Who is a Health & Safety Representative?
A Health & Safety Representative, also known as a SHE Rep, is a person who is appointed in the workplace to represent his/her fellow employees to ensure that all risks and hazards are identified and dealt with as far as reasonably practicable. The Health & Safety Representative consults with and make representation to the employer in the Health and Safety Committee on all safety, health and welfare matters which may affect employees as well as any other person/s who may be affected by the work undertaken in a specific workplace. Section 17 and 18 of the Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) Act deals with the SHE Rep appointments and their Functions in the workplace.
Who is eligible to be a SHE Rep and how many are needed?
According to Section 17(4) of the OHS Act, employees need to be employed in a full time position, and acquainted with the conditions and activities (risk and hazards involved) in their specific work areas. The designation has to be done in writing and an agreed upon period must be reached between the employer and the Health & Safety Representative. An employer can’t simply appoint any employee as the Health and Safety Representative, or employ a new employee to fulfil this role as this position has to go through a nomination process.
When an employer employs more than 20 employees he needs to appoint 1 SHE Rep for every group of 50 employees for general industry and 1:100 for shops and offices. The Mine Health and Safety Act 29 of 1996 Section 25(1) requires that every mine with more than 20 employees appoint a Health & Safety Representative for each shift at each designated working place at the mine.
How does the appointment process work?
According to the General Administrative Regulations Section 6 in the Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) Act the employer must meet with the registered trade unions when a Health & Safety Representative needs to be appointed. If there is no registered trade union then the employer shall enter into consolidation with the employees of that workplace to conclude an agreement about the following:
- The nomination or election process of the SHE Rep
- The terms of office and the prescribed manner in which they can be removed, should they fail in their responsibilities;
- The manner in which vacancies will be filled;
- The manner in which Health & Safety Representative must perform their functions as per the OHS Act;
- The facilities, training and assistance that must be provided in order for the Health & Safety Representative to complete his/her functions as per Section 18 of the OHS Act.
Why must Health & Safety Representative be appointed by a nomination process?
The SHE Rep appointment does not come with increased remuneration and the position should be filled by someone who would fulfil the function out of general interest in health and safety as well as someone who is respected by his/her fellow employees. When employees nominate this person they would usually choose someone that they look up to or respect and would therefore have no/little issues in taking instructions from them in the interest of health and safety. It is important to remember that just because an individual has been nominated does not mean that he/she has to fulfil the function, because the individual still needs to accept the nomination.
The Functions of Health and Safety Representatives
According to Section 18 of the OHS Act the following are the responsibilities of the SHE Rep:
- A SHE Rep may:
- Review the effectiveness of health and safety measures in the workspace for which he/she was appointed;
- Identify potential hazards in the workplace;
- Examine the causes of incidents;
- Investigate employee complaints regarding health and safety;
- Make representations to the employer regarding health and safety, and if successful, to an inspector;
- Accompany inspectors on inspections and participate in consultations with the inspectors;
- Receive information from inspectors as per Section 36 of the OHS Act;
- Attend meetings for the health and safety committee of which he/she is a member.
- A Health & Safety Representative has the right to:
- Visit the site of an incident at all reasonable times and attend an inspection at the site of the incident;
- Attend any investigation or formal enquiry;
- Inspect documents kept by the employer in terms of the OHS Act, in order to perform his/her functions;
- Accompany an inspector on any inspection;
- With the approval of the employer, be accompanied by a technical adviser on any inspection;
- Participate in any internal health and safety audit.
When should a Health & Safety Representative Carry out their Functions and What Training is Required?
All activities in connection with the designation, function and training of the SHE Rep must be completed during normal working hours. An employer can’t expect a representative to complete his/her functions after hours, or deduct leave days for attending accredited training.
The Health and Safety Representative course covers the basic information a SHE Rep needs to fulfil their functions. However additional training courses which includes Incident Investigation and HIRA as well as training highlighting specific workplace risk and hazards e.g. Stacking & Storage, HAZMAT and Snake Identification, Handling and Snakebite Treatment courses would assist greatly in undertaking their functions accurately.
Can a Health & Safety Representative Incur any Civil Liability?
According to Section 18(4) of the OHS Act a SHE Rep can not incur any civil liability if he/she fails to do anything that is required in terms of the OHS Act. The Health & Safety Representative can therefore not be sued for acting negligently in performing his/her functions as described in the OHS Act.
Remember that this exclusion only applies to the functions of the Health & Safety Representative. Should he/she cause an accident or incident outside the scope of his/her capacity then he/she could still be held criminally and civilly liable.