1.1. HEALTH AND SAFETY IN THE WORKPLACE
Keeping safe and avoiding risks to your health at work are obviously important issues. No one wants their lives to be temporarily or permanently affected by bad working conditions.
Whether you are permanent or agency staff, a contractor, an apprentice or on work placement, you need to be aware of issues that affect your health and safety at work.
Although it is up to your employer to make sure that any potential risk to your health and safety are properly controlled, you also need to be aware of your own responsibilities.
As a worker, you have a duty to take care of your own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by your actions or inactions. An inaction is when you don't do something and this causes harm to others. Health and safety legislation, therefore, requires employers and workers to cooperate! This will mean that you can play your part in improving health and safety in the workplace.
Studies show time and again that workers who actively contribute to health and safety at work, are safer and healthier than those who don't. By working with your employer and your fellow workers to maintain the highest standards of health and safety, you can have a long, happy and healthy career in your chosen profession without suffering needless injuries and ill health.
The law says that your employer must tell you how to do your job safely and what is done to protect your health and safety. They must also inform you about all risks to your health and safety from current or proposed working practices and things or changes that may harm or affect your health and safety. Finally they must let you know how to get first-aid treatment and what to do in an emergency.
Your employer must also provide free training for you to do your job safely. They must provide protection for you at work when necessary, things like, clothing, shoes or boots, eye and ear protection, gloves and masks. You should also have access to health checks if there is a danger of ill health because of your work, regular health checks if you work nights and even a check before you start the job.
You should have easy access to your employer's health and safety policy statement and their up-to-date Employers' Liability (Compulsory Insurance) certificate, which should be visible in your place of work.
You should use your common sense to stay safe at work by co-operating with others on health and safety, and not interfering with, or misusing, anything provided for your health, safety or welfare.
If you think that you are in any sort of danger in the work place you should stop working immediately and leave the area. Make sure you inform your employer about your health and safety concerns and if this doesn't seem to do any good, you can contact the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), or your local authority, without getting into trouble.
Health and safety at work isn't just avoiding the obvious risks though. Tiredness and fatigue can lead to accidents too, and because of this all workers are entitled to rest breaks and an annual period of paid leave. Legally you should be given a rest break of at least 20 minutes if you work more than six hours at a stretch. You should make sure that you take these rests, as it is also your responsibility to maintain your health at work, and doing obviously risky jobs, like driving a forklift, whilst tired can lead to accidents.
Employers should not treat disabled workers unfairly. They should make reasonable adjustments to ensure that you are not disadvantaged in your workplace. However, the Disability Discrimination Act does not override health and safety laws, There might be instances when, although an adjustment could be made, it would not be considered reasonable as it would endanger the health and safety of you or others.
1.2. EMPLOYEES’ HEALTH AND SAFETY RESPONSIBILITIES
Employers have legal obligations to ensure a safe and healthy workplace. As an employee, you have rights, and you have responsibilities for your own well being and that of your colleagues. Find out what these responsibilities are, and how you can meet them.
1.2.1 Health and Safety duties of workers can be listed as follows:
- The employee must take care of his or her own Health and Safety, as well as that of other persons who may be affected by his or her actions or negligence to act. This includes playing at work. Many people have been injured and even killed owing to horseplay in the workplace, and that is considered a serious contravention.
- Where the Occupational Health and Safety Act imposes a duty or requirements on the worker to cooperate with the employer.
- The employee must provide information to an inspector from the Department of Labour if he or she should require it.
- Workers must carry out any lawful instruction which the employer or authorized person prescribes with regard to Health and Safety.
- Employees must comply with the rules and procedures that the employer gives him/her.
- They must wear the prescribed personal protective clothing or use the prescribed safety equipment where it is required (PPE).
- Workers must report unsafe or unhealthy conditions to the employer or Health and Safety representative as soon as possible.
- If the employee is involved in an incident that may influence his or her health or cause an injury, report that incident to the employer, and authorised person or the Health and Safety representative as soon as possible, but no later than by the end of the shift.
1.3. RIGHTS OF THE WORKER
The Occupational Health and Safety Act has extended workers’ rights to include the following:
1.3.1 The Right to Information
a) The worker must have access to:
b) The worker may request the employer to inform him or her about:
- The Occupational Health and Safety Act and regulations
- Health and Safety rules and procedures of the workplace
- Health and safety standards which the employer must keep at the workplace.
- Health and Safety hazards in the workplace
- The precautionary measures which must be taken
- The procedures that must be followed if a worker is exposed to substances hazardous to health.
The worker may request that his or her private medical practitioner investigate his or her medical and exposure records.
If the worker is a Health and Safety representative, he or she may investigate and comment in writing on exposure assessments and monitoring reports.
c) The Right to Participate in Inspections
If the worker is a Health and Safety representative, he or she may accompany a Health and Safety inspector from the Department of Labour during an inspection of the workplace and answer any questions the inspector may ask.
d) The Right to Comment on Legislation and make Representations
The worker may comment or make representations on any regulation or Safety standard published under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
e) The Right not to be Victimised
An employer may not dismiss a worker from his service, reduce a worker’s salary or reduce a worker’s service conditions because:
- The worker supplied information, which is required of him or her in terms of the Act, to someone who is charged with the administration of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
- The worker complied with a lawful notice, (e.g. a prohibition, contravention notice, etc.)
- The worker did something which in terms of the Health and Safety Act should have been done.
