Health and Safety

What health and safety means to you.

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As I was reading the news, I came across these headlines “Patients being evacuated after fire breaks out at the Bheki Mlangeni District Hospital (Jabulani Hospital).” Fortunately, it was reported that no serious injuries were sustained, and patients affected were relocated to another hospital unharmed. A lot goes through one’s mind. What if this was to happen at my workplace? Is our building fire compliant and are our employees safe? This must be every CEO’s worst nightmare and we all hope that it never happens to us. 

Every employer would like to believe that their workplace is safe and that no one will meet their death due unsafe conditions. This brings us to the question, how safe is your workplace? Many define health and safety differently. According to Section 8 of the OHS Act, employers have a legal duty to provide a workplace that is safe and without harm to their employees, contractors and members of the public. Should this not be complied with, it constitutes a criminal offence on the part of the employer.

The concept of Health and Safety is always a tricky one, as pointed out by W. H. Heinrich’s Industrial Accident Prevention, first published in 1931. Heinrich said unsafe acts account for 88 % of accidents, while unsafe conditions account for 10%.

Health and Safety can be further broken down into these categories:

HEALTH

a) Medical fitness

Employees are taken through a series of medicals tests to ensure that they are medically fit to work in an environment determined by their Job description. Its important that a lot of education takes place as employees tend to be sensitive to medicals tests as they don’t trust motives behind it.

SAFETY

b) Unsafe condition

“Are hazards that have the potential to cause injury or death to an employee. Some of these hazards include erroneous safety procedures, malfunctioning equipment or tools, or failure to utilize necessary safety equipment such as goggles and masks.” We can also give a practical example where the employer fails to supply fire extinguishers to prevent workplace fires.

c) Unsafe act

“Performance of a task or other activity that is conducted in a manner that may threaten the health and/or safety of workers.”

Unsafe acts are associated with employees while unsafe conditions are linked to employers.  When an employee removes a fire extinguisher from its strategic place that will be regarded as an unsafe act. The law directs employers to create an environment that doesn’t harm their employees. By employers we refer to everyone that hires or employs people and pays them a salary or wages in return for their services. 

Unsafe acts and conditions give rise to occupational diseases and injuries and threatens the wellbeing of employees in the workplace. Employers, irrespective of industry, have a legal responsibility to put controls in place in order to mitigate any risk brought about by hazardous conditions in the workplace. While so doing, they also need to ensure that the same employees that are required to work in those environments are medically fit to work there. There are several interventions that employers, guided by applicable legal requirements, can implement to ensure the safety of their employees. Those are:

(i) Conducting Risk assessments

(ii) Written Safe Working procedures

(iii) Information and Training

(iv) Implementation of controls measures

(v) Safety Inspections and Audits - Monitoring those controls to ensure continues effectiveness.

(vi) Incident management strategies 

The idea of a safe working environment is always debated by both employees and employers especially when looking at responsibilities for creating such. Due lack of knowledge and training, employees always believe that employers can single-handedly create a safe working environment without their cooperation. Section 14 of the OHS Act puts things into perspective by stating that employees are expected to cooperate with the employer in creating a safe environment by reporting any unsafe conditions. We can conclude that a healthy and safe working environment is a result of a good partnership between the employer and the employee.

Written by Juliet Kekana – Managing Director – De-novo HSE Training and Consulting

For more information on health and safety services, visit our website www.denovohse.co.za

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