Dr Claire Deacon PhD (Constr. Mgt)
+27 083 658 5390
PR.CHSA (SACPCMP) 010/2013

Health Health and Safety (H&S) is most often thought of as being for large, organized business.  So many ‘one man band’ or family businesses, or those that fall into the micro or small business sector are at risk when it comes to H&S.  Why is that?  There are a number of reasons.  In many cases, its all about attitude and misconceptions.   

Comments I have heard about why not to have H&S include: ‘It will never happen to me’; or ‘I am too small to be able to afford H&S’, or ‘H&S is for sissies’, or ‘you need money to have H&S in a business’, and my all time favourite ‘Aren’t I exempt from this being an SMME?’ So what do you need to know, and what can you do to ensure you or your employees don't get injured, become ill, or die on the job?

The Department of Labour (DoL) what is thought to be an excessive number of legislative requirements that need to be applied in the workplace.  Two sets of law are non-negotiable, namely the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), No. 85 of 1993 with a number of Regulations, and the Compensation for Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA), No. 100 of 1995.  

However, each is there for a particular reason, and to address specific aspects where many are injured or have lost their lives at work. The small business sector is mostly high-risk.  How many risks do you take on a daily basis?  Accidents don't happen without some thought given – even unconsciously.  If you tell a worker to climb a ladder, and you give him a damaged ladder –you are creating a potential accident.  

What happens if your worker falls and is seriously injured, or even worse, dies? In many cases the other way of dealing with compliance is to do exactly as the law says, with no thought for the consequences. The term that describes this behavior is ‘malicious compliance’. For example, the General Safety Regulations only require a first aid box when you have 5 or more people. But the work you do is welding, a worker gets burnt, and there is no first aid box to treat the injury.

The DoL won’t be knocking on your door to see if you are complying with these Acts, rather they will be possibly be escorting you to prison, or fining you following a serious incident or fatality at your workplace. All our Laws are available on the DoL website: www.labour.gov.za - free of charge, so already, no cost involved!  There are a number of other sites other labour legislation is available, www.actsonline.co.za gives you a range of other legislation to access, also at no cost. 

Hazard Identification and Risk Assessments (HIRA)

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the United Kingdom (UK) has introduced a simple 5-step risk assessment programme that you could use in your business – again – free of charge!  They also provide a free template that is very useful.  The following steps are easy, and hopefully you will be motivated to take them. 

Step 1:  Identify all the operations and processes your business is involved with, and where there are potentially areas where someone could get hurt, e.g. using a grinder and welding.
Ask your workers what they think about where the hazards are.  Read your manufacturers guidelines to check instructions.

Step 2:  Identify who may be injured.  There are increasing numbers of young people looking for work, and many women are entering areas of work that men only used to do. Visitors coming to see you, and the general public may also be injured when affected by what you do.  Also list the types of injury or problem that may occur, e.g. waste falling off the back of your bakkie because it is not secured, could cause traffic accident, and fatalities or serious injury to the public and your employees.

Step 3: Evaluate the risks, and decide on what can be done.  When you have identified the risks, and who could be affected, then you decide what the most cost-effective way will be to reduce the risk of the accident occurring in the first place.  When you have an idea of how risky the task is, you can decide how much of a risk you want to take.  Is the risk worth it?  If it is, what do you need to do to make sure you limit the effect of the work?  What needs to be available to ensure an accident does not happen, e.g. providing a worker with proper clothing if he is going to be cutting and grinding.     

Step 4; Recording findings and implementation.  Recording findings helps you with training your staff and informing those who may be affected by your business.  You are the best person to know what will work, and to ensure your workers are protected.  Many a time a simple process like this may limit the liability you carry as an employer.  Having trained a worker on the risk he may be exposed to could limit the level of injury, or eliminate the risk entirely.  What is important is to record what the control measures are you want, and who will be responsible for checking them. 

Step 5:  Review and update.  In many cases your business does the same things, and occasionally a variation on a theme.  Therefore, once you have identified the hazards in your business, and recorded all the actions from steps 1-4, you can determine what level of risk and revisit them should conditions or circumstances change. 

Keeping all the information relative to H&S can seem a huge responsibility, but try and keep it simple. You may just save a life, and the paper trail could keep you out of trouble with the law.