- The worker did not do something which in terms of the Act is prohibited.
- The worker has given evidence before the Industrial Court or a court of law on matters regarding Health and Safety.
f) The Right to Appeal
- The worker may appeal against the decision of an inspector. Appeals must be referred in writing to the Chief Inspector, Occupational Health and Safety, Department of Labour, Private Bag X117, Pretoria, 0001.
g) Duty not to interfere with or Misuse objects
- No-one may interfere with or misuse any object that has been provided in the interest of Health and Safety. A person may, for example, not remove a safety guard from a machine and use the machine or allow anybody else to use it without such a guard.
h) Employee’s rights expanded
Your rights as an employee to work in a safe and healthy environment are given to you by law, and generally can't be changed or removed by your employer. The most important rights are:
- As far as possible, to have any risks to your health and safety properly controlled
- To be provided, free of charge, with any personal protective and safety equipment
- If you have reasonable concerns about your safety, to stop work and leave your work area, without being disciplined
- To tell your employer about any health and safety concerns you have
- To get in touch with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or your local authority if your employer won't listen to your concerns, without being disciplined
- To have rest breaks during the working day, to have time off from work during the working week, and to have annual paid holiday
i) Your responsibilities
- Your most important responsibilities as an employee are:
- To take reasonable care of your own health and safety
- If possible avoid wearing jewellery or loose clothing if operating machinery
- If you have long hair or wear a headscarf, make sure it's tucked out of the way (it could get caught in machinery)
- To take reasonable care not to put other people - fellow employees and members of the public - at risk by what you do or don't do in the course of your work
- To co-operate with your employer, making sure you get proper training and you understand and follow the company's health and safety policies
- Not to interfere with or misuse anything that's been provided for your health, safety or welfare
- To report any injuries, strains or illnesses you suffer as a result of doing your job (your employer may need to change the way you work)
- To tell your employer if something happens that might affect your ability to work (eg becoming pregnant or suffering an injury) - your employer has a legal responsibility for your health and safety, they may need to suspend you while they find a solution to the problem, but you will normally be paid if this happens
- If you drive or operate machinery, to tell your employer if you take medication that makes you drowsy - they should temporarily move you to another job if they have one for you to do.
1.4. PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT
Your employer must provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to you free of charge. You must use this correctly, and follow the training and instruction you have been given.
In some jobs, failure to use PPE properly can be grounds for disciplinary action or even dismissal. However, you can refuse to wear PPE if it puts your safety at risk (eg PPE of the wrong size could put you at risk because of its poor fit). Ask your employer or the firm's safety representative for the right size (which must be provided free of charge).
If you are a Sikh who works on construction sites and wear a turban you can legally refuse to wear head protection on religious grounds. This does not apply if you work at sites other than construction sites where, for example the use of safety helments would still be required.
If you are a Sikh who does not wear a turban you must wear the appropriate head protection.
1.5. THE ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF EMPLOYERS
1.5.1 Health and Safety in the workplace is a duty of the employer.
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.
a) To ensure that these Health and Safety duties are complied with, the employer must:
- Identify potential hazards and risks which may be present while work is being done, something is being produced, processed, used, stored or transported, and any equipment is being used,
- Establish the precautionary measures that are necessary to protect his or her workers against the identified hazards and provide the means to implement these precautionary measures,
- Provide the necessary information, instructions, training and supervision while keeping the extent of workers’ competence in mind. In other words, what they may do and may not do,
- 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.
b) All workers have the right to be informed
The employer must see to it that every worker is informed and clearly understands the health and safety hazards of any work being done, anything being produced, processed, used, stored, handled or transported, and any equipment or machinery being used. The employer must then provide information about precautionary measures against these hazards.
The employer must inform health and safety representatives when an inspector notifies him or her of inspections and investigations, to be conducted at the premises. The employer must also inform health and safety representatives of any application for exemption made, or of any exemption granted to him or her in terms of the Act. Exemption means being exempted from certain provisions of the Act, regulations, notices or instructions issued in terms of the Act.
The employer must, as soon as possible, inform the health and safety representatives of the occurrence of an incident in the workplace. An incident is an event that occurs at the workplace where a person is killed, injured or becomes ill. It is also the spillage of a hazardous chemical substance, for example, when a tank leaks formaldehyde (a chemical product used in industry) due to a faulty valve, or where machinery runs out of control, without killing or injuring anyone.
Please hover over the (i) on the images below to view the description
General duties of manufacturers, designers, importers, sellers or suppliers regarding the use
of articles and substances at work
Please hover over the (i) on the images below to view the description
Manufacturers, designers, importers, sellers and suppliers must
ensure that: their articles are safe and without risk to health and
comply with all prescribed requirements when a structure or an article is installed on any premises, it must be done in such a way that neither an unsafe situation nor a health risk is created.
Manufacturers, designers, importers, sellers and suppliers of any substances must ensure that:
- Such substances are safe and without risk to health when it is used properly
- Information is available on the –
- Use of the substance at work
- Health and safety risk associated with the substance
- Conditions that is necessary to ensure that the substance will be safe and without risk to health when properly used procedures in case of an person to whom an article or substance has been sold or supplied, undertakes in writing to take specified steps to ensure that the article or substance will meet all the prescribed requirements, and will be safe and without risk to health, the duties of the importer, designer, seller, supplier or manufacturer will subsequently shift to the person who undertakes to take such steps.