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HR 101 – Safety Laws & the SMME

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Please note that this applies to South African Labour requirements and best practice.

The Occupational Health & Safety Act (OHSA) applies to everyone – irrespective of whether you have 1 employee or you have 100 000 employees – it applies to everyone.

Right, now that I have that out of the way, less unpack it and see exactly what that means.

Most small business owners/entrepreneurs that I know, seem to think that the Act only applies to large corporations – please understand that it doesn’t – the Act requires that an ‘employer’ must ensure that the workplace is free of ‘hazardous ergonomics and substances, micro-organisms etc, which may cause injury or disease’.

The purpose of the Act is to establish a minimum set of standards and requirements of occupational health and safety within the workplace or working environment.

Actually, if the truth be told all companies should have a health policy, which needs to be applicable to all of their employees and workplaces. Actually it needs to be for persons other than their employees too – so it would need to be applicable to clients or service providers and others who would be ‘visiting’ their premises for whatever reason.

Where SMME’s go wrong is that they compare their small workplace to that of a mine or a large manufacturing plant or factory and then they don’t see their workplace as a potentially dangerous working environment. Truth be told, all employees have a constitutional right to work in a safe environment, so employers need to do whatever they can to prevent injury to their staff and it is also advisable for them to have someone trained to deal with emergencies.

The employee also has an obligation not to put themselves at risk. For example if they work say on site in a construction company, as much as the employer is required to supply the employee with protective clothing, such as a hard hat or steel capped boots and gloves, the employee is obliged to wear such clothing and cooperate with the employers requests on the matter. Failure to do that would actually constitute ‘negligence’ on the part of the employee and the employee can be disciplined and actually dismissed on these charges.

Be warned, inspectors from the Department of Labour regularly inspect companies – large and small and they will also investigate any incident where someone is injured or any complaint that may have been made and if the SMME has not complied they will be in for penalties, just the same as any large corporation.

Remember too, that it is the responsibility of the company to report any injury that has occurred in the workplace to the Department of Labour within 7 days of the incident occurring. This does not just apply to incidents where someone has lost a limb but also incidents arising when someone slips or trips or is exposed to chemicals or falls from a height or where someone has a sprain or strain or sustains a burn or even noise damage etc.

If you, as an SMME or entrepreneur, are not sure of what needs to be done be sure to get some help. But get yourselves a ‘health policy’ and get yourself informed – someone’s life may well depend upon it.

 

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