The Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employers to have a health and safety policy in place. Section 7 of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act requires and thereby ensures that the employer provides and maintains a safe work environment for employees that is free of OHS risks. The health and safety policy sets out and displays the employer’s commitment to OHS and minimum standards.
Health and safety policy and procedures at a workplace display and communicate general as well as specific commitments, company rules and regulations, in order to achieve this health and safety policy goal, and in so doing should prevent accidents, incidents and diseases occurring in the workplace.
An extract from the OHS Act 85 of 1993
Section 7 – Health and safety policy definition
(1) The chief inspector may direct
(a) Any employer in writing; and
(b) Any category of employers, by notice in the Gazette, to prepare a written policy statement concerning the protection of the health and safety of his employees at work, including a description of his organisation and the arrangements for carrying out and reviewing that policy.
(2) Any direction under subsection (1) shall be accompanied by guidelines concerning the contents of the policy concerned.
(3) It is a requirement for an employer to prominently display a copy of the health and safety policy and procedures referred to in subsection (1), signed by the chief executive officer, in the workplace where his employees normally report for service.
What policies are required in the workplace?
A policy needs to be clear and concise about who it applies to – particularly important for OHS which should cover everyone in the workplace.
The policy may also need to contain information about what to do if it is not possible to follow the policy. A policy example could be: a policy relating to punctuality may need to include a procedure outlining what to do if the employee is going to be late.
A policy can include specific examples with regards to different types of unacceptable behaviour. For example: Being under the influence of alcohol if the person’s blood alcohol level exceeding 0.05%.
Define a health and safety policy statement
A health and safety policy statement is a written one page letter statement, where the CEO or Director commits to a set of principles and commitment towards health and safety in the workplace. An employer has a duty to provide a healthy and safe working environment for all employees, visitors, suppliers and the community. The health and safety policy dictates the importance of the company’s commitment to a health and safety plan which will promote and ensure Occupational Health and Safety Act compliance and a high standard of health and safety within the workplace.
A copy of the health and safety statement must be signed by the CEO, framed and displayed in the company’s reception area, where employees report for work, as stated in Section 7 of the OHS Act above. This policy statement is displayed for all people to see and in so doing the CEO and Directors have to adhere to it at all times.
What is a health and safety plan?
A health and safety plan is a detailed plan that is developed by the company with input from the employer, employees or their representatives and OHS subject matter experts or consultants, which will ensure that the company is OHS Act compliant. This written document will detail the organisational policies and procedures for health safety and welfare, procedures, commitment and structure and preventative measures that must be implemented within the company, in the interests of health and safety. The health and safety plan needs to be in line with and meet legislative requirements and accepted health and safety in the workplace general standards. It must also be adhered to by all the company or department employees.
Implementing the right policy and plan wording
The OHSA health and safety policy wording should be constructive, easy to understand and well communicated. The key to an effective health and safety policy and system is good, clear communication both up and down the organisational structure and ranks. Some employees may have a problem with literacy and may act like they understand roles, responsibilities and company requirements, when they actually don’t. The risk of not understanding or not paying attention to policy wording may result in noncompliance, increased risks and place everyone in the organisation at risk.
Management and employee commitment to the health and safety policy and plan
The company’s OHS Committee, with representation from both management and employees, will form a pivotal role in guiding, implementing and successfully managing health and safety within the company or department. The OHS committee and its members can communicate to employees and inform them of the positive progress and impact the company or department is achieving in the interests of everyone’s health and safety.
Before the OHS Act came into force in South Africa, the Factory Act held factory engineers responsible for safety in the workplace. However, the Act became ineffective as the senior management of many businesses did not commit to implementing it.
The Machinery and Occupational Safety Act 6 of 1983 made the CEO responsible for safety, but without “buy-in” or commitment from employees this Act also became difficult to implement successfully.
South Africa now has the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993, which holds all employees (management, employees and even suppliers) responsible for OHS. The health and safety policy and health and safety plan can be a mechanism and means of communicating directly or through the OHS committee to all employees within the organisation.
