deep cleaning when COVID-19 case identified/suspected

WHO, CDC, EPA etc does not recommend fogging:

  • Disinfectant inactivated by organic matter (cleaning still required).
  • May miss surfaces shielded by objects/folded fabric etc.
  • Increased inhalation exposure of disinfectant to workers and community.
  • WHO recommends deep cleaning via wiping disinfectant on surface after thorough cleaning.
  • No formal accredited training needed.

Deep cleaning after COVID-19 case identified/suspected

  1. Close off area and direct work to another clean facility (it is not necessary to close entire business).
  2. Increase air circulation (open doors/windows).
  3. Wait 24 hours before cleaning.
  4. Personal protective equipment (PPE): disposable or utility gloves, dedicated overall (plastic aprons), closed shoes.
  5. Clean and disinfect communal areas and equipment (focus on highly-touched surfaces).
  6. Wipe twice with 0,05% (500 ppm) chlorine solution (or once with 0,1%).
  7. Avoid exposure to ill person’s fomites (ie pens, computer, eating utensils, dishes).
  8. Flood bodily fluid spillage with 0.5% (5000 ppm) chlorine solution, cover with absorbent material, leave for 30 min before cleaning.
  9. Cleaning equipment (eg buckets) must be separated from regular cleaning equipment.
  10. Closure period of workplace: disinfectant vapours have disappeared and all surfaces air-dried.
  11. Additional cleaning and disinfection not necessary if more than seven days have elapsed since ill person was present in facility.
  12. Continue routine, everyday cleaning and disinfection practices

Disinfection spray tunnels/booths

  • Prof Salim AbdoolKarim, Chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19, “Human spraying is harmful with almost no benefit.“
  • CDC “does not recommend the use of sanitizing tunnels. There is no evidence that they are effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19. Chemicals used in sanitizing tunnels could cause skin, eye, or respiratory irritation or damage.”
  • WHO: “Spraying of individuals with disinfectants (such as in a tunnel, cabinet, or chamber) is not recommended under any circumstances. This practice could be physically and psychologically harmful and would not reduce an infected person’s ability to spread the virus through droplets or contact. Even if someone who is infected with Covid-19 goes through a disinfection tunnel or chamber, as soon as they start speaking, coughing or sneezing they can still spread the virus.”

Additional important points

  • Never mix different types of disinfectants (eg bleach with ammonia as hazardous vapours are released).
  • Moisturise hands regularly as alcohol-based hand sanitizers result in dehydration
  • If staff members develop skin irritation after using sanitizers or disinfectants, inform occupational health practitioner / specialist or contracted dermatologist to determine source of irritation and recommend another product.
  • Employers have to provide resources such as no-touch refuse bins, hand soap, alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 70% alcohol, disinfectants, and disposable towels for employees to clean their hands and their work surfaces. (Department of Employment and Labour, 17 March 2020).
  • Irrespective of workplace size (ie < or > 20 employees), it is still the employer’s duty to comply with Section 8 of the OHS Act and to ensure that there are funds set aside for the provision of resources. If there is no budget, then the employer must think of alternative methods to raise funds.


WC construction industry to prepare for COVID-19 peak

Latest epidemiological models have revealed that the COVID-19 infection peak in the Western Cape will take place from late July through early August. This is both longer and flatter than anticipated, said Premier Alan Winde. Although this will assist with the capacity of the healthcare system, it means that the worst of the pandemic is still to come. “You have the power to change this curve again,” he said, explaining that by wearing a mask, keeping a distance, and good hygiene, we could flatten the curve further.

With the economy opening up significantly, and more people going to work, including the construction sector, it is now more important than ever that the industry follows strict health and safety guidelines to prevent infections.

Although the construction sector has been a leader in formulating and implementing measures around COVID-19, it is vital that companies prepare to continue to comply with health and safety procedures to weather the storm, says Deon Bester, OHS Manager at the Master Builders Association Western Cape (MBAWC).

