Controlling and Containing the Coronavirus Risk at the Work Place
Gauci-Maistre Xynou (Legal | Assurance)
Author: Dr Daniela Gaffarena
The escalating pandemic of the Coronavirus (also referred to as COVID-19), has taken a heavy toll on the workplace environment. As workers become perturbed about the risks they may be exposed to at the workplace, employers are striving to keep their businesses and companies afloat while adhering to all statutory obligations, particularly those obligations relevant to the Coronavirus pandemic.
In terms of article 6 of the Occupational Health and Safety Authority Act (Chapter 424 of the Laws of Malta), an employer is legally obliged “to ensure the health and safety at all times of all persons who may be affected by the work being carried out for such employer” (emphasis added). This all-encompassing article entails that the employer is not only required to ensure the health and safety of its workers but must also ensure the health and safety of all persons; including external service providers and customers who visit the workplace. Chapter 424 applies to all work environments and to all sectors of work activity, except those activities carried out by members of a disciplined force such as the Armed Forces of Malta, having characteristics conflicting with the Act.
Employers should identify, evaluate and assess the current risks associated with the COVID-19, taking more drastic measures where need be to reduce, and if possible, avoid the said risks as much as reasonably practicable. Separate risk assessments may be required for certain categories of the workforce, including young persons and pregnant workers, as respectively laid down in subsidiary legislation 424.10 and 424.11.
Work from home policies are on the rise as an effective means to control and mitigate risk exposure, while contingency and business continuity plans are being put into effect to keep businesses running.
On their part, workers have a reciprocal obligation to cooperate with their employer on the measures indicated to them by their employer. Furthermore, in terms of article 7 of the above mentioned Act, every worker is not only duty bound to cooperate with the employer but is also required to safeguard his own health and safety as well as that of other persons who can be affected by reason of the work activity being carried out. It follows that workers should adhere to given instructions and utilise any training and protective gear and equipment as may be provided to them by the employers.
The above is without prejudice to any instructions issued and/or still to be issued by the Maltese public health authorities and the Government of Malta particularly as regards the COVID-19 pandemic.
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