Section 14 of the OHS Act clearly dictates the employees health and safety responsibilities and similarly the organisation’s health and safety policy documents and plan.
The OHS Act Section 14
General duties of employees at work (part of the health and safety policy template South Africa)
Every employee shall at work-
- take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions;
- as regards any duty or requirement imposed on his employer or any other person by this Act, co-operate with such employer or person to enable that duty or requirement to be performed or complied with;
- carry out any lawful order given to him, and obey the health and safety rules and procedures laid down by his employer or by anyone authorised thereto by his employer, in the interest of health or safety;
- if any situation which is unsafe or unhealthy comes to his attention, as soon as practicable report such situation to his employer or to the health and safety representative for his workplace or section thereof, as the case may be, who shall report it to the employer; and
- if he is involved in any incident which may affect his health or which has caused an injury to himself, report such incident to his employer or to anyone authorised thereto by the employer, or to his health and safety representative, as soon as practicable but not later than the end of the particular shift during which the incident occurred, unless the circumstances were such that the reporting of the incident was not possible, in which case he shall report the incident as soon as practicable thereafter.
Section 14 states that all employees are also responsible for their own health and safety and that they should take reasonable care of those around them. It also makes provision for the employee to cooperate with the employer’s requirements set out in terms of the health and safety policy. It is therefore the responsibility of the employee to obey all lawful instructions or rules that are implemented in the interest of H&S for the benefit of all employees.
What to include in organisational policies and procedures for health, safety and welfare
The health and safety policy statement defines the employer’s commitment to a safe working
environment for all employees. The policy statement and plan should include the following:
- How to remove, minimise or control risks
- Discuss the consultation process between employer and employee
- Discuss how employee supervision will be implemented
- Discuss systems to continuously train and update employees on latest health and safety trends and technology
- Discuss how the working environment will continuously be monitored in order to ensure a healthy and safe workspace
- Discuss control measures to review and update the current health and safety policy
- Display the company’s commitment to financial, human resource, technology and management resources
The importance of health and safety in the workplace
It is important to have a proactive health and safety plan and program in the workplace, which must have representatives supplied by both the employer and its employees. Without representation from both employer and employees, the health and safety plan might well fail or not be effective. The health and safety policy must clearly display the importance of involvement by both parties.
With OHS committee representation from both parties, the OHS Supervisors (employer) and OHS representatives (employees), this committee will be one of the primary driving forces of successful health and safety plan implementation within the organisation. Suitable OHS supervisors need to be selected, to ensure that a positive culture and correct member dynamic exists within the OHS committee, as the success of the health and safety policy and health and safety plan is largely dependent on the OHS committee members. A team approach is required so the OHS supervisors and OHS representatives must work together to drive and create a positive, no-blame, interactive and effective OHS committee structure and culture. The rest of the organisation’s management structure that are not actively involved in the OHS committee must provide the necessary support to ensure its success.
Difference between responsibilities for employers and employees
Employers have a duty to provide a healthy and safe working environment by implementing a health and safety plan and programme that:
- Protects all persons from injury, illness, disability or death;
- Prevents damage to organisations assets and the general environment;
- Prevents exposure to unnecessary occupational illness;
- Prevents unexpected fires and accidents;
- Prevents unnecessary financial loss.
It is the responsibility of all employees to assist management in maintaining this health and safety plan and programme by cooperating and obeying rules put in place.
OHS Act and health and safety policy compliance and the repercussions of non-compliance
It is every employer and employee’s responsibility to comply with the OHS Act as far as is reasonably practicable. Failure by the employer and the employee to comply with the OHS Act and its requirements makes them potentially and possibly liable for criminal prosecution in a court of law.
The type, nature, intention and severity of the contravention will determine the extent of the prosecution. In instances where fatalities or extensive loss or damage to property were experienced, the Department of Labour Inspectors will investigate the scene or incident, compile a report and submit this to the Attorney General, who then decides whether to prosecute or not. Any employer or employee, who breaks the OHS Act law is criminally liable. If convicted, punishment can include hefty fines or imprisonment or even both!