He points out that, in 2019, the construction industry contributed approximately R32 billion to the Western Cape’s total gross value, and in order to boost economic growth and protect jobs, it is vital to continue to attract fixed capital investment – which the country so desperately needs.

In order to assist construction companies, Bester has compiled a list of pointers to mitigate the risks on-site as far as possible:

Risk assessment and compliance

It is essential that contractors carry out a risk assessment on-site. He advises that companies assign an employee with the task of being a dedicated COVID-19 protocol monitor to ensure continuous compliance, particularly relating to access control, eating areas and toilet/washing facilities.

This also applies to subcontractors, who need to make sure their employees know the compliance protocols and are screened before going to a site.

Transport of workers

Employer-provided transport must be well-ventilated and have space to sit well apart. Masks should be worn in both employer and public transport and employees should ensure that their hands are sanitised before getting into a vehicle and then again after getting out.

Access to site

Ideally, there should be only one access point to a site, and everyone entering must be screened and socially distanced whilst they wait to enter. There should also be a separate exit point from the site to prevent crowding.

Drivers and assistants in delivery vehicles must be screened and sanitised as well, and drivers should stay in their vehicles where possible.

Working on-site

Social distancing is not always possible during all construction tasks, so all workers must wear masks at all times. Handwashing stations should be available in strategic areas. All commonly used tools must be sanitised before and after use.

All workers must receive all PPE (personal protective equipment) free of charge, including two reusable cloth masks. They must be trained in how to use them properly. Workers doing hard physical labour can use a clear face shield instead of a mask.

A big challenge faced by the country is the lack of understanding of how serious this pandemic actually is. Many South Africans do not practice social distancing, wear masks or wash their hands properly. Contractors also have no control over their workers once they leave the site when they are on public transport or while they are at home. “We must convince people to practice the same work-level protocols when they are not at work,” Bester said. “We have to educate, educate and then educate some more.”

Notice Regarding Implementation Of Ergonomics Risk Assessment And Medical Surveillance In Terms Of Regulations 6 and 8 Of The Ergonomics Regulations Of 2019, Respectively

Department of Employment and Labour

Under section 40 (3) (b) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993 (Act No 85 of 1993, as amended), I, Tibor Szana, appointed as chief inspector in terms of section 27 (1) of the said Act, and by virtue of the powers delegated to me by the Minister of Employment and Labour, in terms of section 42 (1) of the said Act, hereby grant the following temporary exemption from Regulations 6 and 8 of the Ergonomics Regulation of 2019 in terms of section 40 of the said Act:

For an employer to perform an ergonomics risk assessment and place an employee under medical surveillance, until the 30th June 2021.


Tibor Szana (Mr)

Chief Inspector: Occupational Health and Safety

Health & Safety Risks To Consider During Lockdown Level 3, By Gerhard Roets, Construction Health & Safety Manager, MBA North

Hierarchy of Controls

  • Elimination: Physically remove the hazard
  • Substitution: Replace the hazard
  • Engineering Controls: Isolate people from the hazard
  • Administrative Controls: Change the way people work
  • Personal Protective Equipment: Protect the worker with PPE

HAZARD: Transport to work


Company transport: Lack of social distancing, transport with ill people, unsanitary vehicle and poor ventilation in vehicles.


Business risk / fatality


The transportation of workers by public transport with limitations on vehicle capacity and stringent hygiene requirements should be followed.

  • Where practical, contractors will make use of transport where the safe distance of 1,5m can be maintained
  • Employees must be transported in well-ventilated vehicles where possible
  • All vehicles must be sanitised prior to use
  • All employees entering the vehicle must be wearing cloth face masks

HAZARD: Covid-19 non-awareness


General non-awareness of the virus can lead to the spreading of the virus.




