Companies and organizations must confirm their commitment in establishing and maintaining a high level and standard of Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS) compliance. This is achieved through health and safety support from the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), the management team and broader employee base.
In this comprehensive health and safety guide, we will assist you to learn more about the OHS Act, sections and regulations in the act, employer and employee responsibilities.
This health and safety guide is aimed at assisting you in becoming OHS act compliant in South Africa.
Table of Contents
Occupational Health and Safety Act explained
The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS) 85 of 1993 is the law that seeks to protect the well-being and health and safety of all employees. 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 Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993, has 50 sections (each has rules and requirements) and 22 regulations:
Some are general and apply to everyone and all businesses and industries such as:
- General administration regulations;
- General safety regulation;
- Facilities regulations;
- Environmental regulations for the workplace.
Some are specific and apply to certain and specific industries, such as:
- Asbestos regulations;
- Lead regulations;
- Diving regulations.
One of the principles of the current OHS Act includes “self-regulation”. This means that the employer must decide what will be done to provide and maintain a workplace that is safe and without risk to its employees. When dealing with hazards, the employer must do one or all of the following:
- Eliminate hazards;
- Control hazards;
- Mitigate hazards.
As part of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, an employer must also be “reasonably practicable”. This means that the Department of Labour (DoL) inspectors and employers must be reasonable in their judgement, interpretation and implementation of the Act. This involves determining:
- The realistic scope and severity of a pending hazard;
- The means and methods of implementing or conforming to the Act;
- The cost factors involved.
There are 50 different Sections of the OHS Act and these sections apply to all businesses and industries, listed below are the Sections that are applicable to most industries:
- 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 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 23: Certain deductions prohibited
- Section 24: Report to inspector regarding certain incidents
- Section 26: Victimization forbidden
- Section 35: Appeal against decision of inspector
- Section 37: Acts or omissions by employees or mandataries
- Section 38: Offences, penalties and special orders of court
- Section 41: This Act not affected by agreements
The Chief Executive Officer must ensure that the Occupational Health and Safety Act is adhered to by the company and that the management team assists the CEO in achieving this important compliance objective.
All employees are responsible for ensuring the OHS wellbeing of themselves and their fellow employees and are to co-operate and adhere to the requirements set out in the OHS Act. As per Section 14 – ‘General duties of employees at work” it is the responsibility of every employee to obey all instructions or rules that are implemented in the interest of health and safety.
The Importance of being OHS Compliant
Lynne Proude, Human Resources Director of MASA Outsourcing, speaks about why being OHS compliant is so vital. She says, “Health and Safety is a critical but often overlooked element of Human Resources.”
As an HR Manager you are the conscience of the business and are responsible to balance the needs and interests of employees with that of the company. Employees spend the majority of their time at work and whilst at work, HR Managers need to ensure that the welfare of their employees is paramount and that legislation is complied with.
Failure to comply has serious consequences for both the business and CEO’s in a personal capacity, because serious incidents and fatalities could result in the CEO’s receiving a fine and spending up to 2 years in prison if found to be negligent and responsible.
It is essential to create a safety first workplace culture and involve everyone, from the shop floor right to the top.
When employees believe they are valued and that they matter their performance automatically increases. A positive workplace culture helps to build a strong Employer brand and it makes it easier to attract and retain top talent.”
AHS – “A positive OHS culture must be established and integrated throughout the company, where management and employees as well as external stakeholders work together through the OHS committee to achieve, improve and create an effective OHS system and culture”.
Andre Robins, ESAR Corporate SHE Manager of Nestlé (South Africa), builds on that by stressing the following:
“There are three main reasons to ensure you are OHS compliant:
- Legal reasons: there is a comprehensive legal framework to which employers must adhere in order to ensure the safety and healthy working environment for their employees, with potential legal consequences for non-compliance.
- There is a business case for health and safety; accidents cost money, time and a host of unexpected business impacts, posing a threat to your bottom line of the longevity of your business.
