Health and Safety
The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) was instituted in 1994 in South Africa. The OHSA gives workers some rights in health and safety in the workplace. It tells management to set up safety representatives and safety committees in the workplace.
The regulations in the Act give guidelines on things such as toilets, change rooms, first aid, drinking water, washing facilities, protective clothing, machinery, stacking and packing, ladders, fire, ventilation, lighting, temperature, noise and asbestos. Inspectors have wide powers in terms of the Act to make sure that employers and workers follow the Act.
Who does the OHSA cover?
The Act excludes workers in mines and on ships, where other laws apply. The OHSA covers all other workers, including farm workers, domestic workers and state workers.
What are the workers' duties?
Workers must take reasonable precautions over their own health and safety at work. They must follow any precautions and rules about safety and health. They must report any unsafe circumstances or accidents as soon as possible, to the safety representative. Anyone who acts in a reckless way or damages any safety measures can be charged. Also, if the worker does this damage on purpose, then the employer can claim damages from him/her.
What are the employer's duties?
The employer must make sure that the workplace is safe and healthy, and must not allow any worker to do work that is potentially dangerous. The worker must know what the dangers of the work are. But it is always the employer who decides what is a threat to workers' safety.
The general duties of the employer are to:
- Choose safety representatives
- Consult with the workers' organisation about the safety representatives
- Inform workers 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 workers who use dangerous machines and materials, to make sure they know the safety precautions
- Prevent workers 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
- Make sure that somebody who knows the work is supervising the operations to ensure the safety of workers
- Keep the workplace open so that workers can escape from danger if necessary
- Not move any evidence of an accident before an inspector has given permission, unless someone has been badly injured and needs treatment.
The Chief Inspector can ask any employer for a report of safety precautions.
Can a worker be punished for complaining about safety conditions?
No. An employer cannot take action against any workers who:
- Give information about their conditions at work
- Give evidence in court about their conditions at work
- Respond to any requests by an inspector
- Refuse 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 in the workplace. 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 workers. There must be at least one representative for every 50 workers. The employer must explain to the workers' organisation what responsibilities the safety representatives will have and how the representatives will be selected.
And safety committees?
In every workplace where there are two or more safety representatives, there must also be a safety committee. This committee must meet at least every three months. The committee must deal with all safety and health issues that affect workers. The safety committees have certain functions and powers. You can find out more about these by contacting the Department of Labour.
How is the OHSA enforced?
The OHSA 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 breaking 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.
If a worker is hurt as a result of the employer not following a safety regulation, then the employer can be fined up to R100 000 and/or two years in prison.