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Office block is making us sick – dept employees

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Employees at the Northern Cape Department of Transport, Safety and Liaison’s provincial office in Kimberley claim that the “non-ventilated working environment” is hazardous to their health.

The provincial office of the Department of Transport, Safety and Liaison in Phakamile Mabija Road in Kimberley. Picture: Soraya Crowie

EMPLOYEES at the Northern Cape Department of Transport, Safety and Liaison’s provincial office in Kimberley claim that the “non-ventilated working environment” is hazardous to their health.

They asserted that several employees at the department building have been diagnosed with respiratory ailments, sinusitis and even allergic reactions due to “not being able to breathe properly” inside the building as there is apparently no ventilation or functional air conditioner inside the offices.

Several employees said they were diagnosed with symptoms prior to the Covid-19 outbreak.

They said that although they brought the matter, as well as medical reports, to the attention of management, not much has been done to change the working environment.

“We have been working in a stuffy and hot building for several years. There is no ventilation and that has resulted in many of us getting sick,” said one of the employees.

“I first started getting flu-like symptoms years back. I at first thought that my system was probably taking a knock and that I would heal fast. After I did not get well, I went to consult a doctor. After some weeks, my symptoms did not subside and I went back to the same doctor and was referred to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.

“The ENT specialist, after examining me and after I relayed information about my work environment, issued me a letter for my employer stating that I cannot be inside the building as it makes me ill.

“I later discovered that I was not the only person who had been diagnosed with the same symptoms. We even had a colleague who was hospitalised recently when the temperatures were over 40 degrees Celsius.”

They employees said that instead of providing a solution, management has shifted their working hours.

“After we brought the matter to the attention of management and they realised how many of us are medically affected by this problem, management resolved that we knock off work at 1.30pm each day. The matter of ventilation is still not addressed and there is no indication on whether this problem will ever be resolved.

“Some of us have resorted to sitting and working outside when the building gets too hot. However, that option is not conducive to all as we have to return to our desks in order to complete our work on our desktops. We take some breaks in between work to cool off or get fresh air when we work.”

The employees indicated that this has been an expensive exercise as they have medical bills to pay for the constant doctor’s appointments.

“Some of us have depleted our sick leave days and annual leave days as we had to stay home when we were too sick to work. Others have come to the office in their unwell state. It is really frustrating as one has to go and consult a doctor each time you are unwell. These consultations come with a fee and when one has to constantly return, you end up spending several hundreds and even thousands of rand on doctor’s appointments.

“Sometimes it feels as if the prescribed medication does not work. What is also worrisome, is that some of us are dependent on this medication as if it is chronic medication. We are not certain what long-term effects this will have on our immune systems.

“It is disheartening to think that this problem can be easily solved if management just addresses the problem. There are also some of us who are suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes and high-blood pressure who cannot be exposed to working in non-ventilated rooms.

“It literally feel like one is working in a hot box. A colleague once indicated that he felt like he was going to suffer a heart-attack as there was no air flowing in and out of our office. It appears that management first wants to witness someone lose their life before they permanently solve the issue.

“One cannot have so many staff members getting seriously sick and then turn a blind eye when you see what the cause of their sickness is.”

The head of communications at the Northern Cape Department of Transport, Safety and Liaison, Rennie Andrias, said they are working on the matter.

“We are working with our landlord, Ocean Echo Building, in Kimberley to make the working environment for all employees as suitable as possible. We are committed to ensuring that all employees remain safe and healthy in our provincial office,” said Andrias.

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