Ensuring Occupational Health and Safety: Your Guide.

Table of Contents

It was estimated that we had 15.6 million employees in South Africa in 2022. Although the current status of employed people is not available for 2023, we can certainly accept the fact that this total has increased.

Having stated the above, we can conclude that health and safety plays a vital role in the workplace. One area of concern is workplace injuries which have a debilitating effect, not only on the mindset of workers, but also results in a drop in worker morale, thus leading to a decline in productivity, which ultimately stimulates an increase in incidents and accidents. 

The introduction of the Occupational Health and Safety Act of South Africa in June of 1993, brought about a significant change in the manner in which we practiced its predecessor’s principles: the Machinery and Occupational Safety Act, 1983 (Act no. 6 of 1983) 

What is occupational health and safety? The Occupational Health and Safety Act 1993 places emphases on the provision of the safety and health of persons in the workplace. Furthermore, it provides for the safe use of plant and machinery, through the establishment of safe work procedures and the compulsory maintenance of said plant and machinery. Likewise, it also provides for the protection of people, for example, visitors and contractors, who might be exposed to hazards arising out of the activities from people at work.

health and safety

Understanding Occupational Health and Safety (OHS)

The safety of workers cannot be classified as a “stand alone” objective enforced by management. There exists a host of additional criteria, which are required to achieve the safeguarding of workers. A few examples are:

  • Safety induction. 
  • Training and development of employees.
  • Applicable personal protective equipment. 
  • Safe work procedures. 
  • Risk assessment of the workplace.
  • Appointed safety officials to enforce health and safety. 
  • Reporting all incidents and accidents.

The purpose and objectives of the Occupational Health and Safety Act stipulates the legal framework that all employers must enforce in order to protect the well-being of workers and employees.

The Legal Framework

The three components of Occupational Health and Safety are Occupational Safety, Occupational Health and Industrial Hygiene. 

  • Occupational safety deals with the vast array of legal requirements to protect the worker.
  • Occupational health has a strong focus on the prevention of hazards.  
  • Occupational hygiene focuses on the identification, evaluation and control of workplace health hazards.

The core responsibilities of the employer are as follows.

  • Mitigate all hazards in the workplace.
  • Adherence of employees to the OHS Act. 
  • Compile and maintain various risk assessments
  • Training and development of employees as per legislation requirements 
  • Conduct regular health and safety meetings.  

The core responsibilities of the employees are as follows.

  • Obey all instructions given, as per legislative requirements. 
  • Wear and maintain personal protective equipment. 
  • Participate in all training as legislative requirements. 
  • Adhere to the company’s policy on the use of alcohol and drugs.
  • Report all incidents before the close of business. 

Compliance and Requirements

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 is a self-regulatory act. Hence the need for each company to self- regulate and implement “reasonably practicable” safety.

Each industry needs to extract sections of the various Acts, Standards and Regulations and compile unique policies, procedures and instructions, appropriate to their working environment. The laws and acts applicable to one industry might not be applicable to another. 


The Evolution of OHS Legislation

In 1974 the Wiehahn Commission made recommendations to parliament that there should be participatory dispensation for all parties and races in the economy. Furthermore, consultation and cooperation should take place between employers, trade unions and employees before changes were made or new developments introduced in the workplace.

In 1979 the Erasmus Commission stated that employers did little to promote occupational health and safety, and that occupational health and safety requirements outside of mining industry were limited. Furthermore, differential treatment of workers based on race, inconsistencies in regulatory framework. Its recommendations were that the government make sweeping change.

In 1983 the Machinery and Occupational Safety Act (MOSA) was introduced.  Noteworthy changes were the introduction of Occupational health and Occupational safety and hygiene. This Act was eventually revised to ensure the safety of all employees, which then resulted in the birth of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in 1993.

The objective of the OHS Act is to provide for the safety and health of persons at work and in connection with the use of plant and machinery. It further provides for the protection of people other than people at work from hazards arising out of or in connection with the activities of people at work.

Accessing Occupational Health and Safety Resources

The occupational health and safety act latest version pdf can be downloaded from the government website. Hard copies can be obtained at your local branch of the government printers at a reasonable cost. 

The Role of Employers and Employees

Although the OHS Act contains 50 sections, Section 8 and 14 are the most critical. 

Section 8 Summary:

  • Employers should ensure their employees are provided with the following:
  • Safe working environment.
  • Prevent hazardous exposure.
  • Risk management procedures.
  • Safe working procedures.
  • Correct training, information and supervision required.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Comply with the OHS Act.

Section 14 Summary:

Duties of employees include:

  • Comply with the OHS act 85 of 1993
  • Hazards are reported as soon as possible.
  • Their work does not negatively affect any other employees.
  • They report all incidents before the end of their workday.
  • Make proper use of all machinery, tools, substances, etc.
  • Wear the appropriate P.P.E for the various tasks at work. 

The Occupational Health and Safety Act South Africa states clearly that both employer and employee are obligated to adhere to the company’s internal policies and procedures. Therefore, it is vitally important that a cohesive working environment is promoted on a perpetual basis, 

health and safety act

Benefits of Prioritising Occupational Health and Safety

The advantages of prioritising OHS for both employers and employees include:

  • All changes to legislation that directly affects the manner in which work is performed, are filtered down to employees.
  • Reduction in incidents and accidents by way of regular toolbox talks, health and safety meetings and health and safety representatives performing regular site inspections. 
  • The adherence to standard operating procedures and safe work procedures. 

The key points in this blog can be summarized into one statement. Both employers and employees alike, have a legal and moral obligation to uphold the objectives as stipulated in the company’s health and safety policy. 

If one has to highlight a single aspect of all the information provided in this blog and the purpose of occupational health and safety act, it would be that we are employed not only to perform our daily work, but also to obey any legal instruction given to us during the course of hours of employment. Your peace of mind at work rests upon your ability to actively participate in your company’s health and safety programme. 

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