Occupational Health and Safety Act Summary

Table of Contents

NOTE: This Occupational Health and Safety act summary was written in the interest of the health and safety of workers in South Africa and is not intended as a substitute for the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993. It is intended to explain the Act in simple, non-legal terms to all the role players in the South African occupational health and safety field. Please refer to the full Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act, No. 181 Of 1993 in addition to this Occupational Health and Safety act summary

The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993, states that employers should establish and maintain, as much as reasonably responsible, a work environment that is safe and does not pose a risk to the health of employees. All employees, including members of management, can benefit from an Occupational Health and Safety act summary. The act is a lengthy document and may be difficult to fully understand, but it’s important that the OHS Act is understood by as many employees within the company as possible, especially management.

If you don’t understand a good summary of health and safety in the workplace South Africa, how is the company able to enforce it? And how can you be assured that the company is compliant? 

OHS Act Background

The Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act 85 of 1993 is the law that seeks to protect the well-being of workers. The OHS Act is enforced by the Department of Labour, whose inspectors may:

  •       Enter any workplace without prior notice;
  •       Request any document;
  •       Inspect any condition, process, plant or article;
  •       Take samples or seize any article;
  •       Question or summon any person within the workplace.

The main aim is to ensure the health and safety of employees at work and aims to protect people other than those employees at a workplace, from hazards arising out of or in connection with the activities of the employees at the workplace.

It can be said that the Occupational Health and Safety Act is a pro-active attempt by the government to prevent and avoid work-related injuries and illnesses. The Act governs the health and safety regulations for the diverse industry of South Africa. It regulates and controls workplace health and safety in all organisations, from a normal office environment to more hazardous environments like industrial plants and construction sites.

Sections of the OHS Act

South Africa now has the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993, which has 50 sections (each has rules and regulations) and 22 regulations.

Section 1: Definitions, classification and exclusions

Section 2: Establishment of Advisory Council for Occupational Health and Safety

Section 3: Functions of Council

Section 4: Constitution of Council

Section 5: Period of office and remuneration of members of Council

Section 6: Establishment of technical committees of Council

Section 7: Health and safety policy

Section 8: General duties of employers to their employees

Section 9: General duties of employers and self-employed persons to persons other than their employees

Section 10: General duties of manufacturers and others regarding articles and substances for use at work

Section 11: Listed work

Section 12: General duties of employers regarding listed work

Section 13: Duty to inform

Section 14: General duties of employees at work

Section 15: Duty not to interfere with, damage, or misuse things

Section 16: Chief executive officer charged with certain duties

Section 17: Health and safety representatives

Section 18: Functions of health and safety representatives

Section 19: Health and safety committees

Section 20: Functions of health and safety committees

Section 21: General prohibitions

Section 22: Sale of certain articles prohibited

Section 23: Certain deductions prohibited

Section 24: Report to inspector regarding certain incidents

Section 25: Report to chief inspector regarding occupational disease

Section 26: Victimisation forbidden

Section 27: Designation and functions of the chief inspector

Section 28: Designation of inspectors by Minister

Section 29: Functions of inspectors

Section 30: Special powers of inspectors

Section 31: Investigations

Section 32: Formal inquiries

Section 35: Appeal against decision of the inspector

Section 36: Disclosure of information

Section 37: Acts or omissions by employees or mandataries

Section 38: Offences, penalties and special orders of the court

Section 39: Proof of certain facts

Section 40: Exemptions

Section 41: This Act not affected by agreements

Section 42: Delegation and assignment of functions

Section 43: Regulations

Section 44: Incorporation of health and safety standards in regulations

Section 45: Serving of notices

Section 46: Jurisdiction of magistrates’ courts

Section 47: State bound

Section 48: Conflict of provisions

Section 49: Repeal of laws

Section 50: Short title and commencement

The sections of the OHS Act that have been bolded above, are of particular importance and are applicable to our company.

Important things to know: An Occupational Health and Safety act summary 

What responsibilities do Employers Have?

Health and Safety Policy statement

The chief inspector may direct certain employers to prepare a list of health and safety regulations in the workplace, which is a written policy concerning the protection of the health and safety of their employees at work. This policy must:

  •       Describe the organisation
  •       Convey how the health and safety policy will be carried out and reviewed
  •       Contain guidelines concerning the contents of the health and safety policy concerned
  •       Be prominently displayed where the employer’s employees normally report for duty.

