The World Day for
Safety & Health at Work
Epicentre News • 21 April 2020
n the 28th of April, South Africa is celebrating the World Day for Safety and Health at Work. Yet all over the world thousands of essential workers in healthcare, the food & transport industry, and grocery workers are being exposed and dying of COVID-19. In a world that has stopped all, but essential work how can we ensure even this skeleton crew’s safety? When it has become unsafe to even leave our homes.
In the United States, according to an article in the New York Times, Anne Grant, a 55-year-old poultry worker, was ordered back to work three days after taking sick leave due to COVID symptoms. “My mom said the guy at the plant said they had to work to feed America. But my mom was sick,” said one of Ms. Grant’s sons, Willie Martin, 34, a teacher in South Carolina. Ms. Grant eventually returned home, and later died in a hospital after being on a ventilator for more than a week. Two more workers at the Tyson Foods poultry factory where Ms Grant worked have now also died.
Where Ms Grant was employed workers typically stood elbow-to-elbow for low-wages to do all the cutting, deboning and packing of the chicken and beef. This type of work has been deemed an essential service and remained open in South Africa. But as international factories like this shut down due to the rampant spread of the Coronavirus through staff, how long can we keep are factories open here?
South Africans at Risk?
Anxiety over COVID-19 is at an all-time high for many low wage workers in townships across the country as the danger of this virus looms. The solution for the rich of social distancing seems almost impossible in the crowded streets and assembly lines that plague the lives of many who live in poverty in our country. When you live in a cramped shack in a room with 2 other people and there’s 4 more in the next room.
Therefore, considering the special day on the 28th of April we need to treat these essential service workers in healthcare, the food & transport industry, and grocery workers as essential. Measures to protect these key parts of our economy need to be put in place not just for the customer can see but in the back rooms and on the assembly floor.
This also needs to extend past the COVID-19 crisis as many organizations need to step up in the fight against HIV, a pandemic that has plagued South Africa and our economy for decades. Part of what makes South Africa so vulnerable to the Coronavirus is our those 3 million left untreated in what is still an uncontrolled HIV epidemic. When staff are infected with HIV and left untreated their immune systems are weak and this makes them vulnerable to serious and contagious infections like COVID-19. Exposing a vulnerable underbelly in essential services for the Coronavirus to attack.
Evidence has shown that business need to be implementing far more robust programs to take health of their employees seriously. In Working Wellness a program offered by Epicentre a licenced medical aid subsidiary, this kind of program has been extremely effective in getting South Africa’s workers on HIV treatment. Programs like Epicentre’s Working Wellness include a three-part service: testing, consultations and linkage to care for those in the workplace environment.