- Thirdly and most importantly, health and safety compliance is a moral imperative, it’s the right thing to do, and if we keep our employees and their families in mind when implementing our systems, not only will you achieve points one and two; you will develop a productive and loss-free culture where your employees know that you really care about their well-being.”
Robbins further states that, “safety is everybody’s responsibility. You will only achieve a zero injury environment when you have buy-in from all employees which is created through regular shop floor engagements. A good tip is to ensure employees understand WHY we practise safety and set clear expectations linked to accountability to drive individual ownership of the process.”
Responsibilities of the Employer
Alastair Farish, Director of Absolute Health Services, explains and lists the critical employer and management objectives and responsibilities to ensure compliance with the OHS Act.
Companies and employers should appoint an OHS manager and OHS supervisors across their entire company structure, who represent the employer and management’s interests in health and safety and at the OHS committee meetings. These supervisors take on an overall supervisory role and capacity, in implementing and maintaining health and safety within the company.
Listed below are strategic operational objectives that need to be achieved, in order to successfully implement and manage health and safety within any company:
- Establish an active OHS committee with employer and employee representation, which continually develops and drives our OHSMS within the company, with the support of the entire management team;
- Set realistic and achievable OHS targets and objectives, with the necessary human resources, infrastructure, technology and financial budgetary support from the executive management team and CEO;
- Assist in supporting and ensuring that all offices have OHS team representation in the correct OHS disciplines, namely OHS supervisors and representatives, first aiders, fire wardens and evacuation marshals and that the offices are equipped with the necessary OHS equipment;
- Conduct OHS risk assessments and OHS representative checks that highlight non-conformances or hazardous concerns, which must then be reviewed and managed appropriately by the supervisors and/or OHS committee;
- Thorough investigations of all incidents and accidents by the OHS committee, to ensure that the root cause is identified and appropriate measures are implemented to prevent recurrences;
- Conduct bi-annual evacuation drills of offices and premises to ensure that the OHS teams and all employees are familiar with their roles and responsibilities during an evacuation;
- Continuous evaluation and improvement of the health and safety and OHS act structure, systems and the effectiveness thereof;
A team approach is required so the supervisors and representatives must work together to drive and create a positive, no-blame, interactive and effective OHS committee structure and culture.
The rest of the firm’s management structure that are not actively involved in health and safety, will provide the necessary support to ensure its success.
If you’re a new business, you may not have the resources available and in place to create and implement your own health and safety structures, systems and policies, so you may want to engage with a health and safety act specialist company and consultant who could then take on some of the OHS Act duties and responsibilities on your behalf – contact Absolute Health Services to arrange a meeting and try and assist you.
What happens if a company is not Health and Safety Compliant?
A staff member can lay an official complaint with the health and safety representative who must then discuss and try to resolve the matter with the employer, or responsible manager or OHS supervisor. The matter must also be discussed at the next OHS committee meeting, but if the complaint is not dealt with satisfactorily, the employee may consider and has the right to report it to the Department of Labour (DoL) or one of its inspectors. This is what could then be expected from the DoL:
- Improvement Notice: the inspector may compel the employer to improve and protect the employees.
- Contravention Notice: may result in immediate prosecution, but in the case of a not too severe contravention of the OHS Act or a regulation, the employer may be given the opportunity to correct the contravention.
- Prohibition notice: in the case of a threatening danger, an inspector may prohibit a particular action, process, or the use of a machine or equipment, by means of a prohibition notice.
Both the employee and employer have to comply with the OHS Act and its requirements, and if they don’t comply and a serious incident occurs , either one could receive a fine or penalty and possibly a criminal sentence if found to be negligent and non-compliant.
In serious cases, whoever is found responsible and negligible could face imprisonment due to criminal negligence. Section 38 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act says that “on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding R100 000 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years or to both such fine and such imprisonment.”
Why have a Safety Officer in the workplace?
