The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) was implemented in South Africa in 1994. The OHSA gives workers certain rights and responsibilities in relation to health and safety in the workplace. It also requires the management of an organisation to set up safety committees, and to develop and implement certain safety measures in the workplace.
As an employee, however, it is also important that you take responsibility for your own health and safety at work, and that you take reasonable precautions in this regard while you are present in the workplace.
Let’s look at some of the biggest health and safety risks you might face in the workplace in South Africa:
Inadequate supply and use of protective equipment:
Particularly in high risk environments such as in mines, on construction sites, and in situations where strong chemicals are used, employees should have access to suitable protective equipment and should be trained in how to use it properly.
Many employers, however, ignore the safety regulations, and fail to ensure that their employees have access to the necessary safety equipment, or that they know how to use it. And, because many employees are unaware of their rights in this regard (or because they are scared that they might lose their jobs), they do not ask their employers for safety equipment or safety training.
Poor ventilation, or lack of fresh air in the workplace, poses various health risks to employees and others present in the workplace. Poor ventilation can lead to:
- Lack of concentration – which can lead to accidents in the workplace
- Illness (headaches, sinus infections, shortness of breath, asthma, nausea, etc.) – which reduces productivity
- A build-up of mould – which can cause serious illness
Many employers are not aware of the consequences of poor ventilation and air quality, or do not regard it as a priority to ensure that there is adequate ventilation in the working environment.
Lack of hygiene:
Proper hygiene is essential to health and safety in the workplace. However, there are still too many examples of employees not having access to basic hygiene at work. There are still employers who do not:
- Ensure that there is adequate toilet paper and soap in the bathrooms.
- Ensure that their employees are aware of the importance of washing their hands regularly.
- Encourage their employees to stay at home when they have contagious illnesses.
Lack of proper hygiene poses serious health risks, and may lead to the spread of infectious diseases in the workplace. It doesn’t only affect employees, but also anyone else who comes into contact with those employees (such as family members, customers, clients, and suppliers).
HIV/AIDS is prevalent in South Africa, and poses a variety of risks in the workplace, particularly in situations where there is a lack of attention to hygiene, where there is a lack of protective safety equipment (such as gloves), or where there is a lack of understanding of the illness and how it is transmitted.
According to Labour Guide, an employer’s HIV/AIDS policy should state that “HIV/AIDS will be treated like any other life-threatening disease. [The policy] should encourage employees to be tested on a voluntary basis, at company expense, and should encourage employees to disclose their HIV status in confidence to the employer.”
Unfortunately, however, many employers do not implement their HIV/AIDS policies correctly, and also do not make enough of an effort to ensure that their employees are educated on HIV/AIDS and how to prevent it from being transmitted in the workplace.
What can we do to address these risks?
There are a number of steps that both organisations and individuals can take to address these risks and to improve the safety of employees in the working environment.
- Develop and implement proper health and safety management systems in the workplace.
- Communicate clearly, openly, and frequently with employees regarding health and safety issues.
- Provide the necessary protective equipment.
- Train employees on how to use protective equipment and how to look after themselves (and others) in the workplace.
- Promote health and safety awareness in the workplace by setting an example for employees to follow.
- Set the example for others by following the health and safety rules and procedures in the workplace.
- Volunteer to become a health and safety representative.
- Learn more about health and safety in the workplace by studying an Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) course.
- Raise awareness of rights and responsibilities relating to health and safety in the workplace.
Want to find out where you can study an Occupational Health and Safety course on a part-time basis from home?