Duties of employers to provide a safe working environment

Section 8 Duties of employers, is one of the most important sections of the Act and successful implementation of it will ensure that the company has dealt with and addressed most of its requirements and is adhering to government health and safety regulations.

The responsibility of employers to provide a safe working environment that is without risk to the health and safety of its employees is very clear. This section also encourages employers to evaluate working areas and carry out risk assessments and regular health and safety inspections.

The employer must evaluate all work, activities, and systems of work that could present potential risks for and to the company’s employees. This section also directs employers to provide and establish precautionary measures and systems to prevent workplace injuries. It also mentions “supervision”.

The appointed health and safety supervisor carries out the role of supervision, as well as representing the employer and management at health and safety committee meetings and in an overall health and safety capacity.

Inform employees

An important point to make is that the purpose of this Occupational Health and Safety act summary is to show that employers are responsible for ensuring that all employees clearly understand the potential risks and hazards present in the workplace. OHS act communication is critical and health and safety must be communicated to all employees. This can be achieved through toolbox talks, communication notice boards, newsletters, and the company intranet.

Report incidents

If a person is injured or becomes ill, the employer must notify the Department of Labour. If any high-risk hazards present themselves (such as a chemical spill) the employer must report this as well. The Department of Labour will investigate the incidents and hazards and ensure that all employers and employees have done their best to abide by the OHS Act and try to prevent the incident from occurring. Where negligence is present, then that person could be held criminally liable for their actions or lack thereof.

What responsibilities do Employees Have?

Employees are also responsible for their own health and safety and they should take reasonable care of those around them as well. Employees are to co-operate with any requirements set out in terms of health and safety, but the employer cannot expect co-operation if working conditions are unsafe. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the employee to obey all lawful instructions or rules that are implemented for the benefit of all employees.

Occupational health and safety act summary

What are the main objectives of the occupational health and safety Act?

The purpose of the occupational health and safety act is to protect the health and safety of workers while operating machinery or performing their duties as appointed by their employers as well as protecting those around them against any health or safety hazards that may rise from the production process.

What are the four basic rights of the Occupational Health and Safety Act?

  1. the right to participate in health and safety.
  2. the right to know about the hazards in the workplace
  3. the right to refuse unsafe work
  4. the right to no retaliation for raising OHS concerns.

What is the process of OHS Inspections?

The process of OHS Inspections include measuring, testing, examining, or gauging the features of a process or product.

In an OHS compliant working environment you’ll find that unsafe conditions are always reported, good housekeeping is practised because all the workstations are kept clean, employees wear PPE at all times where necessary, the company keeps up to date with new procedures or protocols and also offers guidance to new employees.

Who must comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act?

The OHS Act is very clear that everyone must comply with all health and safety rules for the benefit of everyone. Where there is non-compliance to the act, inspectors from the Department of Labour (DoL) can serve notices.

The OHS Act is enforced by the DoL whose inspector can enter any workplace during the normal working hours without previous notice.

General Safety Regulation deals with the safety of workers while performing their duties. During any time of work, whether using machinery, working from an elevated platform or scaffolding, hot works or even working in a confined space, the work environment must be safe for the workers. It also prohibits any person who is or who appears to be under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs to enter or remain at the workplace for the safety of everyone on site.

The workplace health and safety is the responsibility of everyone in the workplace. Once the employer has provided the employees with a safe working environment then it becomes their responsibility to keep it safe. Any unhealthy or unsafe situation that comes to their attention needs to be reported to the employer or anyone authorised thereto by the employer. 

3 Tips for OHS Compliance

There are 23 regulations in the OHS Act of which some are general and others are specific to certain industries.

The employer and employees need to be proactive by performing the workplace inspections to be able to pick up hazards before it can cause harm and control it.

For a healthy and safe workplace, they must eliminate, mitigate or control hazardous exposure and train the employees where needed. Employers working together with employees to maintain a safe working environment increases production and helps to build a culture of health and safety at work.

Prioritise Workplace Safety

Download our free Workplace Safety Checklist now and take the first step towards a safer, more secure work environment