A Call For Action To Improve Occupational Health And Safety In South Africa And A Critical Look At The Existing Legal Requirement And Legislation
(By Benny – OHS Compliance Group)
The fatal fire at Gauteng government building in the Johannesburg CBD on Wednesday, 05 September, 2018, calls for concern- Three firefighters died in the process.
Their deaths were confirmed by the Gauteng MEC for Infrastructure Development, Jacob Mamabolo at a media briefing. According to the staff at the building, this was the third fire in Johannesburg CBD in 2018 (as at 5th September 2018), and this is not the only building in the city that needs to be looked at for Health & Safety Audit compliance, according to Joe Mpisi (Gauteng MP and a member of the Portfolio Committee on Infrastructure).
According to the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), shop stewards raised concerns about the building prior to Wednesday’s fire, as far back as 2014, but instead of management addressing the concerns, the shop stewards were suspended, charged and dismissed after a disciplinary process, according to Tshepo Mokheranyana (Nehawu’s Gauteng Provincial Secretary).
Workers at the building, which is shared by the departments of health, human settlements and co-operative governance, were evacuated successfully after a fire broke out on the 23rd floor, allegedly due to an electrical fault. Yes, the evacuation was successful but accidents of these nature do not have to happen.
Simply put, the building did not comply with occupational health and safety standards and basic regulations.
The health and safety needs of a small or large entity can change over time and it is important that audits are carried out on a regular basis. This will ensure the continued welfare, health and safety of employees within an entity, via the systematic appraisal of on-site procedures and processes. An audit will find specific areas in which improvements need to be made for the benefit of an entity and its employees, and help entities to comply with legal duties and promote well-being.
What is a health and safety audit?
An audit is a methodical, independent and documented assessment of a business’ system and processes, in which it is measured against regulated criteria to make sure health and safety standards are being upheld. Entities should have a management system in place to ensure safety processes continue to be maintained.
What are the aims of an audit?
Though businesses differ in size and the industries in which they operate – for example, a warehouse will have different regulations to an office – an audit will in general look to assess the following factors:
- The strengths and weaknesses of the current system
- How the system performs within the aims of the entity
- If the entity is fulfilling its legal obligations within its industry
- If a proper performance reviewing system is in place
Why is it important?
Once you have health and safety procedures in place, there may be the temptation to think that you have done all you need to and that your business is set for the future. However, an audit is important and essential because it will help to:
- Reduce the risk of personal traumas or injury
- Prevent material loss from a business
- Promote employee morale
- Ensure customer confidence
What are other benefits?
Identify problems: If there are problems lurking behind the scenes, this can lead to accidents and other negative consequences for a business. The sooner they are identified and addressed, the better prepared your business will be for assisting its clients.
Credentials: If you are bidding for clients or looking into new business, you will find that the majority of companies expect you to have proper health and safety procedures in place. Having positive public relations on the back of this will ultimately benefit your business goals.
Save money: A health and safety audit provides a calculated analysis of procedures and provides fact-based changes to be implemented. This will save you from wasting money on what may be little more than second guesses about procedures and benefit areas such as employee sick leave.
Law abiding: There are different regulations and laws in place to ensure safety within different industries. If you are not abiding by these laws, it can lead to your business getting in trouble with the authorities or possibly being shut down. Being in the know that you have the proper regulations in place and eliminating the risk of injury in the workplace will ultimately benefit you and your employees.