Running a successful business involves many challenges to ensure economic viability, but one aspect that cannot be overlooked is compliance with health and safety regulations in the workplace.
Health and safety regulations explained
The law outlining regulations in South Africa is the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS), Act 85 of 1993. This regulation requires the employer to provide and maintain, as far as reasonable and practical, a work environment that is safe and without risk to the health of employees.
The OHS Act is a self-regulatory act as it would be very difficult for the Department of Labour to police and enforce the Act at every in industrial, retail and commercial organisation countrywide. Effectively, it is the duty of both the employer and the employees to take responsibility for health and safety issues in the workplace.
Health and safety policies
The OHS Act achieves self-regulation by requiring business owners to develop effective workplace policies and procedures (Section 7) and implement these for regulatory compliance. The Act requires commitment from the employer and employee to ensure that these policies are properly applied through the establishment of health and safety committees and representatives.
Compliance with health and safety
To remain on the right side of the law while ensuring the safety of all employees means constantly monitoring policy implementation and picking up on areas of weakness. Prevention is the best defence in terms of legal and moral obligations, and while some areas of concern are obvious – heavy machinery, toxic chemicals, noise issues – there are others that could be overlooked.
- Monitor health-related absence
By keeping an eye on sick leave, it is possible to identify possible work-related health problems such as back pain caused by types of machinery or ill health related to the atmospheric pollution.
- Contact with employees
Through health and safety committees, employers are able to keep communication lines open with employees to determine whether there are any health hazards in the workplace.
- Manage all risk
If any risk is identified, every effort must be made to mitigate the risk, whether it is removing it completely or implementing necessary protective clothing and equipment.
Health and safety responsibilities
1. Employer: all risk must be assessed and necessary health and safety policies implemented, enforced and updated where needed. Even where employees suffer ill health outside the workplace, if this could be exacerbated in the workplace, then measures must be taken to manage this.
2. Employees: by following all health and safety rules and precautions, the employee also bears responsibility for his or her own safety and also looking out for the safety of co-workers. They must report any unsafe circumstances or accidents as soon as possible to the safety representative. Anyone who acts recklessly or defies health and safety regulations is liable.
Health and safety penalties
Non-compliance with the OHS Act range from corrective measures such as a warning or fine to more severe penalties, including shutting down premises or jail time for a company owner.
The following actions contribute to non-compliance penalties, according to Section 38 of the OHSA:
- Failing to comply with the provisions of sections 7 up to section 36
- Furnishing false and misleading information
- Obstructing an inspector from performing his duties
- Failure to comply with requirements or request made by an inspector
- Misuse of safety equipment installed
Health and safety inspections
Because there are so many different risks associated with health and safety in the industrial, retail or commercial workspace, there are organisations that will provide health and safety inspections and training to ensure you are fully compliant. A comprehensive health and safety inspection will check, among other things:
- First aid box contents
- Fire equipment
- Safety and emergency signage
- Stacking and Storage
- DB Boards
It’s imperative that all measures are taken to ensure compliance with the OHS Act – this is both a legal and moral obligation of every employer and employee.
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