The Importance of Occupational Health and Safety

Why do we study Occupational Health and Safety?

In early 2017, an industrial building in Durban caught fire and burned for three days straight. Two workers sustained injuries due to the fire. According to IOL News, the Department of Labour issued an order prohibiting any work to be done at the site. It is believed that the fire was a result of poor occupational health and safety practices. Key sources at the scene said it appeared that there was no water supply available on the day of the accident. If this proves to be the cause of the blaze, the organisation can face severe consequences. 

Lenny Samuel, the department’s senior inspector said, “No official statement on the cause of the fire can be given until a full forensic investigation has been completed.”

The story above is a good real-life example of why occupational health and safety is important. If a business does not comply with health and safety rules and regulations, or cannot identify potential risks in the workplace, it can lead to injury, property damage, fines, penalties and even death. What’s more, while investigations take place the business will suffer immense damage, not only to its sales and production, but ultimately its reputation as well. 

By equipping yourself with OHS knowledge, you can identify and help prevent injury or disastrous events in the workplace.

In this post, we will take a closer look at the importance of occupational health and safety, as well as the OHS Act of South Africa.

The Importance of Occupational Health and Safety in the Workplace

Effective occupational health and safety programmes in the workplace have many benefits for the company, employer, and employees. According to Workforce Compliance Safety Ltd, a recognised health and safety industry leader, OHS in the workplace is important for the following reasons:

  • Employees are more productive.
  • A clean and healthy working environment reduces absenteeism.
  • It’s safer, cleaner and looks more professional.
  • Employees are happier.
  • There is a decrease in insurance claims caused by workplace accidents.
  • An OHS programme will protect the organisation’s employees. After all, they are the most valuable assets to the company.
  • The organisation will be able to retain more customers.
  • Even though the initial costs for OHS training and implementation can be significant, the business can save a substantial amount of money in the long run, with less injury, vehicle or building damage claims, as well as fewer instances of employees not being able to report for work.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act of South Africa

According to the Department of Labour, the Occupational Health and Safety Act is there to provide for the health and safety of all employees in South Africa. There are regulations in place for the following areas:

  • Asbestos manufacturers and workplaces that use asbestos material.
  • Work environments where hazardous chemical substances are manufactured or used by employees.
  • Factories where lead is used, produced or processed.
  • Work areas where the employees are exposed to noise levels that are above the noise-rating limit.
  • The physical conditions of a work environment. (Environmental)
  • Workplace sanitation and dining facilities. (Bathrooms, shower rooms, kitchens etc.)
  • General health and safety matters in a workplace. (Personal protective equipment, facilities etc.)
  • Electrical installation and maintenance in the workplace. (Responsibility for electrical installations etc.)
  • Workspaces that use electrical machinery. (Electrical control gear, switchgear and transformer premises etc.)
  • Work areas that use driven machinery. (Sanding machines, circular saws, revolving machinery etc.)
  • Employees who carry out work whilst using machinery. (Supervision of machinery etc.)
  • Workers who install, use or have lifts, escalators or passenger conveyors in the workplace.
  • Work environments that manufacture or make use of pressure equipment.
  • Companies or employees that make use of Certificates of Competence. (Issuing of certificates etc.)
  • Construction workers and managers. (Fall protection, excavation, risk assessment etc.)
  • All individuals engaged in diving operations in the RSA. (Training of divers, diving supervisors etc.)
  • Workers who use, store, and operate explosives. (Danger areas, safe handling of explosives etc.)
  • Work environments that have a permanent major hazard installation on its premises.
  • Any hazardous work that is performed by underage workers (children) in SA.

Areas that are NOT regulated by the OHS Act are:

  • All mines and mining areas;
  • Load line ships, fishing boats, sailing boats, floating cranes etc. and
  • People that work in these areas or on these vessels.   

These sectors have their own Acts – the Minerals Act and the Merchant Shipping Act.

What is the duty of the employer?

According to the OHS Act, it is the employer’s responsibility to:

  • Make sure that the health and safety of employees are not at risk. (Good air circulation, clean bathrooms and kitchens, and no faulty equipment in the workplace.)
  • Identify potential threats in and around the workplace. (Pipe leaks, poor ventilation, and faulty electrical equipment.)
  • Take the necessary steps to ensure that the identified risks are resolved and removed. (Leaks are fixed, proper ventilation is installed and electrical equipment fixed or replaced.)
  • Perform regular health and safety checks to ensure that there are no threats to the organisation or its workers.  

What happens when the employer does not follow the occupational health and safety rules and regulations?

In South Africa, it is the employee’s right to work in a safe and healthy environment. Should a company not comply with health and safety standards, the staff member/s affected can lay an official complaint with the employer or the health and safety representative of the company.

In the event where neither the employer nor the health and safety representative or coordinator deals with the issue, the employee can report it to an inspector at the Department of Labour.

According to the OHS Act, both employer and employee must comply with the prescriptions of the OHS Act. Should any individual violate the OHS Act, they could receive a fine or penalty. In serious cases, the person responsible could be imprisoned. The maximum fine stands at R50 000 and imprisonment could last for as long as 12 months.    

Does College SA offer any Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) courses?

College SA offers two OHS courses. These courses are non-credit bearing programmes with a professional SAQA registration.

What does this mean?

It means that once you have successfully completed one of these courses, you can apply for professional membership with Saiosh. The South African Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Saiosh) permits its members the chance to get a SAQA Professional Registration designation. With this designation, members will also get access to various other great benefits.

The entry requirements for these two courses are:

College SA Occupational Health and Safety Courses  

If you would like to learn more about these OHS courses, you can speak to one of our Educational Planners. Simply phone 0861 663 663 or fill in the form on our website.