Health & Safety – What every business needs to know

After the Lisbon building fire tragedy in Johannesburg a lot of businesses have found themselves under scrutiny for not complying with the health and safety standards. These standards are as applicable to small business owners’ as they are to  big ones.  If you own a small business here is what you need to know.

What is occupational health and safety about?

It is about preventing people from being harmed by work or falling ill as a result of work by taking precautions and providing a satisfactory working environment.

What possible risks and injuries can be sustained at the workplace?

There are a number of risks that can be found at work. The following are a few examples of possible risks:  Slipping or tripping at work, chemicals, falling from heights etc. The employer or self-employed person has the responsibility to ensure that no person is injured or affected by activities taking place at the workplace. Workers at the workplace must also make sure that no person is harmed because of their negligence or simple lack of cooperation with the employer.

How is the health and safety of the people protected?

There are rules which require all of us not to put ourselves or others in danger. The law is also there to protect the public from workplace dangers. According to the labour guide The Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993, requires the employer to bring about and maintain, as far as reasonably practicable, a work environment that is safe and without risk to the health of the workers.

What should be done if an injury has occurred at work?

The employer or self-employed person should report incidents to the Department of Labour. The incidents should be reported immediately, especially if they are serious, or within seven days.

Furthermore in the event that an employee has been injured, disabled or has died as a result of a work incident the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA) applies. COIDA provides for compensation for disablement caused by occupational injuries or diseases sustained or contracted by employees in the course of their employment, or for death resulting from such injuries or diseases; and to other matters connected therewith.

Who is responsible for the development and enforcement of health and safety laws?

The Department of Labour is responsible for the development of health and safety laws in South Africa and the enforcement thereof. The Department appoints Inspectors whose function it is to enforce the health and safety laws. They visit workplaces and check that people are sticking to the rules. They investigate incidents and complaints. They also help you understand what you need to do. They will usually fine the employer when there is serious violation of rules.

Do health and safety laws apply to small businesses?

Yes, health and safety laws apply to all businesses no matter how small.


  • If you are unsure of what you need to do speak to the department of labour or have your legal provider do same.

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