Sea Harvest was given the go-ahead to resume operations on Thursday evening after the Department of Labour (DOL) shut down part of the operations of the Saldanha-based fresh fish factory on Wednesday.
About 80 of the company’s employees having tested positive for Covid-19 with the first case being confirmed on Sunday 24 May. A statement from the department confirmed the closure by its officials on Wednesday 17 June, took place after a “risk assessment”.
Felix Ratheb, Sea Harvest Group CEO, said in a statement the company invited the department and Department of Health officials to inspect the premises after concerns were raised by staff and union representatives.
The fresh fish facility’s closure affected 1 000 workers. The shutdown lasted for 24 hours and only parts of the facility in Saldanha was closed.
Doing business during a pandemic
According to the company safety measures were put in place since March already after consulting with various government departments and unions. These safety measures were implemented across 28 operations and facilities and 46 fishing vessels, said Ratheb.
DOL officials served prohibition notices to Sea Harvest, which also extended to sub-contractors on site, meaning no work may take place at any of the areas where notices were served.
Various local businesses and departments, including the Vredenburg police station, the Saldanha Bay Traffic Department, Checkers, Dischem and Pick n Pay have all had to temporarily close their businesses to decontaminate after cases of Covid-19 were confirmed.
Operations within a hotspot
Saldanha is considered a hotspot within the Saldanha Bay municipal area. On Tuesday 23 June Saldanha / Diazville had 71 active cases. Dr Silvio Morales-Perez, CEO of Vredenburg Provincial Hospital, said fisher boats travelling between Hout Bay and Saldanha were a source of many Covid-19 cases. Speaking during a visit to Saldanha Bay this month by Nomafrench Mbombo, provincial MEC for Health, he said many workers on the boats had come from the Cape Metro region, specifically Khayelitsha, also a Covid-19 hotspot.
Health and safety measures
According to Terence Brown, Operations Director of Sea Harvest, the company believes it has successfully managed the positive cases, thanks to its comprehensive medical screenings.
This includes temperature checks and additional medical personnel, six nurses and a doctor, at the site.
However, the department said no social distancing was being practised. Ratheb this week said these issues were addressed through personal protective equipment (PPEs), especially where distancing was not possible.
Sea Harvest has also made sanitised transport available to staff to mitigate the use of public transport and reduce Covid-19 transmissions. All transport has to follow strict safety measures, and is provided with hand sanitiser. Staff members suspected of having the coronavirus on site are sent to the on site clinic, and then sent home for isolation. “We then send that individual for a private test to ensure swift action is taken to facilitate rigorous contact tracing to curb the number of infections among our staff adequately,” Brown says.
The company has also set up a call centre, from which staff in isolation or quarantine are monitored and can receive emotional support.
“Unfortunately, our battle against Covid-19 will be our ‘new normal’, as we do not know how long we’ll be dealing with this pandemic,” Ratheb said.
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