In South Africa the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993, requires the employer to bring about and maintain, as far as reasonably practicable, a work environment that is safe and without risk to the health of the workers. This means that the employer must ensure that the workplace is free of hazardous substances, such as benzene, chlorine and micro organisms, articles, equipment, processes, etc. that may cause injury, damage or disease. Where this is not possible, the employer must inform workers of these dangers, how they may be prevented, and how to work safely, and provide other protective measures for a safe workplace.
However, it is not expected of the employer to take sole responsibility for health and safety. The OHS Act is based on the principle that dangers in the workplace must be addressed by communication and cooperation between the workers and the employer. The workers and the employer must share the responsibility for health and safety in the workplace. Both parties must pro-actively identify dangers and develop control measures to make the workplace safe. In this way, the employer and the workers are involved in a system where health and safety representatives may inspect the workplace regularly and then report to a health and safety committee, who in turn may submit recommendations to the employer.
To ensure that these duties are complied with, the employer must:
- identify potential hazards which may be present while work is being done, something is being produced, processed, used, stored or transported, and any equipment is being used
- establish the precautionary measures that are necessary to protect his or her workers against the identified hazards and provide the means to implement these precautionary measures
- provide the necessary information, instructions, training and supervision while keeping the extent of workers' competence in mind. In other words, what they may do and may not do
- not permit anyone to carry on with any task unless the necessary precautionary measures have been taken
- take steps to ensure that every person under his or her control complies with the requirements of the Act
- enforce the necessary control measures in the interest of health and safety
- see to it that the work being done and the equipment used, is under the general supervision of a worker who has been trained to understand the hazards associated with the work
- Such a worker must ensure that the precautionary measures are implemented and maintained.
As we celebrate World Health and Safety day on 28th April, it is of importance that both the employers and employees remind themselves about the OHS act and about the rights that they have at their workplaces in terms of provision of health and safety services. One life lost due to lack of knowledge is one life too many. Let’s celebrate health and safety at work. Knowledge is power!
See the hazards and resultant accidents associated with Healthcare, Education, Food, Hospitality Industries and the Construction and Building Industries
Information adapted from the Shattered Lives Campaign from the HSE website.