Understanding the Occupational Health and Safety Act - OHS Act

Who does the Occupational Health and Safety Act Protect?

This guide was written in the interest of the health and safety of workers in South Africa. It is not intended as a substitute for the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993. It is intended to explain the Act in simple, non-legal terms to all the role players in the South African occupational health and safety field.

What does the act entail?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993, requires the employer to bring about and maintain, as far as reasonably practicable, a work environment that is safe and without risk to the health of the workers.

This means that the employer must ensure that the workplace is free of hazardous substances, such as benzene, chlorine and micro organisms, articles, equipment, processes, etc. that may cause injury, damage or disease. Where this is not possible, the employer must inform workers of these dangers, how they may be prevented, and how to work safely, and provide other protective measures for a safe workplace.

Does the employee have any say in the matter?

The Act is based on the principle that dangers in the workplace must be addressed by communication and cooperation between the workers and the employer. The workers and the employer must share the responsibility for health and safety in the workplace. Both parties must pro-actively identify dangers and develop control measures to make the workplace safe.

In this way, the employer and the workers are involved in a system where health and safety representatives may inspect the workplace regularly and then report to a health and safety committee, who in turn may submit recommendations to the employer.

What is a Safety Inspection?

Inspections are usually planned on the basis of accident statistics, the presence of hazardous substances, such as the use of benzene in laundries, or the use of dangerous machinery in the workplace.

Unplanned inspections, on the other hand, usually arise from requests or complaints by workers, employers, or members of the public. These complaints or requests are treated confidentially.

What power do safety inspectors have?

If an inspector finds dangerous or adverse conditions at the workplace, they may issue the employer with a prohibition notice (prohibit a particular action, process, or the use of a machine or equipment), a contravention notice (immediate prosecution, but in the case of a contravention of a regulation, the employer may be given the opportunity to correct the contravention within a time limit specified in the notice which is usually 60 days), or an improvement notice (require the employer to bring about more effective measures).

The inspector may also enter any workplace or premises where machinery or hazardous substances are being used and question or serve a summons on persons to appear before them. The inspector may request that any documents be submitted, investigate and make copies of the documents, and demand an explanation about any entries in such documents. The inspector may also inspect any condition or article and take samples of it, and seize any article that may serve as evidence.

What must the employer do to ensure that the work environment is safe and without risk to the health of his or her workers?

The employer must provide and maintain all the equipment that is necessary to do the work, and all the systems according to which work must be done, in a condition that will not affect the health and safety of workers.

Before personal protective equipment may be used, the employer must first try to remove or reduce any danger to the health and safety of his workers. Only when this is not practicable, should personal protective equipment be used. The employer must take measures to protect his or her workers’ health and safety against hazards that may result from the production, processing, use, handling, storage or transportation of articles or substances, in other words, anything that workers may come into contact with at work.

To ensure that these duties are complied with, the employer must:

• Identify potential hazards.
• Establish the precautionary measures.

• Provide the necessary information, instructions, training and supervision

• Not permit anyone to carry on with any task unless the necessary precautionary measures have been taken.
• Take steps to ensure that every person under his or her control complies with the requirements of the Act.
• Enforce the necessary control measures in the interest of health and safety.
• See to it that the work being done and the equipment used, is under the general supervision of a worker who has been trained to understand the hazards associated with the work.

• Such a worker must ensure that the precautionary measures are implemented and maintained.

For more information, check out the Dept. Of Labour website: Labour Guide