LOUISE WOODBURN Companies are encouraged to proactively identify risks and ensure that adequate controls are set to protect employees from harm should situations arise that compromise their health and safety
While South Africa’s legislative framework extensively covers various aspects of health and safety, companies could greatly benefit from expert safety, health and environmental (SHE) advisers to assist them to implement the necessary protocols, says KBC Risk Solutions GM Louise Woodburn.
She explains that the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA) do not specify how companies can achieve full compliance, thereby leaving them to their own devices to implement health and safety policies that may be inadequate, owing to a lack of understanding.
Moreover, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, as well as the Department of Employment and Labour, do not have sufficient representatives to monitor compliance across South Africa, further increasing the need to engage a professional team to keep companies accountable.
“Many companies fail to understand the relevance of health and safety in a working environment and the need to comply with the OHSA and MHSA. Companies have a moral, ethical, financial and legislative obligation to take care of their people,” expresses Woodburn.
From a financial perspective, injuries and occupational diseases could impact on a company’s bottom line and, subsequently, increase insurance premiums.
Meanwhile, companies found to be in contravention of the OHSA and MHSA may have to pay administrative fees or face contravention notices, with Woodburn warning that “ignorance is not a defence in the court of law”.
Hence, companies are encouraged to proactively identify risks and ensure that adequate controls are set to protect employees from harm should situations arise that compromise their health and safety.
This includes, for example, being prepared for an unprecedented health pandemic and monitoring the mental health of employees.
“Work-related stress can impact on physical health and, consequently, lead to safety incidents. At KBC, we adopt a holistic approach by making sure that companies consider all spheres of safety and health, which includes physical and mental health.
“We start with a legal compliance audit to help clients gain a better understanding of where they are in terms of the legislative framework, and then we build their systems to make sure that they are compliant in all aspects of the law,” notes Woodburn.
To assist in this regard, KBC offers its Virtual Safety Officer service that enables companies to engage with a safety compliance officer without requiring their physical presence.
The service allows for greater flexibility for clients based in remote areas while providing a cost-effective solution, owing to assessments being conducted virtually.
KBC is also engaging with legislators regarding amendments to be outlined in the new Occupational Health and Safety Bill, to be released by 2024/25, and will provide guidance to clients to make sure that they are ready to adopt these revised policies
“There are cost-effective ways of protecting employees from occupational health and safety issues without spending vast amounts of money. Safety is a journey; it is about building systems as you identify risks, and implementing relevant controls,” concludes Woodburn.