Occupational health and safety practices in South African companies

BY: Louise Woodburn, Natalie Pitout

When it comes to occupational health and safety practices, South African companies fall at either end of the spectrum – those that take it very seriously and fully comply with legislation, and those with nothing in place and no understanding of their liabilities in terms of non-compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act.

There are currently more than 200 pieces of subordinate legislation that support the OHS Act, which regulates and control health and safety in all organisations, from office environments to more hazardous ones like industrial plants and construction sites.

Workplace safety is mainly the responsibility of the employer, who must ensure the health, safety and welfare of their staff. Some worksites come with greater risks than others, but even the safest workplaces need all staff to help manage risks. Non-compliant organisations expose themselves to three key risks.

Spot fines

Firstly, they face financial implications resulting from insurance claims for injuries sustained at work, as well as from non-compliance-related penalties. The amended OHS Bill, expected to come into force in 18 months’ time, will see spot fines of R50 000 being issued for non-compliance. This can have a significant financial impact on companies.

Secondly, organisations have a legal obligation to comply with health and safety regulations, with liability resting with the business owner. Ignorance of the law is not an accepted defence in a court of law, so it is up to the company to ensure it has the right information and can demonstrate its compliance with legislation.

Thirdly, employers have a moral obligation to protect the wellbeing of their workers, by making sure that the workplace is safe, and that employees’ health and safety are not put at risk. Companies must continually reduce risk, accidents and injuries by identifying and mitigating hazards.

Employees’ responsibility

On the other hand, employees must similarly take reasonable care for their own health and safety, as well as for the health and safety of others. They need to comply with any reasonable instructions, policies and procedures given by their employer, business or controller of the workplace.

This highlights the importance of continuous and refresher training for employees to constantly re-instil and reinforce awareness about workplace hazards are, to control them and how to work safely. Some companies unfortunately view training as a once-off, tick-box exercise, but this carries the risk of complacency setting in and also fails to keep pace with continually changing risks in a workplace.

Hence, ensuring that health and safety training is an on-going process will assist with creating constant awareness, teaching employees to be constantly aware and vigilant and to do hazard identification and risk assessment on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, because South Africa’s OHS Act is underpinned by so many different and non-specific pieces of legislation, many companies lack an understanding of which laws they should comply with. It is also quite common for organisations to misunderstand risk assessment, meaning that it is often done superficially and fails to identify all existing risks. This in turn affects the quality of policies, procedures and training that are put in place.

Outsourced provider

This is where the services of an outsourced provider can make a real difference. A reputable and suitably accredited company can deliver training, assist with risk solutions, provide gap analysis and make recommendations to establish a holistic check system that ensures health and safety compliance.

A reputable provider that understands the legislative framework of the OHS Act can help organisations to highlight the key risks within their business and manage their liability. While many companies do not understand the impact of the law, professional training providers can guide them and partner with them on their journey to compliance.

No matter how far along the journey a company might be, partnering with a training provider can be beneficial. Even organisations that have a mature health and safety strategy in place should consider partnering with training providers that can continuously improve policies and procedures, as well as delivering customised programmes that will ensure a holistic journey.

KBCSA

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