As mentioned already, it is the responsibility of the CEO to ensure the health and safety and the wellbeing of employees at work. However, most CEO’s are very busy with managing the business, so the OHS Act makes provision for the CEO to appoint someone to represent them and manage health and safety on their behalf, which is referred to as the 16.2 appointee. Section 16 of the OHS Act states:
Chief executive officer charged with certain duties
(1) Every chief executive officer shall as far as is reasonably practicable ensure that the duties of his employer as contemplated in this Act, are properly discharged.
(2) Without derogating from his responsibility or liability in terms of subsection (1), a chief executive officer may assign any duty contemplated in the said subsection, to any person under his control, which person shall act subject to the control and direction of the chief executive officer.
Some CEO’s appoint HR or Operation or Security managers to represent their interests, but these managers need to attend the relevant health and safety training courses and then also find the time to successfully manage health and safety and the OHS Acts requirements.
Alternatively, these managers or the CEO can create a position and appoint an OHS Act specialist, the Safety Officer, or Health and Safety Specialist. whose primary function is to manage the company’s health and safety structures and compliance requirements efficiently.
Responsibilities of the Health and Safety Officer
The main purpose for the role of the Health and Safety Officer is to assist the company in implementing the OHS act requirements and ensure compliance with the Act, thereby reducing hazards and risks, preventing accidents and incidents in the workplace and creating a healthy, safe and prepared working environment. Listed below are some points which could be inserted into a Safety Officer’s appointment letter, detailing their responsibility:
- Represent management’s interests and commitment in terms of OHS;
- Ensure that all the offices and company’s OHS structures are in place and up-to-date as per the OHS structure and organogram requirements;
- Provide the necessary OHS information, instructions and supervision, thereby assisting in ensuring the OHS wellbeing of all employees;
- Ensure that you and all the OHS supervisors and representatives attend all the quarterly OHS committee meetings and at these meetings function and represent management and the company as a whole;
- Together with the OHS supervisors and representatives, remain an integral part of the incident and accident investigation team, which reports back to the OHS committee on all investigation results and reports. All incidents and accidents must be investigated immediately and the report generated must provide incident causes and suggested preventative measures, which must be put in place to prevent recurrences;
- Ensure that annual OHS risk assessments are performed through the company and that the findings are recorded and a management plan must be put in place to mitigate or eliminate the high risk and hazards highlighted in the risk assessment;
- Ensure that the OHS representatives complete their quarterly “OHS Representative Inspection Checklist” inspections thoroughly and where priority and urgent concerns are brought to your attention, discuss these with your OHS supervisor/s and management and where it is warranted, act on and try resolve these concerns immediately. Where you do not receive the necessary support from management to resolve urgent priority concerns, immediately escalate this to the CEO or executive management for support to assist in resolving these valid concerns;
- Provide general assistance and support to the, OHS committee chairperson and OHS teams, creating awareness and a prepared, healthy and safe working environment for all employees.
Education and Training of a Health and Safety Officer
A health and safety officer or safety officer should have a valid health and safety related certificate, diploma or degree. The training that they receive should be comprehensive and cover all aspects of health and safety, namely:
- Sections and regulations of the OHS Act;
- Incident investigation;
- Risk assessment;
- General health and safety management and implementation;
- First aid;
- Evacuation planning
Absolute Health Services offers a HWSETA accredited Health and Safety Specialist skills program, which covers all the above content. There are other courses available in the market as well as a 3-year national diploma in safety management. In addition, the safety officer should: have the following characteristic traits:
- Have a genuine care for people
- Lead by example
- Be result oriented instead of task oriented
- Display humility so that he or she can learn more
- Be emotionally strong in order to drive the processes throughout the organisation
- Be self motivated and driven
How to improve Workplace Safety
An integrated systems approach to OHS is required. Through the integration of the OHS committee, OHS teams in each office, a risk management process, incident investigation and emergency response procedures, the company will ensure that OHS is managed effectively and continuously improved upon.
Workplace hazards are one of the primary reasons for the existence of Health and Safety within the workplace, as the implementation of sufficient and suitable health and safety practises are able to effectively address workplace hazards and keep the negative effects of these down to a minimum.
