It is important to have a proactive Health and Safety programme in the workplace, with representatives supplied by both the employer and its employees. Employers have a duty and an obligation to provide a safe working environment according to Section 8 of the Occupational Health and Safety (OSHA) Act. It is the responsibility of the CEO, Managers and Health and Safety Supervisor to enforce and support a Health and Safety programme in the workplace which is aimed at:
- Protecting employees, contractors and visitors from injury, illness, disability or death;
- Preventing damage to company assets and the environment;
- Preventing exposure to unnecessary occupational illnesses or diseases;
- Preventing unexpected fires and accidents;
- Preventing unnecessary financial loss.
What is OSHA compliance?
The OHS Act outlines all the requirements and responsibilities of employers and employees.
OSHA compliance means adhering to all applicable regulations and sections of the ohs act. The reason for being OSHA compliant is to keep the workplace safe and reduce the number of incidents and accidents. The ohs act is applicable to all industries which includes both private and public entities. Failing to be compliant with the OSHA could see employers receiving fines, having their businesses closed, imprisonment or a combination of all of these!
Who is the employer as defined in the OHS Act?
According to the dictionary an employer is a person who provides work to another person. This can be divided into 2 definitions:
- If you undertake to pay another person for services provided, you are considered the employer. This does not have to be payment in money, nor does it have to be paid to the person directly. Using an employee through a placement agency would be a good example of indirect payment;
- A person who gives instructions or supervises the work of another person is also seen as the employer. An example of this can be found in the OSHA 16(4), the head of department of any department of State shall be deemed the be the chief executive officer (or employer) of that department.
All employers as per the above definitions has a responsibility to their employees, contractors, visitors, the surrounding community and to the environment to ensure safe working conditions!
How can employers comply with OSHA requirements?
It is not difficult to comply with the OSHA when there is a proactive health and safety programme in the workplace which is backed by the employer and positively accepted by the employees. Creating a positive safety culture in the workplace is important for continued compliance. There are a few important Sections of the OSHA which the employer must adhere to comply and they will be discussed below.
Section 8 of the ohs act outlines employer responsibilities and requires them to:
- Create a workplace that is safe and free of hazards as far as is reasonably practicable;
- Ensure safe systems of work which is without risk to employees;
- Ensure that all hazards are identified and eliminated or reduced before resorting to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). PPE needs to be provided at no cost to employees and must offer adequate protection and fit properly;
- Ensure that information, instructions, training and supervision is required to employees which may be needed to ensure a safe working environment;
- Ensures that no employee undertakes work unless precautionary measures have been implemented;
- Enforces and ensures that all employees comply with the conditions of the OSHA;
- Enforces necessary measures to ensure health & safety;
- Undertakes to ensure that work is performed under the supervision of a trained person with relevant experience and understanding of the risks involved, and who has the authority to ensure that precautionary measures are implemented.
Section 9 and 10 of the OSHA outlines the responsibilities of employers to people who are not their employees, and requires them to conduct their undertaking without exposing people outside their employ to be exposed to hazards which could harm their health and safety. Section 13 of the OHSA outlines the duties of the employer regarding informing employees of hazards that might be associated with work to be performed. Employers also have to inform health and safety representatives of inspections, investigations or formal inquiries by the Inspector.
Section 19 of the OSHA discusses the health and safety committees that must be present when there are two or more health and safety representatives appointed in the workplace. This means when there are more than 100 employees in an office type workplace or more than 50 employees in any other type of workplace. Section 24 of the OSHA indicates which incidents occurring in the workplace must be reported to the Inspector. Not all incidents and accidents have to be reported, but failing to report certain incidents and accidents could result in severe penalties to the employer!
Why OSHA requirements must be followed?
OSHA plays a crucial role in ensuring a safe working environment for all employees, contractors and visitors. OSHA compliance will also ensure a good company reputation for their safety initiatives. Employees who are working in a risk-free environment are also more motivated which will result in increased production and decreased losses due to incidents and accidents which in the end means increased company profits!
Employers that do not carefully and continuously follow ohs act requirements could face fines of up to R100 000.00, imprisonment of up to 2 years or both! Should a person/s loose their lives due to employer non-compliance then the employer could also face culpable homicide charges which could result in much longer prison sentences depending on the level of negligence! Unsafe undertakings can also be permanently closed by the Department of Labour Inspectors if employees are not actively enforcing OSHA requirements! The cost of OSHA compliance is an investment in any business as well as in the well-being of their employees, this is also much cheaper than facing the consequences of non-compliance!
We suggest that employers make an effort to educate themselves on the requirements of the OSHA even if it is just a basic 16.2 Workshop.