  • Covid-19 information, education and communication
  • Posters with information on notice boards, changing facilities and meeting areas
  • Hand-outs provided on topics
  • Toolbox talks on topics
  • Training (internal and external); online

HAZARD: Reporting of duty: Access control


Biometric system can potentially result in the transmission of the virus.


Business risk / Fatality


  • Stop all non-essential visitors
  • Introduce staggered start and finish times to reduce congestion and contact at all times.
  • All persons entering the site will be wearing a face mask
  • Monitor site access points to enable social distancing – you may need to change the number of access points, either increase to reduce congestion or decrease to enable monitoring
  • Remove or disable entry systems that require skin contact, eg fingerprint scanners or biometric system.

HAZARD: Possible infected person at work


An infected person in the workplace can potentially spread the virus.


Business risk / Fatality


  • Designated manager or OMP (Occupational Medical Practitioner) to be informed should an infection be suspected
  • Person to be provided with a mask if not already wearing one
  • Person to be removed to quarantine area while awaiting transport
  • Person to be transported to a testing or treatment facility
  • Use of masks and gloves when consulting with the potentially infected person
  • The quarantine area to be sanitised after the person was removed using the correct PPE

HAZARD: General hygiene in the workplace


People are within 1,5m from each other in the workplace.


Business risk / fatality


  • Social distancing policy implemented that no person should be closer than 1,5m from each other
  • No bodily contact whatsoever allowed in the company
  • Employees should limit the use of co-worker’s tools and equipment.
  • Non-essential physical work that requires close contact between workers should not be carried out.
  • Work requiring skin to skin contact should not be carried out

HAZARD: Site meetings and toolbox talks


Failing to comply with the social distancing policy.


Business risk / fatality


  • Social distancing policy implemented that no persons should be closer than 1,5m from each other
  • No bodily contact whatsoever allowed in the company
  • Supervisor or manager leading meeting to ensure compliance
  • Site meeting protocols

HAZARD: Changing facilities and showers


Contaminated objects and surfaces can transmit the virus.


Business risk / fatality


  • Introduce staggered start and finish times in order to reduce congestion and contact at all times
  • Introduce enhanced cleaning of all facilities throughout the day and at the end of each day
  • Consider increasing the number or size of facilities available on site if possible
  • Based on the size of each facility, determine how many people can use it at any one time to maintain a distance of 1.5 metres
  • Provide suitable and sufficient rubbish bins in these areas with regular removal and disposal

HAZARD: Canteens and eating arrangements


Contaminated objects and surfaces can transmit the virus.


Business risk / fatality


  • The workforce should also be required to stay on-site once they have entered it and not use local shops
  • Dedicated eating areas should be identified on site to reduce food waste and contamination
  • Break times should be staggered in order to reduce congestion and contact at all times
  • Hand cleaning facilities or hand sanitiser should be available at the entrance of any room where people eat and should be used by workers when entering and leaving the area.
  • The workforce should be asked to bring pre-prepared meals and refillable drinking bottles from home

HAZARD: Tool storage areas


Infected tools and equipment.


Business risk / fatality


  • A sufficient stock of hand sanitiser, soap and paper towels must be kept and made available in the storage area
  • Storeman to maintain a 1,5 m distance from all staff collecting tools; a Perspex panel can be installed to reduce contact
  • The store man must sanitise his hands after each “transaction”
  • A sanitising station must be at the entrance to the store, employees collecting tools and goods must sanitise prior to entry
  • All commonly used tools must be sanitised on being returned to the store

HAZARD: Machine and vehicle keys


Contaminated machine or vehicle keys that are handed over between employees can result in the transmission of the virus.


Business risk / fatality


  • Seventy percent alcohol base sanitiser are available during the issuing and receiving of machine and vehicle keys
  • Drivers should remain in their vehicles if the load will allow it and must wash or clean their hands before unloading goods and materials
  • Continuous sanitising of hands
  • Equipment to be sanitised during refuelling
  • All machines have sanitiser in the cabs to sanitise on an ongoing process