By Luisa van der Linde
Workplace safety measures are non-negotiable. It is not only the responsibility of the management team or safety committee to be safety conscious. The onus is also on artisans to correctly apply safety measures to ensure their own safety and that of colleagues.
In South Africa there are two Acts that govern safety in the workplace.
The first is the Mine Health and Safety Act, No 29 of 1996, that governs safety in mines, and the other is the Occupational Health and Safety Act, No 85 of 1993, that has applied in South Africa since 1994. The latter is the Act that governs safety in factories or in basically any workplace that is not a mine or on a ship (safety on ships is dealt with separately). Both Acts describe the duties of employers and employees to ensure safety in the workplace.
As an employee you should immediately report any unsafe situation or procedure that may affect your own safety or that of your colleagues. Remember, your employer is not allowed to take any disciplinary action against you or dismiss you for bringing unsafe working conditions to the attention of a safety or health inspector.
Orientation and emergency plans
You, as well as every other person in your company, should know exactly what the physical layout of your workplace is and where fire extinguishers are to be found. Emergency evacuation exercises should be conducted on a regular basis to prepare for any emergency that may occur at the workplace.
Correct safety clothing
You and your colleagues should wear the prescribed safety clothing at all times. If you are working in a high-risk area such as a construction site or a mine, you have to receive training in how and when to use fire-resistant jackets, protective goggles, hard hat, ear plugs or other extra safety requisites.
Malicious injury to property
If you ever see a colleague or visitor maliciously damaging something in the workplace, it is your duty to report it as soon as possible, because it could cause a safety risk.
First aid skills
If the opportunity presents itself, enrol for a basic first aid course so you will know what to do in a crisis situation. You also should know who is the designated first aid person in your work area so you can ask the right person for assistance as soon as possible.
Warning signs at dangerous machinery, slippery surfaces or the handling of hazardous materials could prevent fatal accidents. When you see crooked, neglected and missing warning signs, immediately report it to ensure your own safety and that of your colleagues.
Accidents and risks
Every accident, now matter how minor, has to be reported to your foreman or line manager without delay. Your employer should keep detailed records of such accidents and report them to the relevant safety representative and the Department of Employment and Labour if justified by the seriousness of the incident. It remains extremely important for you as an employee to act in a preventive manner as far as possible.
General hints for you as an artisan
- Immediately report anything that could affect a person’s safety.
- Volunteer to be a safety representative.
- Tell your colleagues how important safety at work is.
- Set an example by diligently complying with regulations regarding safety at work.
- Learn more about safety by acquainting yourself with the contents of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The role of your management team
While it is your management team’s responsibility to put in place proper safety measures in the workplace, the onus nevertheless is on you as an employee to comply with such measures.
If you feel you and your colleagues are not receiving adequate guidance or training on how and when to wear safety clothing or how to use machinery safely or what to look out for in the workshop, discuss it with your management.
The employer also is responsible for the structural safety of the building where you are working. Remind your employer to conduct inspections annually if the building is newer than two years. For buildings older than two years, inspections should take place every six months.
The employer is also responsible for, inter alia, maintenance and inspection of lifts and ensuring that the building’s electricity certificate is in order, that there is adequate lighting and ventilation in the workplace and that there is sufficient water and sanitation to minimise health risks for employees.
Employers also are responsible for appointing safety representatives (one for every 20 employees), who have to do the following:
Showing and practising contingency plans for employees.
Informing the rest of the employees of any danger.
Ensuring that all employees are wearing their safety equipment.
Offering training to workers so they can do their work safely.
Ensuring that equipment and machinery are working properly and are maintained.
When an accident does occur, the safety representative must ensure that no evidence is removed.
It is extremely important for artisans and the management team of the company to co-operate in preventing accidents in the workplace. If an employee is injured because of negligence, stiff fines and even imprisonment may be imposed. Negligence by anyone at the business could result in permanent damage, injuries or even death, so it is important to put safety first.