Contractor Health and Safety – Whose Responsibility is it in South Africa?



To explore contractor Health and Safety as well as whose responsibility it is in South Africa, it is imperative to explore the concept of ‘contracting’ as well as the factors involved. This will provide a more concise idea of the responsibilities associated with OHS in the South African context in workplaces.


Contractor Management

Contractors can also work for a client via an umbrella company or an agency. In cases such as these, the contractor’s employer is the umbrella company or agency instead of the client directly.

Contractors can be used for a multitude of tasks, including, but not limited to:

  • Building and/or construction work
  • Cleaning
  • Recruitment
  • Catering
  • Gardening and Landscaping
  • Marketing
  • Information Technology Support as well as maintenance, and
  • Safety and Security Services

contractor serves the purpose of providing services which are contracted for a certain period. This contracting is done in the form of a mandatory and written contractual agreement known as a Section 37(2) Agreement. 

They can either be classed as an employee or worker, or they can be an individual who is self-employed.

Contractor Health and safety image 2


A subcontractor is often appointed or employed to carry out the duties on behalf of a contractor, who is subsequently responsible for the OHS and actions of the subcontractor, and this may be either an individual or an organisation.

It should be noted, however, that the employees of a contractor cannot be considered as subcontractors and they must be separated altogether for this reason. 

For example, a building contractor may require the services of a plumber or an electrician. In this instance the plumber or the electrician is the subcontractor who is tasked with completing the necessary work on the building site.


Who is responsible for Contractor Health and Safety in South Africa?

Both the contractor as well as their employees are responsible as far as the OHS Act is concerned. When employing contractors, employers must ensure the following:

  • That contractors have the required skills and training so that they do not pose a significant risk to their, or anyone else in the workplace’s, health and safety.
  • That the risk of the work is assessed along with any OHS implications.
  • That a risk assessment is conducted. The employer of a contractor must conduct a risk assessment followed by the contractor carrying out one of their own on the work that they will do. Both the employer and contractor must then convene to consider the risk from each operation which may impact on the OHS of one, the other, or both.
  • That contractors are made aware of risks from activities of the employer and the controls which are in place. This forms part of the employer’s responsibility to provide information, instruction as well as training to their employees.
  • That regular reviews are conducted with all the participants responsible for securing the OHS of persons in the workplace.
  • To decide what must be done and in place for supervision of work of contractors before work commences.

Contractor Health and safey bimage 3

What are the requirements where Construction Work is concerned?

Where construction work is concerned, it is mandatory that the proof of construction work notification is communicated with the South African Department of Labour, and must include:

  • All document notices as well as permissions associated with construction, if applicable, and
  • The proof of notice of excavation must be submitted to the Provincial Director, should there be excavation work needed. In addition, all documents, notices, and communication must be ensured with the Provincial Director where excavation is applicable.

When there is construction work to be done, the designer or the principal designer assumes responsibility for the identification and elimination, as far as practicably possible, all foreseeable risks. All information associated with such risks must then be reported to the contractor or the principal contractor in the construction phase of the project.

A principal contractor is the one assigned with the control of the construction phase, should there be cases where more than one contractor is appointed. During this phase, the principal contractor plays an imperative role in managing risks pertaining to OHS and it means that the principal contractor must ensure:

  • That they are accountable for the OHS risks to everyone who is affected by the work being performed, including the public, in planning as well as managing the measures to be taken to control these risks.
  • The management of risks through liaison with the principal designer as well as the client.
  • Ongoing arrangements for the management of OHS throughout construction.
  • Constant communication with employees regarding health, safety, and welfare.
  • Provision of suitable welfare facilities such as toilets, hot and cold water for washing, changing facilities, eating facilities, and drinking water, and ensuring that these facilities are maintained.
  • That anyone employed has the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience to perform their work without risking OHS.
  • Workers attend the Site-Specific Induction as well as any other relevant information and/or trading that is needed to perform the work.
  • That steps are taken to prevent any unauthorized access to the work site.

There is a generalized misconception that contractors alone are responsible for their health and safety and that should injuries or incidents occur, they should be held accountable. The truth is, that it is the responsibility of both the employer/client and the contractor to ensure that the necessary precautions are taken to reduce all risk of danger to employees and the public.


How can SafetyWallet help Employers and Contractors’ OHS Compliance?

In a world that is constantly changing, with new and stricter regulations, it is becoming increasingly difficult to always ensure full compliance. SafetyWallet helps and supports its subscribers despite the industry in which they operate or the number of employees and contractors under their responsibility.

With SafetyWallet and its partnership with MAKROSAFE and OHS Online, subscribers can ensure that they are a part of creating a safer, healthier, and more compliant working environment. To find out how you can ensure employers’ and contractor OHS, Contact Us.

My Safety Shop

Posted date: 28th Feb 2021