1. The Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employers to have a Health and Safety Policy in place
Section 7 of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act requires and thereby ensures that the employer provides and maintains a work environment that is free of OHS risks and at all times is a safe environment to employees. This part of the act the health and safety policy sets out and displays the employer’s commitment to OHS and a health and safety plan and minimum standards. However, employers have a right and are encouraged to set a higher OHS standard in their workplace. A company or government department’s health and safety policy displays and communicates general commitment, specific commitment, company rules and regulations, to achieve this health and safety policy goal and in so doing should prevent accidents, incidents and diseases occurring in the workplace.
An extract from the OHS Act 85 of 1993
Section 7 – Health and Safety policy
(1) The chief inspector may direct
(a) any employer in writing; and
(b) any category of employers, by notice in the Gazette, to prepare a written policy concerning the protection of the health and safety of his employees at work, including a description of his organisation and the arrangements for carrying out and reviewing that policy.
(2) Any direction under subsection (1) shall be accompanied by guidelines concerning the contents of the policy concerned.
(3) An employer shall prominently display a copy of the policy referred to in subsection (1), signed by the chief executive officer, in the workplace where his employees normally report for service.
2. What is a health and safety policy statement?
A health and safety policy statement is a written one page letter statement, where the Chief Executive Officer or Director commits to a set of principles and commitment towards health and safety in the workplace. An employer has a duty to provide a health and safe working environment for all employees, visitors, suppliers and the community. The health and safety policy dictates the company’s commitment to a health and safety plan which will promote and ensure Occupational Health and Safety Act compliance and a high standard of health and safety within the workplace.
A copy of the health and safety statement must be signed by the CEO, framed and displayed in the company’s reception area, where employees report for work, as stated in Section 7 of the OHS Act above. This policy statement is displayed for all people to see and in so doing the CEO and Directors have to adhere.
3. What is a health and safety plan?
A health and safety plan is a detailed plan that is developed by the company with input from the employer, employees or their representatives and OHS subject matter experts or consultants, which will ensure that the company is OHS Act compliant. This written document will detail all the health and safety policy’s, procedure, commitment and structure and preventative measures that must be implemented within the company, in the interests of health and safety. The health and safety plan needs to be in line with and meet legislative requirement and accepted health and safety in the workplace general standards. It must also be adhered to by all the company or departments employees.
Implementing the right policy and plan wording
Health and safety policy wording should be constructive, easily understandable and well communicated. The key to an effective health and safety policy and system is well and clear communication both up and down the organizational structure and ranks. Some employees may have a problem with literacy and may act like they do understand roles, responsibilities and company requirements laid out in the interests of implementing a successful health and safety plan, when they actually don’t. The risk of not understanding or not paying attention to policy wording may result in noncompliance, increased risks and place everyone in the organization at risk.
Management and employee commitment to a safety policy and plan
The company’s OHS Committee, with representation from both management and employees, will form a pivotal role in guiding, implementing and successfully managing health and safety within the company or department. The OHS committee and its members can communicate to employees and inform them of the positive progress and impact the company or department is achieving in the interests of their and all other employees health and safety.
Before the OHS Act came into force in South Africa, the Factory Act held factory engineers responsible for safety in the workplace. However, the Act became ineffective as the senior management of many businesses did not commit to implementing it.
The Machinery and Occupational Safety Act 6 of 1983 made the CEO responsible for safety, but without “buy-in” or commitment from employees this Act also became difficult to implement successfully.
South Africa now has the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993, which holds all employees (management, employees and even suppliers) responsible for OHS. The health and safety policy and health and safety plan can be a mechanism and means of communicating directly or through the OHS committee to all employees within the organization.
Section 14 of the OHS Act clearly dictates that employees have a responsibility to the OHS Act and similarly the organizations health and safety policy documents and plan.
THE OHS ACT SECTION 14
General duties of employees at work
Every employee shall at work-
- take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions;
- as regards any duty or requirement imposed on his employer or any other person by this Act, co-operate with such employer or person to enable that duty or requirement to be performed or complied with;
- carry out any lawful order given to him, and obey the health and safety rules and procedures laid down by his employer or by anyone authorized thereto by his employer, in the interest of health or safety;
- if any situation which is unsafe or unhealthy comes to his attention, as soon as practicable report such situation to his employer or to the health and safety representative for his workplace or section thereof, as the case may be, who shall report it to the employer; and
- if he is involved in any incident which may affect his health or which has caused an injury to himself, report such incident to his employer or to anyone authorized thereto by the employer, or to his health and safety representative, as soon as practicable but not later than the end of the particular shift during which the incident occurred, unless the circumstances were such that the reporting of the incident was not possible, in which case he shall report the incident as soon as practicable thereafter.
Section 14 states that all employees are also re responsible for their own health and safety and that they should take reasonable care of those around them. It also makes provision for the employee to co-operate with the employers requirements set out in terms of health and safety policy. It is therefore the responsibility of the employee to obey all lawful instructions or rules that are implemented in the interest of H&S for the benefit of all employees.
What to include in a health and safety policy statement or document
The health and safety policy statement defines the employer’s commitment to a safe working environment for all of their employees. The policy statement and plan should include the following:
– How to remove, minimize or control risks
– Discuss the consultation process between employer and employee
– Discuss how employee supervision will be implemented
– Discuss systems to continuously train and update employees on latest health and safety trends and technology
– Discuss how the working environment will continuously be monitored in order to ensure a healthy and safe work space
– Discuss control measures to review and update the current health and safety policy
Display the company’s commitment to financial, human resource, technology and management resources
4. The importance of health and safety in the workplace
It is important to have a proactive health and safety plan and program in the workplace, which must have representatives supplied by both the employer and its employees. Without representation from both employer and employees, the health and safety plan might well fail or not be effective. The health and safety policy must clearly display the importance of involvement by both parties. With OHS committee representation from both parties, the OHS Supervisors (employer) and OHS representatives (employees), this committee will be one of the primary driving forces of successful health and safety plan implementation within the organization. Suitable OHS supervisors need to be selected, to ensure that a positive culture and correct member dynamic exists within the OHS committee, as the success of the health and safety policy and health and safety plan is largely dependent on the OHS committee members. A team approach is required so the OHS supervisors and OHS representatives must work together to drive and create a positive, no-blame, interactive and effective OHS committee structure and culture. The rest of the organizations management structure that are not actively involved in the OHS committee must provide the necessary support to ensure its success.
Employers have a duty to ensure workplace safety and it is the responsibility of all employees to assist management in maintaining a health and safety plan and programme that:
- Protects all persons from injury, illness, disability or death;
- Prevents damage to organizations assets and the general environment;
- Prevents exposure to unnecessary occupational illness;
- Prevents unexpected fires and accidents;
- Prevents unnecessary financial loss.
5. OHS Act and health and safety policy compliance and the repercussions of non-compliance
It is every employer and employee’s responsibility to comply with the OHS Act as far as reasonably practicable. Failure by the employer, as well as the employee, to comply with OHS Act and its requirements makes them potentially and possibly liable for criminal prosecution in a court of law.
The type, nature, intention and severity of the contravention will determine the extent of the prosecution. In instances where fatalities or extensive loss or damage to property were experienced, the Department of Labour Inspectors investigate the scene or incident, compile a report and submit this to the Attorney General, who then decides whether to prosecute or not. Anyone, employer as well as employee, who breaks the OHS Act law is criminally liable. If convicted punishment can include hefty fines and even imprisonment or both!