The National Department of Health and Department of Employment and Labour have directed the National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOH) to roll-out the Covid-19 National Occupational Health Surveillance System (OHSS).
The consolidated directive on Occupational Health and Safety Measures in Certain Workplaces NO.R.1031, as amended on 28 September 2020 (Gazette No 43751), requires employers to submit relevant information of all workers who test positive for Covid-19 to the NIOH. Although surveillance has been ongoing since the outbreak began in South Africa, it is now a legal requirement for all businesses with greater than 50 employees to submit weekly data on symptomatic employees, positive cases, return to work and health outcomes, as well as a once-off submission on vulnerable employees.
“The information submitted will provide us with an in-depth understanding of the Covid-19 infection spectrum in the South African workforce through dynamic data analytics and visualisation into all phases,” said Dr Nisha Naicker, Head of Epidemiology and Surveillance at the NIOH.
“These data include but are not limited to symptom screening, testing, vulnerable employees, contact tracing within the workplace, return to work and health outcomes of the epidemic. Through the collection and analyses of the data, we hope to strengthen Covid-19 workplace programs and interventions to help mitigate the transmission of the disease.”
Through the OHSS, the NIOH aims to:
- Develop a framework for the Covid-19 surveillance model to monitor workers in various economic sectors, both in the public and private sectors;
- Ascertain early identification of sectors/companies and occupational groups at high risk of infection to inform appropriate interventions (eg. policy, programs, resources);
- Evaluate the impact of the Covid-19 interventions in the workplace;
- Determine the human resource and economic impact of Covid-19 in the various sectors;
- Provide regular updates on the trajectory of the pandemic in various economic sectors nationally, with the identification of key scientific questions requiring further investigation
“There are three different ways to submit workplace data on the OHSS, and guidelines on how to submit are available on the NIOH website” said Naicker.
The NIOH – a division of the National Health Laboratory Service – has a mandate to support the country’s occupational health and safety agenda through several activities, including but not limited to surveillance of occupational diseases.
Experts from the NIOH have been leading the country on Covid-19 workplace guidelines and procedures, surveillance, online training and education as well as research. The team through a collective effort has produced various educational content and awareness material to cater for all categories of employers and employees.