Typical examples of workplace hazards would include:
Physical hazards – such as heat, noise, vibration, and pressure;
Chemical hazards – such as toxic substances, corrosive, and carcinogenic substances;
Biological hazards – such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi;
Ergonomic hazards – such as manual handling, repetitive and forceful movements;
Psychosocial hazards – such as stress, violence, drugs, and alcohol.
The implementation of appropriate occupational health strategies and practices will assist in reducing the risks from these above hazards and prevent them from injuring the organization’s employees, contractors, and or visitors.
Here’s a simple plan to help get you going:
#1 Develop a health and safety plan
The plan should revolve around how the company aims to comply with the OHS Act and protect the health and safety of all the employees in the workplace.
OHS workplace risks need to be identified, evaluated, and controlled across the entire workplace as low as reasonably practicable. Incidents need to be reported by all employees, investigated correctly and corrective and preventative actions implemented. The company’s emergency response plan must be practised with evacuation drills being conducted at each office where all employees and the OHS teams work together to improve on the plan.
It can get complex, depending on what your organisation does. If your staff all work in an office, don’t forget that you need to address safety there too, but it may not be as complex as a company where staff work with hazardous machines or chemicals.
The plan must include the methods of adherence: how will the company get everyone on board by creating a positive health and safety culture from management to all employees?
#2 Inspections and risk assessments of all workspaces
Detailed OHS risk assessment needs to be conducted annually in all the company’s offices and departments. The findings of the risk assessment must be discussed in detail with the OHS committee and the risk management action plan formulated to address the risks appropriately.
Specialist OHS consultants like Absolute Health Services are available for the company, OHS manager, OHS committee and offices to utilize as external risk assessments consultants, to conduct and supply professional, thorough and detailed risk assessment findings, proposed corrective actions and reports.
The safety officer/s, OHS supervisor and representative responsible for the local offices must form part of the annual risk assessment process, as they are familiar with the details of the office layouts, equipment, environment and potential risks and regularly perform workplace inspections to identify hazards and non-conformances.
The United States Department of Labor gives some handy tips to effectively control and prevent hazards:
- Involve workers, who often have the best understanding of the conditions that create hazards and insights into how they can be controlled.
- Identify and evaluate options for controlling hazards, using a “hierarchy of controls.”
- Use a hazard control plan to guide the selection and implementation of controls, and implement controls according to the plan.
- Develop plans with measures to protect workers during emergencies and nonroutine activities.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of existing controls to determine whether they continue to provide protection, or whether different controls may be more effective. Review new technologies for their potential to be more protective, more reliable, or less costly.
The employer and their management team must ensure that regular workplace hazard identification practises and techniques are followed, to identify the hazards and then together with the employees working in that area, implement controls to either eliminate or reduce the hazards and their risks to an acceptable level, this is effective health and safety management.
Consultation with and involvement of the employees is also very important as they work in the area and are best able to provide valuable information, ideas, recommendations, and assistance.
Many employers forget to consult and involve the employees or workers from the area being assessed, which may render the hazard identification or risk assessment process almost invalid or not accepted by the authorities.
Another common mistake is for the hazard identifier or assessor to conduct a paper-based exercise from their desk and not to actually perform the assessment from and within the working environment area that is being assessed. Together the team must consult, communicate, deliberate around all the hazards, their risks, and the effective controls that can be implemented to ultimately reduce the risk of injury to all employees.
#3 Conduct training
All employees have to be made aware of their responsibilities towards a healthy and safe environment, and some or all may need OHS induction training as to how to keep safe while doing conducting or performing their normal duties.
In addition to OHS induction training, all companies must conduct the following OHS Act training across their entire company structure:
- OHS manager and safety officer – health and safety specialist ;
- 16.2 workshop for all managers
- OHS supervisor and representative
- First aid level 1, 2 or 3
- Evacuation planning
There are other health and safety training courses available, but these are not necessarily compulsory.
#4 Investigate any incidents
Unfortunately, incidents and accidents do occur in the workplace and OHS systems and structures must cater for these unexpected events.
