Setting up your occupational health and safety plan

Keeping employees safe from risk and danger should be a priority for all employers. While working environments vary widely in the risks that they pose to health and safety - an office environment is generally safer than a car manufacturing plant - every company should treat occupational health and safety seriously. Here are some guidelines to setting up your company?s occupational health and safety plan.

1. The basics

The very first thing an employer should do is identify the health and safety risks that employees might be exposed to. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the employer must take reasonable steps to make sure all equipment is safe, functioning properly and not posing any undue risk to the employees. Vitally, employers must then ensure that the employees have been properly trained to operate and manage the machinery, equipment, chemicals or work tools.

2. Responsibility

Employers and employees have a joint and equal responsibility to maintaining workplace health and safety. Employers must keep the working conditions in good repair, and employees must act with reasonable care and diligence when performing high-risk tasks. Employees also have the responsibility of indentifying hazards in the workplace and report them to their employers. This responsibility should be clearly explained to employees to make them fully aware and they may need relevant training.

3. Occupational health and safety representatives

In larger companies, it is advisable to appoint and train one or several employees as occupational health and safety representatives, whose role is to take an active part in maintaining health and safety and to be aware of risks as they arise. The representatives must be familiar with the work they are overseeing, and play a role in reporting problems, looking into complaints and investigating incidents. First aid officer should undergo basic training and should be certified to provide basic medical care in the workplace in case of an accident.

4. Building regulations

Municipal regulations outline the rules for constructing and laying out work spaces. To comply with occupational health and safety regulations, the buildings must have planned escape routes, fire escapes for workers above the ground floor, appropriate and clear signage and other basic safety procedures. Employees must be taught these procedures, and it is beneficial to revise them regularly, for example by performing a mock fire drill.

5. Accidents happen

Even a careful employee operating safe machinery can get injured - sometimes, accidents just happen. If an injury occurs, heavy penalties can be imposed on employers who are found to have been negligent and who have not set up reasonable safety procedures. Where an employee is guilty of wilfully not complying with safety measures and incurs an injury, the employer is compelled to follow disciplinary procedures or both employee and employer could be heavily fined.

Employers should comply with the requirements of the Compensation Fund, which arises from the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, to ensure that their employees are fairly compensated for workplace accidents. This includes registering and providing annual reports, as well as compiling detailed accident reports.

Occupational health and safety measures reduce the risks inherent to dangerous work environments and ensure that employees have recourse in case something goes wrong. Both employers and employees have a duty to maintain and improve health and safety in the workplace.

For more information on the University of Cape Town ([email protected]) Occupational Health and Safety short course contact Danielle on 021 447 7565 [email protected]or visit GetSmarter