by Yvonne Nhuta on 07/08/12 at 12:22 pm
A hotel chef was walking past a deep fat fryer, holding a bag of potatoes when she slipped on some water coming from a leaky sink. As she reached out to steady herself, she plunged her arm into the hot oil, which resulted in third degree burns to her hand and arm. After the surgery she was off work for almost five months and the hotel was liable for damages and compensation. All companies and organisations, regardless of their area of business, have to make occupational health and safety management a priority in the workplace. The health and safety of employees at work is a pivotal factor not only in determining how happy and comfortable the workforce is, but also how productive and constructive they are. Here are a few important tips that companies should take into consideration regarding their health and safety management.
A health and safety management system
Different industries will have different health and safety requirements. For example office workers will not have the same requirements as construction workers or builders. Nevertheless, the ultimate goal is to provide a safe and as much as is reasonably practicable, hazard free environment, in which accidents and work-related illnesses can be prevented. With a functional health and safety management system, a company will not only be able to achieve and demonstrate legal compliance but will also ensure that any health and safety risks are addressed in a systematic manner. Consequently the organisation will be prepared for any emergency and they will be able to show a genuine commitment to health and safety throughout the organisation.
Health and safety objectives
Having a health and safety policy set up within an organisation, allows for performance targets to be made as well as for the motivation of the workforce through tangible goals that can result in individual or collective rewards. The Occupational Health and Safety Act requires the employer to create and maintain a work environment that is safe and risk free to the health of the workers. This means that dangerous or adverse conditions such as open wires, unattended machinery or even incorrect chair backs, always need to be taken care of. The employer needs to ensure that measures are taken to protect workers form anything they may come into contact with at work. This is done by establishing precautionary measures, providing the necessary information, training and supervision as well as identifying potential hazards which may be present while work is being done.
Health and safety representatives
A representative needs to be assigned for every workplace that consists of 20 or more workers. In order to ensure the health and safety needs of workers are seen to, the health and safety representative should make it a point to monitor, investigate and report on any health and safety matters in the workplace. In South Africa, provincial offices have been established from which occupational health and safety inspectors are dispatched to carry out inspections and investigations at workplaces. Inspections are usually planned on the basis of for example, accident statistics and the use of dangerous machinery, and unplanned inspections usually arise from requests or complaints by workers or health and safety representatives. Should an inspector find dangerous conditions at the workplace they have the right to prohibit a production process, serve a contravention notice, which can result in immediate prosecution or issue an improvement notice, which will require the employer to bring about more effective health and safety measures.
Health and safety programmes are an important aspect of preventative measures in the workplace. These programmes can help employers and employees understand the nature of the hazards and risks they are surrounded by on a daily basis and teach the benefits of practicing appropriate workplace behaviour. People in positions of higher management need to take an active approach to educating their workers in order to maintain a healthy and safe working environment. Without this kind of awareness, employers risk putting unprepared workers in high hazard areas and as a result both the job and the person who is doing it are negatively affected.
Yvonne Nhuta is part of the academic department at GetSmarter, an online education company. GetSmarter works together with University of Cape Town to present short courses in small business management, project management, internet marketing, financial management and more. View more articles by Yvonne Nhuta.