Business

VWSA salutes its team of front-line workers

The wellness facility in Kariega has performed 6,300 Covid-19 tests to date

VWSA prioritised staff wellness and wellbeing during the pandemic.
VWSA prioritised staff wellness and wellbeing during the pandemic.
Image: Supplied/VWSA

In the year that has passed since the first case of Covid-19 in SA, Volkswagen Group SA (VWSA) has implemented extensive measures to protect the health and wellbeing of about 4,000 employees.

VWSA’s wellness centre team served selflessly as front-line workers in the fight against the pandemic. The team comprises nine occupational health nurses, two social workers, one administrator and one medical doctor working full time, with assistance from two contract nurses, one contract administrator and four trainees. 

When VWSA employees returned to work on May 4 2020, the wellness team was tasked with screening all suspected Covid-19 cases. They assisted with contact tracing, monitoring of employees who tested positive or who were self-isolating at home, and facilitating the return-to-work process after recovery. A total of 4,625 screenings were conducted up until March 15 2021. 

Employees had access to counselling from the wellness centre’s two social workers. Members of their households could also contact Careways, the company’s external provider, for counselling support. 

In 2020, 1,898 counselling sessions with employees were done between the wellness staff and Careways.

“From the start, our priority as the wellness team and as VWSA was to protect employees and enable them to protect themselves,” says Dr Fikiswa Ngonyama, VWSA’s company doctor. “We had to become experts on Covid-19 ourselves so we could answer questions and address the concerns and fears of employees. We were responsible for caring for the physical and mental health of the VWSA family.”

The wellness team also established an in-house Covid-19 testing facility at the Kariega (formerly Uitenhage) plant from June 2020. The drive-through facility allowed employees who suspected they had Covid to be tested for free. An additional nurse and two administrators were appointed to work at this facility.

Up until March 15 2021, the facility had performed 6,300 Covid-19 tests. This included the task of testing all VWSA’s Kariega employees ahead of production restarting in January 2021. The project was led by the wellness centre, with support from various divisions and external partners. 

Schedules had to prioritise the employees who would be on the first shift to restart production, and thereafter prioritise testing based on each department’s return date. Each employee was blocked from entering all access points until a negative test result would clear them for work.

The testing began in Kariega on January 2, ahead of the first production shift resuming their duties on January 11. “Four stations were allocated for testing at the testing facility,” says Dr Ngonyama. “Employees were given a date and time for their test, which was communicated before shutdown. All test results were issued within 24 to 48 hours of testing, and employees were either cleared for work (if they received a negative result) or advised to isolate themselves (if they tested positive).”

Ten occupational health nurses, one doctor, six administrators and 10 support staff were involved in the start-up testing process. The testing took place from January 2 to 29 January, with the team committing 312 hours to the project.

By the end of the project, 3,734 employees had been tested, with only 69 positive cases — amounting to the low incidence rate of 1,92%. 

The proactive testing before the plant reopening was part of VWSA’s Covid-19 risk mitigation strategy, aimed at protecting employees and preventing the transmission of Covid-19 in the workplace. 

“The company implemented extensive protocols to keep our employees safe and informed, but the contributions of the wellness centre team have been immeasurably important in our ongoing fight against the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Dr Robert Cisek, VWSA chair and MD. “Their tireless dedication has meant that we were able to minimise the impact of the pandemic on our employees and by extension, our business and the local economy. 

“We salute each of you: Dr Fikiswa Ngonyama, Charline Bermosky, Cynthia Muthasamy, Nonkululeko Jama, Maria Nel-Cekiso, Sbulele Didiza, Nozuko Mqulwana, TK Ngcipe, Tohira Abrahams, Sindiswa Sandla, Sean Arries, Thandiswa Zeppe, Latiefa Cupido, Nonceba Mdaka, Carmia Smuts and Stembiso Magagula for your courage and commitment, and for the invaluable role you have played in protecting our colleagues.”

This article was paid for by VWSA.

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