Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious, diagnosable medical condition that can be classified as a type of anxiety disorder. PTSD in the workplace develops when a person is constantly exposed to events that cause psychological trauma but doesn’t get the opportunity to completely and effectively process the trauma.
Solidarity recently had to protect a member suffering from PTSD against inequity in the workplace.
Sergeant Armand Gerber is a popular policeman who has been serving in the South African Police Service (SAPS) since 2002. While on duty in 2014, he was exposed to a gruesome bus accident. This fatal accident left him with deep mental wounds and scars. Later that year he was diagnosed with PTSD.
PTSD is recognised as an occupational disease in terms of the Occupational Injuries and Disease Compensation Act (No. 130 of 1993) if, as in the case of Sergeant Gerber, it is sustained in the performance and carrying out of their work. When the employee comes forward and claims that he is suffering from PTSD, the employer is obliged to report it as such. The Compensation Commissioner will then decide on the validity of the claim. Sergeant Gerber was declared unfit to handle a firearm by the SAPS until 2020. He was immediately appointed in an administrative post to reduce his stress levels, as well as to promote his emotional stability.
However, in February this year, Sergeant Gerber was left with no choice but to seek legal aid after the SAPS deployed him to the court to transport prisoners despite his disease. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (No. 85 of 1993) the employer, in this case the SAPS, is responsible for ensuring safe and healthy work conditions for its employees at all times. To do this, the employer must analyse the risks and threats regarding the work and set measures to firstly remove or eliminate those threats and risks, and secondly to control them in terms of the provisions contained in section 8(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (No. 85 van 1993).
To place Sergeant Gerber in such a high-pressure environment was an incredibly risky thing to do, since the mere thought of gruelling scenes would be enough to have an occupational disease that was in remission flare up again. Employers may not, as far as it is reasonably practical, allow an employee to do any work unless the necessary precautionary measures have been taken to protect the health and safety of persons at the workplace in terms of section 8 (2) (f). The act also stipulates that all employees have a duty to accept responsibility for their own and their fellow employees’ safety and health at work [Art 14 (a)].
The Labour Court in Cape Town ruled that the SAPS has failed its obligation to protect its employee, Sergeant Gerber. According to the ruling he has to be reinstated in his administrative position and all disciplinary actions against him must be stopped.
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