What is Occupational Health and Safety for all employers, including contractors and suppliers in South Africa?
What is occupational health and safety for all employers, including contractors and suppliers in South Africa? The answer may seem obvious, but the field concerned with Occupational Health and Safety, is one which is truly diverse, and it presents some level of complexity.
In simple terms, it relates to everything including laws, regulations, programmes, and procedures, which are concerned with the health, safety, and the wellbeing of employees while they are at work.
Employers are required to comply with the law and legislation that regulates as well as enforces health and safety of employees. However, these days, many companies are beginning to recognise wellbeing as another crucial factor in keeping employees happy and productive.
Why is workplace health and safety important?
The answer to this may seem obvious: to ensure that employees are protected from contracting diseases and/or preventing that they become ill or disabled due to the work that they do. The focus is also on preventing accidents which may lead to injuries, disability, and even death.
Although the latter seems extreme, there are numerous workplaces that are extremely physically dangerous. Underground mines are a prime example, where employees perform physical demanding tasks in confined spaces deep underground.
Another example is large industrial processing plants where employees handle hazardous biological agents as well as chemical. The same can apply to farms where employees are exposed to pesticides, or construction sites where employees must work at extreme heights and with complex machinery.
All such work, and more, require special attention in the identification and the mitigation of inherent hazards as well as risks. And, through medical testing as well as surveillance of employees exposed to such tasks and conditions, employers must ensure that each employee is suitable to perform certain work.
There are countless benefits for employers and employees in ensuring that the health and safety of employees is taken care of including decreased absenteeism, higher productivity, and more. When employees feel safe, valued, and cared for, they are less likely to leave their employment in search of better working conditions.
How to get employees involved in terms of health and safety
Health and safety management plans can only be effective if employers and employees collaborate in ensuring adherence as well as compliance. However, to ensure that everyone is involved, employers can make use of some helpful tips:
- Ensure that all employees understand the legislation, site specific policies, and procedures by providing frequent training and follow-up sessions.
- Ensure that all employees understand the hazards, risks, and consequences of non-compliance. Ensure that there is balance between consequences and incentives for compliance.
- Provide employees with the equipment necessary to protect their health and safety. Make sure that employees are trained on their correct use and that it is regularly inspected and maintained.
- Provide a safe platform for employees to discuss their concerns and ensure to act on them.
What are the laws in terms of Occupational Health and Safety in South Africa?
All organisations and employers in South Africa must stay informed on all legislation which is relevant to their operations and employees. This is especially true in sectors that have stringent, complex laws and regulations such as mining and construction.
However, despite these various regulations that pertain to specific industries, there is one main law in South Africa which governs all employers namely the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 85 of 1993, which falls under the Department of Labour.
This Act is in place to regulate workplace health and safety for all employees in the country, except those in mining and shipping, who are subjected to their own specific legislation.
OHSA aims to protect employees against all occupational diseases and injuries which stem from exposure to workplace hazards. The Act is also supported by multiple sets of Regulations and Codes of Practice, which provide practical guidance in how health and safety issues can be managed.
The Act along with its Regulations and Codes of Practice clearly indicates the obligations which apply to all employers, or organisations, with regards to the health of employees and the workplace, or their safety.
There are several regulations, with each providing strict guidelines. The health-related regulations deal specifically with medical surveillance where hazardous biological agents or chemical substances are concerned.
The safety regulations deal with general health and safety matters such as personal protective equipment, first aid, emergency procedures, equipment, and others. The general regulations aim to deal with facilities, worksites, and workplaces, where the physical conditions of the work environment are concerned.
There are also specific regulations that accommodate diving, electrical, and machinery. While mineworkers are protected by the Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA), enforced by an inspectorate in the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR).
There is also the Criminal Procedure Act, which has certain sections dedicated to organisations and which can be used to criminally charge an organisation, its directors, and any of the employees, should there be a transgression in the health and safety laws and regulations.
Who is responsible to ensure health and safety in the workplace?
Most people may think that employers carry the sole responsibility in protecting their employees, and this is correct. As per Section 8 of the OHSA, the onus is placed on employers in providing and maintaining a work environment which is safe and does not present risk to the health of employees.
However, it is important to highlight that Section 14 and 15 of OHSA indicates the duties placed on employees in the same workplace. Both the OHSA as well as the MHSA make adequate provision for employees to participate in health and safety matters.
Section 14 provides the general duties that employees have at work such as taking reasonable care for their own health and safety as well as that of co-workers, visitors, and the public.
Employees are also legally obliged to comply with all the prescriptions of OHSA and they must cooperate with the employer by obeying lawful orders and health and safety rules of the employer.
Employees, furthermore, also have a legal duty to report any unsafe conditions or acts. This can be reported to their direct supervisor, a health and safety representative, or directly to the employer.
Section 15 of OHSA also states that employees have a legal duty to avoid interfering with, damaging, or misusing objects provided for health and safety, such as safety devices or guards, as it may cause harm to themselves or others.
Should there be non-compliance with the OHSA, the person found responsible may be fined, penalised, or even face imprisonment, whether it is the CEO or a general worker. The act aims to protect both the employer and their employees, and it clearly states that workplace safety is the duty of the employer and the employee.
What are the consequences of non-compliance?
The laws associated with occupational health and safety can appear complex but despite this, they demand compliance. Organisations that are found non-compliant may face harsh penalties in the form of fines and responsible persons may even face imprisonment.
If organisations take the reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of employees, the risk of penalties for transgression is low. The same applies to employees, they may also face penalties or imprisonment if they are found guilty and thus non-compliant with OHSA.
How can SafetyWallet help Employers and Contractors’ Health and Safety Compliance?
SafetyWallet works to ensure that its subscribers are supported and assisted in all matters relating to health and safety, and through a partnership with MAKROSAFE and OHS Online, subscribers can ensure that they are a part in creating a safer, healthier, and more compliant working environment. To find out how you can ensure employer and contractor’s Health and Safety compliance, click here.