The Department of Labour (DoL) on Monday promulgated the Construction Regulations 2014 providing a legislative platform to address health and safety in the South African construction industry.
The 2014 regulations amended the first South African construction regulations promulgated in 2003. The process to amend the original regulations had started in 2006, after which the revised regulations were published for comment in 2010.
Speaking at the launch of the regulations, Minister of Labour Mildred Oliphant said for the country’s economy to grow, proper infrastructure, which included cities and towns, was needed and the only industry that could make this possible was the construction industry.
“[However], even though this industry is the heart and soul of our economy, it continues to be bedevilled by poor health and safety management,” she said, adding that while some efforts were made to improve health and safety, the industry was still not up to standard.
“The safety of employees must be an absolute priority. It is unacceptable that on average two South African construction workers die every week,” Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi said, also speaking at the promulgation.
He added that, according to extensive research by the Council for the Built Environment a deficiency of regulation in the area of construction health and safety was one of the fundamental reasons for the current poor standards of health and safety management in the delivery of construction projects.
“We are satisfied that with these regulations we have addressed concerns raised by a number of stakeholders, including the Construction Industry Development Board, with regard to the need to have regulations amended to promote optimum health and safety throughout all phases of a project, particularly in the conception, initiation and detailed design phases,” Oliphant stated.
She further noted that the new regulations, aside from providing a legislative platform for addressing health and safety, also sought to harness the power of the different competitive forces to work together for the good of projects, identifying and also placing certain legal responsibilities on different key stakeholders.
“All stakeholders, including workers, bear responsibility for creating and maintaining safe construction workplaces, with clients holding the greatest potential leverage, which is the authority to influence the behaviour of others,” Oliphant explained.
The Minister further said, importantly, the Construction Regulations 2014 introduced the concept of a construction work-permit system that would require an application to be lodged with the DoL 30 days before construction work was undertaken.
“Being granted a construction work permit will not be automatic. Each application will properly be scrutinised to ensure that it meets the requirement for granting such a permit,” she said.
Another important aspect introduced in the regulations was the registration of construction professionals in three categories, namely construction health and safety agent, construction health and safety manager, and construction health and safety officer.
This registration would have to be done through the South African Council for the Project and Construction Management Professions, and professionals would be subject to a process, including an interview or exam to test their competence.
“Some of the more tangible benefits that are expected from the regulation of construction health and safety professionals were, among others, the improvement of health and safety management on all construction projects, increased employee and public confidence in employer construction health and safety projects, and enhanced quality of life,” Nxesi stated.
Oliphant further announced that she had instructed the health and safety chief inspector to establish a construction health and safety technical committee, which would consist of various industry stakeholders.
“The primary role of this committee will be to advise the chief inspector on construction-related codes, standards and training requirements, and to designate persons in writing to examine safety systems and records of companies which have high incident rates and provide recommendations to the chief inspector of occupational health and safety on the findings,” Oliphant explained.
Meanwhile, Nxesi pointed out that the Department of Public Works (DPW) also had the role of regulating the construction sector, adding that it strived to improve the industry’s health and safety compliance levels.
“This will be achieved by [among other measures] including occupational health and safety requirements [in] the grading system for contractors,” he said.
The department would also enforce necessary measures to ensure compliance by those involved in early project planning and design stages, as well as to ensure that bills of quantities by bidders or contractors encompassed a site-specific health and safety plan.
Nxesi added that the DPW was also currently conducting scheduled inspections on all construction sites to ensure that all contractors provided protective clothing and equipment to their workers.