Accidents do not just happen, they are caused.
In an attempt to avoid or minimize accidents in the workplace, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 85 of 1993 (hereinafter the OHS Act) regulates health and safety measures at work. Not only does the Act provide employees with health and safety rights, but it also obligates employers/management to appoint safety representatives and safety committees.
Further obligations include regulations on first aid, drinking water, washing facilities, protective clothing, machinery, stacking and packing, ladders, fire, ventilation, lighting, temperature, noise and asbestos. Inspectors from the Department of Labour have wide powers in terms of the Act to make sure that employers and employees follow the Act.
Who does the OHS Act cover?
The Act excludes employees working in mines and on ships, as other legislation is applicable. The OHS Act covers all other employees, including farm workers, domestic workers and state employees.
What is expected of employees?
- Employees must take reasonable precautions for their own health and safety at work.
- Employees must follow any precautions and office rules regarding health and safety.
- They must report any unsafe circumstances or accidents as soon as possible to the appointed safety representative.
- Anyone who acts in a reckless way or damages any safety measures may be charged. Even more so if the employee does said damage on purpose, in which case the employer may claim damages from him/her.
What is expected from employers?
- The employer must make sure that the workplace is safe and healthy.
- The employer must not allow any employees to do work that is potentially dangerous.
- The employees must know what the dangers of the work are. But it is always the employer who decides what is a threat to the employees’ safety.
The general duties of the employer include to:
- Appoint safety representatives.
- Consult with the employees’ organisation about the safety representatives.
- Inform employees of the dangers in the workplace.
- Reduce any dangers to a minimum before issuing protective clothing.
- Issue protective clothing where necessary.
- Give necessary training to employees who use dangerous machines and materials.
- Prevent employees from using or working with dangerous materials or machines, unless all safety rules have been followed.
- Ensure that dangerous machines are in good working order and are safe to work with.
- Make sure that dangerous machinery carries warnings and notices.
- Keep the workplace open so that employees can escape from danger if necessary.
- Clearly mark escape routes and fire extinguishers.
- Compile a Kitchen Policy to ensure no spoiled food remains in the fridge causing a health hazard.
- Ensure that there is no untidy cabling as such is a safety hazard.
- Regularly service aircon and office ventilation.
- Properly inspect kitchen appliances etc. to ensure there is no safety hazard.
Can an employee be punished for complaining about safety conditions?
No. An employer cannot take action against an employee who:
- Gives information about their conditions at work
- Gives evidence in court about their conditions at work
- Responds to any requests by an inspector
- Refuses to do anything that is against the law
How do you report an accident or incident?
The employer must keep a record of all accidents and safety or health incidents that occur at work. The employer must report certain accidents or incidents to the safety representative and to the Department of Labour – for example, the release of a dangerous material or substance that is normally kept locked away.
What about safety representatives?
The employer should appoint one safety representative for every 20 employees. There must be at least one representative for every 50 employees. The employer must explain to the employees’ organisation what responsibilities the safety representatives will have and how the representatives will be selected.
How is the OHS Act enforced?
The OHS Act falls under the Department of Labour. Inspectors from the department have wide powers to search the workplace, question people, ask for explanations from an employer and so on.
An inspector can fine a person for contravening the Act. If that person wants to appeal, they can appeal to the Chief Inspector. They can appeal against the Chief Inspector in the Labour Court.
Any employee found guilty of an offence in terms of the OHS Act shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding R50,000 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year, or to both.
An employer found guilty of an offence in terms of the OHS Act shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding R100,000 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years, or to both.
Written by Jolané van der Walt- Nieuwoudt (LLB) (LLM)