Occupational Health & Safety Act In Office Bound Companies
Written by Gerrit Augustyn
There seems to be a massive misperception in South Africa that the Occupational Health & Safety Act only applies to manufacturing companies, companies with workshops, machinery etc. The believe is that the Act and Regulations are not applicable on those employers that work predominantly in an office environment.
This is a wrong interpretation of the law as the definition of premises under section 1 makes it very clear: “premises includes any building, vehicle, vessel, train or aircraft”. On this aspect it is also important to note that there is no words such as “owned or rented” included in the definition. Although the scope of applicable legislation is a lot less, the OHS Act and several of the Regulations do apply.
Looking at the Act it is clear that the following are still applicable to an employer in a purely office environment:
- Section 8 which deals with the duty of the Employer. Most companies have stairs, this is a major risk and contributes to a lot of incidents where employees fall and injury themselves. Section 8(2)(d) requires that the employer identify the hazards in the working environment to which employees are exposed and would thus require that the stairs be identify as safety hazards with trip and fall as inherit risk. Section 8(2)(b) places the duty on the employer to eliminate or mitigate the hazards to which employees are exposed. The risk of tripping and falling cannot be totally eliminated as this would basically require the removal of the stairs. It can however be mitigated by having non-skid devices on the stairs, by having a rule as employer that an employee may not go up or down the stairs unless they have one foot on the ground and their hand on the handrail.
- If an employer has more than 20 employees they need to have Health & Safety Representatives appointed in terms of section 17. These Representatives must be nominated and elected by the workforce. The Representatives must be trained in HIRA, SHE Rep and Incident Investigation to enable them to perform their work as Health & Safety Representatives in terms of section 18.
- As soon as an employer has two or more Health & Safety Representatives the employer must establish a Health & Safety Committee in terms of section 19. The committee must perform their functions as prescribed in section 19 of which the most important is to discuss all incidents in terms of which a person suffered personal injury in terms of section 20(1)(b) as the committee is the only ones that can close out such incident in the incident register of the employer.
- In term of section 9 read in conjunction with section 37(2) it is clear that the employer in an office environment has a legal duty to manage any third party on his/her premises as they incur vicarious liability for their actions. It means that the employer has to manage the external security provider, the external cleaning service, the external gardening service, the external provider services the elevator, the external service provider performing maintenance on the air conditioners etc.
These are just some of the basic requirements of the Act and looking at the Regulations there is some generic matters that applies to all companies, irrespective of the nature of their business. Some of these are the following:
- If an employer has more than 5 employees they need a first aid box, if they have more than 10 employees they need first aiders in terms of regulation 3 of the General Safety Regulations. The ratio of appointment is 1-100. These first aiders must be trained. The first aid box must be stocked with the minimum content as prescribed in the Annexure to General Safety Regulations.
- The employer has a duty to ensure that a means of egress is available in the event of an emergency as well as firefighting equipment in terms of Environmental Regulations for Workplaces regulation 9.
- The employer has a duty to ensure that the ventilation and illuminance is at the prescribed level as required in regulation 3 & 5 of the Environmental Regulations for workplaces. This is achieved through Occupational Hygiene Surveys.
- The employer has to ensure that the building undergoes structural integrity inspections annually if the building is older than 2 years and every 6 months if it is less than 2 years old.
- The employer must ensure that the electrical installation meets the legislative requirement and that they are in possession of a Certificate of Compliance as required in regulation 7 of the Electrical Installation Regulations.
- If there is an electric fence on the premises the employer must be in possession of an Electric Fence Certificate of Compliance as required in regulation 12 of the Electrical Machinery Regulations.
- If there is a lift in the building the employer will have to ensure that it is maintained and inspected as required in the Lift, Escalator and Passenger Conveyor Regulations.
In most companies some employees will be expected to travel on public roads to client premises for meetings. This creates a major risk for the employer as incidents occurring in these instances is a liability for the organisation. This would require the management of the vehicle and person in terms of the National Road Traffic Act.
When vehicles get involved it is important to manage the effect fatigue can have on the operators of vehicles as required in terms of the OHS Act, but also the Basic Conditions of Employment Act section 7(b). If the expectation is that a female employee have to visit clients through travel on public roads one should look at the protection of such a female employee and her unborn child during pregnancy. This not only required in terms of the OHS Act but also section 26 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.
From the examples mentioned above it is clear that Occupational Health & Safety and the Act is not only applicable on those employers that work in technical environments, but that it includes employers in an office environment.