All incidents and accidents need to be reported to the OHS supervisors and representatives ASAP, who will then arrange to investigate the incident immediately (within 24-hours if serious), thoroughly and correctly, to determine the root cause and implement preventative actions to try to prevent any future recurrences.
The incident report is presented to the OHS committee, where all parties become aware of the incident and implement preventative actions across the entire company structures.
Keep a health and safety logbook that records any incidents and their investigations, not only for proof should a DoL inspector require information or some legality take place, but also as a way to track incidents over time and make continual improvements from lessons learned in the workplace.
Absolute Health can remove the stress and pressure of trying to make the workplace safe; you may want to consider arranging for us to come in to perform an OHS Act compliance assessment or risk assessment, or even to have your staff trained in health and safety and first aid courses, or meet with a consultant to discuss your specific current OHS position and what route and process is best suited for your company and structure to become OHS compliant.
Personal Protective Equipment
Personal Protective Equipment or commonly referred to as PPE, is a useful and common health and safety resource, used by thousands of organizations and workplaces in the world, as a means of health and safety protection. Employees often conduct work related activities which expose them to some sort of hazard and risk and the employer or organization has an obligation to provide those individuals with some sort of protection, which is named or referred to as PPE .
It should not be the first line or form of protection, but should always form part of the overall health and safety, or occupational health protection plan. Other more important aspects should proceed PPE, such as elimination, substitution, technical design, safe workplace procedures etc, and then PPE.
The fact that PPE is one of the last means of resorting to does not mean that PPE is not important, it is one of the very important means of suitable and sufficient provision of health and safety personal protection, used all over the world.
Examples of PPE would include, RPE (respiratory protection equipment), protective gloves and goggles or eye protection, earplugs or hearing protection, full body suites or aprons, face shields, protective clothing for hot and cold environments etc.
All these items must be provided together with training on the use and benefits of the PPE products, instructions, and safe workplace procedures by management so that there can be no confusion or dispute that the PPE has been incorrectly provided for by the organization. Supervision is also important to ensure the continued use of all the required workers across all the necessary departments.
PPE has a definite role and place within the world of health and safety and will continue to be an effective means of health and safety protection for all employees and their organizations.
Why every office needs a First Aid Kit
The General Safety Regulations number 3 mentions the following points:
- An employer shall take all reasonable steps that are necessary under the circumstances, to ensure that persons at work receive prompt first aid treatment in case of injury or emergency.
- Where more than five employees are employed at a workplace, the employer of such employees shall provide a first aid box.
- Where more than 10 employees are employed at a workplace, the employer of such employees shall take steps to ensure that for every group of up to 50 employees, at least one person is readily available during normal working hours, who is in possession of a valid certificate of competency in first aid.
So there you have it. If you have any staff, you have to have a first aid kit.
First Aid Regulation 7 box content:
|1||Wound cleaner / antiseptic (100 ml)|
|2||Swabs for cleaning wounds (50)|
|3||Cotton wool for padding (100 g)|
|4||Sterile gauze (minimum quantity 10)|
|5||1 Pair of forceps (for splinters)|
|6||1 Pair of scissors (minimum size 100 mm)|
|7||1 set of safety pins|
|8||4 Triangular bandages|
|9||4 Roller bandages (75 mm x 5 m)|
|10||4 Roller bandages (100 mm x 5 m)|
|11||1 Roll of elastic adhesive (25 mm x 3 m)|
|12||1 Non-allergenic adhesive strip (25 mm x 3 m)|
|13||1 Packet of adhesive dressing strips (minimum quantity, 10 assorted sizes)|
|14||4 First aid dressings (75 mm x 100 mm)|
|15||4 First aid dressings (150 mm x 200 mm)|
|16||2 Straight splints|
|17||2 Pairs large & 2 pairs medium disposable gloves|
|18||2 CPR Mouth pieces or similar devices|
|19||Blood spill kit|
What is an AED in CPR?
An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a machine device that is attached to a patient’s chest when they are not moving and presumed to be dead, which then checks the heart of a person and delivers an electric shock if the heart has stopped beating normally.
