Workplace safety: need-to-know info

Safety in the workplace is an important issue for workers and employers. But what is required by law, and who is responsible for what? Here is a breakdown of the employer's duties to safety in the workplace.

The responsibilities of the employer towards the health and safety of employees is defined in Section 8 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). The act states that the employer is responsible for maintaining a safe working environment – this means that s/he has to provide a safe workplace, and regularly maintain it to ensure that the working environment stays safe and healthy, as far as reasonably practicable.

It is recommended that an employer: 

  • Put together an OHS Management System that makes provision for maintenance by means of scheduled risk assessments and OHS check-ups.
  • Teach supervisors and OHS representatives to follow HIRA (Hazard Identification Risk Assessment) procedures, especially before any new function, plant or equipment is implemented, installed or taken into use.
  • Eliminate all hazards. Should it be practically impossible to eliminate all identified hazards, the employer should mitigate the remaining risks by implementing safe working procedures and supplying Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the employees.
  • Ensure that work is performed under the supervision of a person trained to understand the hazards associated with it and that the supervisor has the authority to ensure that precautionary measures taken by the employer are implemented.
  • Include all relevant information, instructions and training in a comprehensive induction course.
  • Enforce any measures to promote health and safety in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to ensure that OHS rules are incorporated into their disciplinary codes.

Furthermore employers who have more than 20 workers in the workplace have to designate an OHS Representative.

Frequently asked questions on OHS

What are the employer's duties towards other persons like customers, contractors, etc?
Section 9 of the OHSA states that the employer shouldconduct his business in such a manner that s/he and other persons who may be directly affected by its activities are not exposed to hazards to their health or safety.

Do I have obligations to health and safety as manufacturer?
Yes. In Section 10 of the OHSA it is determined that all products have to be safe as far as possible, and that information is available regarding risks, necessary conditions for safe use of the product and emergency procedures in case of an accident.

Is the employer allowed to make deductions for protective clothing?
No, the employer is not allowed to make deductions for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) except where the employee has lost his equipment, or if the equipment was damaged due to the employee's negligence.

Are inspectors allowed to inspect my premises without first making an appointment?
Yes, the inspectors may at any time enter the premises without a warrant. Employers are not allowed to withhold any relevant information from the inspector and the OHS representative has to assist the inspector during any inspection or investigation.

You also have to report incidents where a dangerous substance was spilled, where uncontrolled release of any substance under pressure took place, where machinery or any part thereof fractured or failed resulting in flying, falling or uncontrolled moving objects, or where machinery ran out of control.

In the event of an incident in which a person died, or was injured to such an extent that he is likely to die, or suffered the loss of a limb or part of a limb, no person shall without the consent of an inspector disturb the site at which the incident occurred or remove any article or substance involved in the incident there from. Provided that such action may be taken as is necessary to prevent a further incident, to remove the injured or dead, or to rescue persons from danger.

What are the penalties for contravening the OHSA?
For employers contravening the OHSA, penalties can be a fine of up to R100 000 or imprisonment up to two years, or a combination of the fine and imprisonment.

Do I have to report all workplace accidents?
No. You have to report all incidents where somebody died, becomes unconscious, lost a limb or part of a limb or becomes ill to such a degree that he is likely either to die or to suffer a permanent physical defect or likely to be unable to work for at least fourteen days.

I have bought and issued my employees with protective clothing but they are rarely wearing it. What am I allowed to do?
According to the OHSA the employer has to force employees to wear safety equipment when and where necessary. If the employer is not enforcing it by means of disciplinary actions, they are contravening the act and are liable to be fined and/or imprisoned. A lot of companies especially most of the mines, have “ZERO TOLERANCE” policies for health and safety negligence.

This article has been written by P.Kahts for Labour Advice Workshp.

© Reserved 2011: Labour Advice Workshop

More info:
Healthy Workplace Focus Centre
Safety at work your own problem

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