Health and safety in the workplace

The Occupational Health and Safety Act, Act 85 of 1993, regulates health and safety in the workplace. The aim of this Act is to ensure a safe and risk free working environment. In case of an incident, it is vital to follow correct procedures in handling as well as reporting the incident in order to avoid penalties and fines.

The farm is a challenging environment exposed to various potential health and safety risks created by diesel, vehicles, machinery, chemicals, livestock, the environment (fires, weather, natural disasters, etc.), high voltage, heavy loads, poor etiquette to customers and co-workers and many more. Risk increases in the case of illiterate and unskilled workers. Cost is also a major factor. An injury on duty, absence due to an injury, as well as the employment of a temporary person, are expenses not always budgeted for.

Employer’s responsibility:

This Act clearly stipulates that every employer shall provide and maintain, as far as is reasonably possible, a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of employees. All employees must be aware of and understand the Occupational Health and Safety Act. By being proactive the employer can limit and avoid incidents. It is the employer’s responsibility to:

  • identify potential hazards in terms of the type of work being done (produced, processed, used, stored, transported, etc.) as well as equipment used. Ensure that every employee is informed of and clearly understands these potential hazards.
  • establish and enforce precautionary control measures necessary to protect employees against the identified potential hazards and provide the means to implement these precautionary control measures.
  • provide the necessary information, instructions, training and supervision for employees to comply with. Work done and equipment used must be under the general supervision of an employee trained to understand the potential hazards associated therewith.

No employee may carry on with a task placing them at risk unless the necessary precautionary control measures have been taken.

The employee’s responsibility:

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act employees also have a responsibility to ensure a safe and healthy working environment. It is every employee’s responsibility to:

  • take care of his/her own health and safety, as well as that of other persons who may be effected by his/her actions.
  • carry out any lawful and reasonable instruction regarding health and safety in the workplace prescribed by the employer or authorised person.
  • comply with the policies and procedures implemented by the employer in the workplace.
  • use the prescribed personal protective equipment when required.
  • report any potential hazard to the employer, authorised person or health and safety representative as soon as possible.
  • report any incident that can influence his/her health or cause an injury, to the employer, authorised person or health and safety representative as soon as possible, but no later than the end of the shift.

Who regulates health and safety in the workplace?

Health and safety representative

A health and safety representative must be appointed when an employer employs 20 or more employees. The type of workplace then determines how many additional health and safety representatives must be appointed. The health and safety representative must be a full time employee nominated by co-workers and appointed by written agreement by the employer. The health and safety representative must be familiar with the circumstances and conditions of the designated workplace.

The duties (performed during ordinary working hours) of the health and safety representative includes to:

  • conduct health and safety audits to regulate effectiveness of established measures;
  • identify and report potential hazards to the authorised person or employer;
  • investigate incidents and complaints together with the employer and file a report in writing;
  • make representations regarding health and safety in the workplace to the authorised person or employer, or when necessary to the health and safety inspector;
  • take part in inspections by health and safety inspectors;
  • attend health and safety committee meetings.

Health and safety committee

A health and safety committee must be established when there are two or more appointed health and safety representatives. This committee should meet at least once every three months to initiate, promote, maintain and review measures of ensuring health and safety in the workplace.

The health and safety committee’s duties (performed during ordinary working hours) includes to:

  • make recommendation to the employer regarding health and safety;
  • investigate and discuss any incidents that lead to injury, illness or death of any employee and file a report in writing to the health and safety inspector;
  • keep record of all recommendations and reports to the employer and inspector;
  • perform any other functions required by legislation.

Incidents in the workplace:

Any injury or death on duty must firstly be investigated and secondly reported to the Compensation Commissioner within seven days after the incident took place.

Investigating an incident

  • In case of a serious incident demarcate the incident site with ribbon. If an injury occurred emergency services must be called immediately. In case of death the entire incident site must be left untouched until the police arrives.
  • Gather as much information about the incident as possible. Get signed statements from eyewitnesses and ensure that all pages are initialised.
  • Take as much photos as possible of the incident site.
  • Determine the sequence of events that led to the incident.
  • Determine the cause/s that led to the incident.
  • Recommend corrective actions and improvements and hold an emergency meeting with all employees to intensify safety awareness.

Reporting an incident – employee’s duty

  • Notify the employer of the incident as soon as it happened. Should notice not be given within twelve months of the incident, the employee forfeits his/her right to compensation.
  • Should the employer fail to report the incident, the employee has to complete a Notice of Accident and Claim for Compensation form (W.CI.3).
  • The employee must assist the employer in obtaining the medical reports from the doctor.

Reporting an incident – employer’s duty

  • The employer must report an incident to the Compensation Commissioner within seven days after the incident took place, by completing Part A of the Employer’s Report of an Accident form (W.CI. 2).
  • Part B of the W. CI.2 form is a carbon copy of Part A that should be handed to the employee to give to the doctor/hospital where the employee goes for treatment.
  • Should the employer fail to report the incident, the doctor can report the incident by sending a copy of Part B to the Compensation Commissioner. The employer will then be subpoenaed to submit Part A.
  • Medical evidence plays an important part when liability for the payment of compensation and medical expenses is considered. There are three types of reports:
    • First Medical Report (W.CI. 4);
    • Progress Medical Reports (W.CI. 5). When an employee receives prolonged medical treatment and is off duty as result of injuries sustained on duty, progress medical reports must be submitted on a monthly basis;
    • Final Medical Report (W.CI. 5). This report should be submitted as soon as the employee’s condition is stable. The doctor must describe the impairment of function as a result of the incident, if any, to enable the Fund to assess permanent disablement, if any.
  • Resumption Report (W. CI. 6) must be completed by the employer immediately after the employee has resumed work. Where the employee is booked off duty for a lengthy period, interim reports must be submitted.

A lot of administration is involved in complying with the Occupational Health and Safety Act. But by creating a safe and risk free working environment, the employer ensures the sustainability and productivity of his/her business.

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LWO Regsadviseur - LWO Legal Advisor

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