Occupational health and safety compliance

March 2010 Security Services & Risk Management, Mining (Industry)

Business owners and management are constantly driving business to reach their goals and objectives in order to grow productivity and become prosperous, however, this can be compromised by the lack of knowledge and understanding, when it comes to the health and safety legal requirements that need to be in place.

Complying with health and safety provisions benefits you and your employees, enhances productivity, reduces loss of operating time and minimises the chance of costly litigation and hefty fines. These are not scare tactics, there are many instances where employees have litigated against their employers successfully.

Visitors and shoppers have also been successful in civil litigation:

* A lady, who was knocked down by a merchandiser in a retail store and broke her ankle was awarded R175 000 for pain and suffering.

* In the case Gordon vs. De Motta, Mrs Gordon was awarded a substantial amount after slipping on a cabbage leaf in De Motta’s fruit and vegetable store.

These cases are endless.

Our visitors from overseas, and there will be many during the FIFA Soccer World Cup, are very well informed when it comes to civil litigation, especially our friends from the USA, where they have the Stella Awards. The Stella Awards are named after 81-year-old Stella Liebeck who spilled hot coffee on herself and successfully sued McDonald’s. This case inspired the Stella Awards for the most frivolous, ridiculous, successful lawsuits in the US and is awarded annually.

Here are some of the winners:

Third Place: A Philadelphia restaurant was ordered to pay Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, $113 500 after she slipped on a soft drink and broke her coccyx (tailbone). The beverage was on the floor because Carson had thrown it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument.

Second Place: Kara Walton of Claymont, Delaware, successfully sued the owner of a night club in a neighbouring city when she fell from the bathroom window to the floor and knocked out her two front teeth. This occurred while Walton was trying to sneak through the window in the ladies room to avoid paying the $3,50 cover charge. She was awarded $12 000 and dental expenses.

First Place: Last year’s runaway winner was Merv Grazinski of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Grazinski purchased a brand new 32-foot Winnebago motor home. On the first trip home, having driven onto the freeway, Grazinski set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the driver’s seat to go into the back and make a sandwich. Not surprisingly, the RV left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not advising her in the owner’s manual that she could not actually do this.

The jury awarded her $1 750 000. Plus a new motor home. The company actually changed their manuals on the basis of this suit, just in case there were any other complete morons around.

Real compliance

Are South African companies ready to be able to handle these types of events? It is imperative that every workplace has a copy of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 (OHS Act).

The provisions of the OHS Act may seem to impose yet another administrative burden and added expense on employers. However, by maintaining a safe workplace and ensuring that employees comply with health and safety regulations, the company will be the winner. In a nutshell, the act states that businesses have a duty to:

* Provide a safe and risk-free workplace.

* Ensure employees are given proper training, information and supervision regarding health and safety risks and that safety regulations are enforced.

* Make sure that all plant, machinery, tools and equipment are in good working order and properly maintained.

* Provide employees with protective clothing and equipment, but only after all other reasonable steps have been taken to eliminate health and safety hazards.

* Find out what hazards are associated with the storage, handling, production, transportation and usage of substances and machinery.

* Ensure that plant and machinery are used under the supervision of a properly trained person who has the authority to ensure that workers obey instructions.

Section 9 stipulates that the employer must also ensure the health and safety of other people who are affected by their activities.

Appointing health and safety representatives

If your workforce at any workplace exceeds 20 employees, you must designate at least one health and safety representative for every 100 employees in a shop or office and at least one for every 50 employees in any other kind of workplace.

The functions and responsibilities of a Health and Safety Representative, include:

* Reviewing the effectiveness of current health and safety measures.

* Identifying potential hazards.

* Investigating and examining causes of incidents at the workplace.

* Investigating employee complaints relating to health and safety.

* Required to make representation to the employer or health and safety committee with regard to health and safety risks, hazards and concerns.

* Conduct regular health and safety risk and hazard inspections.

* Attend incident investigations or formal inquiries.

* Inspect documentation relating to health and safety matters.

* Encourage and promote health and safety standards.

Once there are two or more health and safety representatives at the workplace, you are required to establish a health and safety committee and all health and safety representatives must be members of the committee. In addition you may nominate other members of staff to serve on the committee, as advisors but they may not vote.

The question that must be asked by the owner or chief executive officer is, 'Can the company afford not to comply with the provisions of the OHS Act?' From a risk perspective one can only answer 'no', the physical and monitory risks are one thing, but what can be said about the risk to the company’s reputation?

The benefits of compliance

* Reduced cost.

* Better quality.

* Higher productivity.

* Less staff turnover.

* Fewer labour disputes.

* Elimination of costly civil litigation.

For more information contact Errol Peace, BTC Training (Africa), +27 (0)11 869 1946, errol@btctraining.co.za, www.btcafrica.co.za


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