- By Carol Tissiman

South Africa, as a member state of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) boasts workplace law that is on par with the first world countries. The right of each person to fair labour practices and a working environment that does not detrimentally affect their health or well-being is a fundamental right in our Constitution. Whether or not you view your workplace as hazardous, the current law requires that all persons in the workplace need to adhere to safe working practices. Interestingly enough both the employer and the employee are responsible for safety in the workplace, and there are severe penalties for non-compliance in this regard. This means that both employers and employees in any workplace (office, supermarket, factory, mine construction site or other) need to ensure that the working environment is safe in terms of the law.

But what form does this responsibility take? The terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) require employers and employees to actively eliminate risks to health and safety at work. If any accident or safety incident occurs, the Dept of Labour may inspect the business premises and investigate the causes. Any act or omission which lead to the incident could result in criminal charges against either the employer or employee or both. To prevent such incidents, the act lists three key responsibilities of employers in this regard:

1. Firstly, the employer must identify the hazards, assess the risks and put in measures to reduce or eliminate these. In practice, there needs to be evidence or a record of any hazards identified and what has been done about them.

2. Secondly, the employer needs to supply workers with information on the possible dangers present in the workplace and provide suitable, effective training in this regard. There also needs to be a record and evidence of employee’s competency in dealing with the hazards, and of the employees’ awareness and understanding of the safety issues that affect them in all aspects of their jobs.

3. Thirdly, the employer must supervise effectively and enforce compliance with safety measures. This means that if an employee does not follow safety instructions, they must be disciplined or corrected, and there must be evidence of this, particularly if the non-compliance results in an accident or safety incident where workers’ safety or health was at risk or someone was injured as a result.

The OHSA places responsibility on the employee for safety through being contractually bound to comply with safe operating instructions while using equipment or performing their daily tasks. Employees are also required to inform the employer of any dangers to safety of workers, or incidents that occur. Failure to do so must result in discipline, and an employee could later loose their job if willful neglect is proven to be the cause of a severe incident.

To be sure that your business complies with the requirements of the Act, employers should keep good records, ensure employees are qualified or appropriately trained to perform their tasks and use equipment and that safe operating procedures are followed. Some common-sense operating rules include keeping work areas hygienic, replacing or repairing broken tools and equipment; ensure lighting is good and protective clothing us supplied where necessary. All work areas should have a safety drill for emergencies, so that employees know what to do and who to contact in the event of a minor or major safety incident. Finally, include detailed safety discussions during induction or job orientation, and keep safety matters on the agenda of all regular meetings so that employees are kept aware and show them that you regard safety at work as important.

Carol Tissiman is a professional HR Consultant, and the course convener for the 8-week online UCT (Law@Work) Practical Labour Law Course. The course introduces the key areas of applicable South African Labour Law, and focuses on the practical application of good business practice, procedure and governance in the workplace aimed at getting the best out of staff while staying within the Law.