The Occupational Health and Safety Act of South Africa
You have the right to work in a healthy and safe environment, and this is protected by the Occupational Health and Safety Act of South Africa. It is in the constitution, which means that workplaces are legally obligated to ensure that their work premises are up to a certain standard and that there are no hazardous areas on the premises for which you aren’t prepared.
Even those of us who have ‘high-risk’ jobs still need to have certain assurances to which our workplaces adhere.
Below is some information about Health and Safety policies at work in South Africa. Let’s look at the occupational health and safety laws, the health and safety at work act, and health and safety regulations.
What Is The Health and Safety Act?
The Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993 (Act 85, 1993) consists of 50 sections approved by Parliament, explains Labour.Gov. The Act was introduced by the Inspections and Enforcement Services Branch: Occupational Health and Safety of the Department of Labour to ensure the proper treatment of staff, especially regarding employers taking the appropriate safety precautions on site.
The Act protects those who work in construction and high-risk occupations like mining but also refers to office environments and suburban businesses.
To familiarise yourself with the Act, the Act and Regulations can be purchased from the Government Printer in Gazette format or bound format from various publishers.
The Act stipulates that employers are to:
- Create a healthy work environment that is safe and as low-risk as possible.
- Ensure the workplace is free of hazardous substances
- Prohibit any illegal chemicals or dangerous machinery on site without supervision.
- Inform workers of any potential threats and dangers
- Train workers on injury and death prevention in accordance with the job description.
- When necessary, provide protective measures for a safe workplace, including safety gear and tools.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) was instituted in South Africa to make sure that company management set up safety representatives and safety committees and gives guidelines on more regular, day-to-day workplace facilities like toilets, change rooms, first aid kits, sanitary drinking water, stacking and packing, ladders, and fire precautions, adequate ventilation, proper lighting and temperature and more.
Additionally, employers are to:
- Intermittently consult with the workers’ organisation about the safety representatives.
- Update workers of any dangers in the workplace or changes that occur in this regard.
- Ensure that high-risk, dangerous machinery is in good working condition at all times.
- Make sure that there is signage around a plant or depot to highlight dangerous sections.
- Make sure that the supervisor of the job is adequately qualified and trained to manage staff in the operations to ensure the safety of workers.
- Maintain the legal amount of escapes and ventilations
- Not hide any evidence of an accident before an inspector has investigated.
Yes, There Should Be Annual Inspections At Your Work
A qualified Health and Safety Officer inspection is imperative in maintaining the company’s safety standards. It doesn’t only protect you against workplace accidents but also refers to hygiene and avoiding the spread of dangerous diseases. For example, the COVID precautions were an addition to the health and safety practices at work. Businesses were legally obligated to have sanitisation stations proportionate to the number of workers at the company and socially distanced workstations. If a company did not adhere to these new rules, it would be in breach of the law.
Inspectors have the power in terms of the Act to make sure that employers and workers follow the Act.
Inspections are mostly planned based on accident statistics or the presence of toxic substances, such as benzene in laundries or any dangerous machinery used in the workplace, the site continues.
If you feel unsafe in the workplace, you can lay a complaint through the proper channels in your industry, and a spot inspection can be done without giving the business owners any prior notice.
The Chief Inspector can ask any employer for a report of safety precautions.
Remember, you cannot be punished for speaking up and reporting bad Health and Safety practices:
- Always give as much information as needed by the inspector
- Be upfront about any evidence about working conditions if necessary, especially in court.
- Refuse to do anything that is against the law
If the inspector finds any contraventions of the Act, they can:
- Issue a Prohibition notice, which stops work at the premises immediately until the threat is neutralised.
- Issue a Contravention notice which can result in immediate prosecution. Still, in the case of an infringement of regulation, the employer may be allowed to correct the contravention within a specific time limit.
- Issue a Direction notice that may require the employer to take more effective measures.
Do Workers Also Have A Responsibility To Uphold The Law?
Yes, 100%. When at the office or on-site, you need to adhere to the precautions put in place by your employer so that you keep yourself and your coworkers safe.
It is also the workforce’s responsibility to report any unsafe areas or practices. Going against the Health and Safety act or witnessing a violation and not reporting it is a crime – Anyone who acts recklessly or damages any safety measures can be charged, My Way explains.
Also, if an employee acts recklessly and causes damage on purpose, the employer can legally claim damages from them.
Alternatively, if a worker is hurt due to the employer not following a safety regulation, the employer can be fined up to R100 000 and two years in prison.
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