Heeding health and safety standards in the workplace
EVERY year, hundreds of people are injured at work and thousands of hours of production are lost owing to workplace injuries. Where there is serious injury, disability and death can occur. This is a high price to pay instead of ensuring that safe work practices are adhered to.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993
The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993 requires the employer to provide and maintain, as far as reasonably practical, a work environment that is safe and without risk to the health of the workers.
This means that the employer must ensure that the workplace is free of hazardous substances, equipment, processes, etc. that may cause injury, damage or disease.
Where this is not possible, the employer must inform workers of the potential danger, how it may be prevented, how to work safely and provide protective measures for a safe workplace.
The employer is not expected to take sole responsibility for health and safety. The Act is based on the principle that dangers in the workplace must be addressed by communication and co-operation between the employer and the employees. Both parties must pro-actively identify dangers and develop control measures to make the workplace safe.
This way, the employer and the employees are involved in a system where health and safety representatives may inspect the workplace regularly and report to a health and safety committee, who in turn may submit recommendations to the employer.
To ensure that this system works, every worker must know his or her rights and duties as contained in the Act.
The responsibility rests with the following people:
- The employer
It is his/her responsibility to ensure a safe work environment for employees.
- The employees
They must ensure that they comply with safe work procedures. They are also responsible for the safety of their fellow workers.
When visiting work premises, they must conform to all the safety requirements.
Duties of the employer
The employer must provide and maintain all the equipment that is needed to do the work and observe safe operating procedures.
To ensure that these are complied with, the employer must:
- Identify potential hazards that may be present while work is being done;
- Establish the precautionary measures that are necessary to protect his or her workers against the identified hazards and provide the means to implement these precautionary measures;
- Provide the necessary information, instructions, training and supervision while keeping the extent of workers’ competence in mind;
- Not permit anyone to carry on with any task unless the necessary precautionary measures have been taken;
- Take steps to ensure that every person under his or her control complies with the requirements of the Act;
- Enforce the necessary control measures in the interest of health and safety;
- See to it that the work being done and the equipment used is under the general supervision of a worker who has been trained to understand the hazards associated with the work;
- Such a worker must ensure that the precautionary measures are implemented and maintained.
Duties of the employee
It is the duty of the employee to:
- Take care of his or her own health and safety, as well as that of other people who may be affected by his or her actions or negligence to act;
- Co-operate with the employer where the Act imposes a duty or requirements on the worker;
- Give information to an inspector from the Department of Labour if he or she should require it;
- Carry out any lawful instruction that the employer or authorised person prescribes with regard to health and safety;
- Comply with the rules and procedures that the employer gives him/her;
- Wear the prescribed safety clothing or use the prescribed safety equipment where it is required;
- Report unsafe or unhealthy conditions to the employer or health and safety representative as soon as possible;
- If he or she is involved in an incident that may influence his or her health or cause an injury, report that incident to the employer, authorised person or the health and safety representative as soon as possible, but no later than by the end of the shift.
Rights of the worker
The Occupational Health and Safety Act has extended workers’ rights to include the following:
Right to information
The worker must have access to:
- The Occupational Health and Safety Act and regulations;
- Health and safety rules, and procedures of the workplace;
- Health and safety standards, which the employer must keep at the workplace;
- The worker may request the employer to inform him or her about health and safety hazards in the workplace;
- The precautionary measures that must be taken;
- The procedures that must be followed if a worker is exposed to substances hazardous to health.
Right to participate in inspections
If the worker is a health and safety representative, he or she may accompany a health and safety inspector from the Department of Labour during an inspection of the workplace and answer any questions the inspector may ask.
Right to comment on legislation and make representations
The worker may comment or make representations on any regulation or safety standard published in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Right not to be victimised
An employer may not dismiss a worker from his/her service, reduce a worker’s salary or reduce a worker’s service conditions because:
- The worker supplied information, which is required of him or her in terms of the Act, to someone who is charged with the administration of the Occupational Health and Safety Act;
- The worker complied with a lawful notice, (for example, a prohibition, contravention notice, etc.);
- The worker did something which in terms of the Act should have been done;
- The worker did not do something which in terms of the Act is prohibited;
- The worker has given evidence before the Labour Court or a court of law on matters regarding health and safety.
Things you should do to keep yourself safe:
- Make a personal commitment to safety in your everyday life;
- Follow the safety rules of the workplace;
- Adopt safety practices at all times;
- Use protective clothing and equipment;
- Learn how to safely operate machinery and equipment;
- Recognise and pay attention to the signs of hazardous products;
- Take the precautions recommended on label instructions of hazardous products.