While we at Absolute Health recommend that everyone receive training in CPR and in using an AED, these devices are created to help in an emergency situation by coaching the handler through the process, even without any training.
First the device determines if a shock is necessary and if it is, a calm voice will explain exactly what to do. Intelligent sensors assess and automatically deliver the right shock, at the right time.
How does an AED work?
An AED is a portable device with a built-in computer which checks the rhythm of a person’s heart and calculates whether defibrillation is needed.
It includes a recorded voice which gives instructions to the person handling the device. If the victim’s heart needs defibrillation, the voice will tell the handler to press the “shock” button on the machine.
The shock stuns the heart, stopping everything so that the heart gets the chance to resume beating properly.
It is an excellent piece of equipment to have because emergency personnel may arrive too late in a case where defibrillation is needed. The AED saves many lives and often CPR is not good enough to get the heart started again. They are expensive but we strongly suggest that all businesses purchase one, which is readily available for the first aiders to use.
Find out more about CPR and AED.
Building an Evacuation Plan
Emergency response planning enables companies to develop and implement appropriate procedures for employees and OHS teams to follow, in the event of an emergency incident.
The aim is to ensure a well-disciplined, informed and organized reaction response from all employees, which is achieved through conducting and practising bi-annual evacuation drills (as per municipal by-law requirements) and analyzing concerns, mistakes and achievements.
It is important that emergency evacuation drills are practiced, so that in the event of an emergency the entire workforce is well prepared and employees aim to reach their assembly points, unhurt and safe, within 10 minutes.
When the evacuation alarm is activated, a long uninterrupted siren, all employees are to quickly follow the evacuation routes and move to the assembly point without delay. If staff are told to evacuate by your OHS supervisor, head of department or one of the OHS team members, they must evacuate immediately.
When creating an emergency action plan, take the following into account:
- Possible situations where an evacuation would be necessary, such as fires, gas leaks and bomb threats.
- Situations where it may be better to keep employees inside, like bad and dangerous weather or chemical spills outside.
- One of the OHS team members must be put in charge in case of emergency evacuations and this is normally the Evacuation Coordinator or OHS supervisor or OHS manager, and this must be communicated to all staff members. This person will also have authorisation to approve and order an evacuation.
- Specific procedures, as well as routes and exits to follow.
- Plans to help visitors and employees evacuate. Consider the disabled or non-English speaking people.
- Certain employees and OHS team members taking on specific duties during the evacuation.
- How to make sure everyone has been evacuated, like taking a roll-call at the assembly areas..
- Special evacuation equipment such as evacuation chairs, first aid kits, fire fighting extinguishers, reflective bibs and other equipment. These can all be supplied and installed by Absolute Health Services.
Find the exact steps to building an emergency evacuation plan.
Safety management system
A Safety Management System is normally the management system that is responsible for looking after physical safety with reference to health and safety of the workforce. This would include physical safety against the effects of noise, heat, vibration, pressure, collisions, falls etc. This will not include safety in the aspect of security and or physical protection, but rather occupational health and safety.
A safety management system would include phases such as plan, do, check, and act, or may also include phases such as plan, implement, monitor and review. It is a combination of logical phases or steps when put together form a management system. Each phase must be managed individually and put together as a management system as a whole. The safety committee is the ideal platform and forum where to ensure that all these phases are discussed and then combined into the organization’s official safety management system.
This system must ideally include consultation and involvement from top management, management, supervisors, representative, employees from all departments, contractors, and even visitors, which would then ensure that there is input from all levels within the organization.
The safety committee must ideally operate every quarter and it must be compulsory for all the nominated members to attend to ensure true and proper representation from across the whole organization. The chairperson must be voted in at one of the initial health and safety, or safety, or occupational health committee meetings and after an agreed period a new chairperson voted in for the next period.
The safety management system must be recognized by top management as a critically important system, just as important as operation, finance, marketing, procurement systems, etc. All these systems operate individually and together and in so doing form a strong, safe, and efficient organization.