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Many employers and their staff are unaware of their responsibilities in terms of the OSH Act – and don’t realise that they can be criminally charged if an offence is committed in contravention of the Act.

Obviously the employer carries the burden of the responsibilities. Section 8 of the Act, paragraphs A-J require the employer to: “provide and maintain as far as reasonably practicable a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of the employees.”

This means that the employer shall do a risk assessment to determine all hazards with regard to safety, health and environmental issues in the workplace. Once the risk assessment has been done, the employer has to either remove such hazards or mitigate the hazards and risks.

What do the words “reasonably practicable” mean to an employer?

The more hazards you have in you workplace the more you have to do to protect your workers. For example, there will be more hazards to workers at a tyre manufacturing company than to someone employed to sell goods in a container tuck-shop.

Many employers in an office environment will say, “But it’s an office with 10 staff – we have no need for OSH Act compliance.” This is a total misconception. What are the hazards? Robbery, fire, slips and trips, portable electrical equipment, hazardous substances and, if you have a driver with a company delivery vehicle, all sorts of hazards associated with driving.

The employer has to determine these hazards either personally or with help from safety practitioners. The mitigation implementation should follow as soon as possible, to ensure that all employees are reasonably aware of all the hazards and the mitigating factors.

Section 14 of the act deals with the general duties of the employee. Only 5 aspects are discussed from paragraph “A” to “E”. In short the employee has to abide by the act with regards to:

Take reasonable care of your own health and safety and those of others who may be affected by your acts. Carry out lawful orders with regards to any safety requirement. Employees must report incidents and unhealthy or unsafe conditions immediately.

As you can see it is far easier than the responsibilities of the employer. Remember that in a hearing situation, when the employee has overstepped the rules of safety or ignored them,  he or she may easily testify that they know nothing about safety, if you as the employer have no proof of training, safety gear provided, etc.

Creating a health and safety culture within your organisation will ensure compliance and respect for all aspects regarding safety in the workplace.