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The Essentials of Occupational Health and Safety: Protecting Your Workforce

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In 2022, the workforce in South Africa was estimated to be around 15.6 million employees. Given this substantial workforce size, occupational health and safety (OHS) plays a crucial role in maintaining a motivated, safe and productive workplace, in the interests of business and South Africa. Workplace injuries can have a debilitating effect, not only on the well-being of workers but also on their motivation and morale, leading to decreased productivity and lost focus resulting in the increase in damaging incidents and accidents.

The introduction of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS) in June 1993 marked a significant improvement over its predecessor, the Machinery and Occupational Safety Act of 1983 (Act No. 6 of 1983). The OHS is a well structured, comprehensive and accepted act which looks after our whole country’s workforce.

But what exactly is occupational health and safety? The Occupational Health and Safety Act emphasises the provision of health, safety and wellbeing for all persons in the workplace. It aims to ensure this by, for example, by safe use of workplace machinery by establishing safe work procedures, also mandating their continued maintenance. In addition, also conducting regular occupational health and safety risk assessments, to identify hazards and then reduce their safety risks by implementing adequate control measures. Additionally, it provides protection for non-employees, such as visitors and contractors, who might be exposed to workplace hazards. The OHS act has many more elements, all interlinked and structured, so that when the different sections and safety regulations are followed will ensure a healthy, safe and prepared working environment.

safety regulations

Understanding Occupational Health and Safety

Occupational health and safety includes a wide variety of different elements within the workplace and tries to establish minimum workplace requirements and measures included and enforced to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses. The OHS Act 85 of 1993 aims to:

  • Ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of all persons at work
  • Promote the safe use of the plant, machinery and equipment
  • Also protect non-workers from workplace hazards
  • Through the act establish a risk free and aim for zero harm workplace
  • Include participation from everyone in OHS aims and policy
  • Etc

The website link below will provide you access to the 50 different sections of the “ Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993. See Section 8 and Section14, as discussed below, the Employer and Employee’s duties. A Useful resource: Government Website for official OHS Act documents

Benefits of Prioritising Occupational Health and Safety

Prioritising OHS brings numerous benefits to a company or organisation:
There are financial, legal and moral benefits to an effective, established and successful OHS management system. Examples of these benefits include:

  • Health and safety can contribute positively to a businesses financials by making a estimated 10% positive contribution and impact on the bottom line.
  • Fulfilment of legal and moral obligations, which reduce the possibility of fines, non compliance notices and lawsuits
  • Reduction in workplace incidents and accidents, which boosts employee moral and increases productivity
  • All of the above contribute to the long-term sustainability of an organisation.

If all the employers and the employees work together in adhering to legal requirements of the occupational health and safety act then the above benefits would be realised.

Employer Responsibilities under the OHS Act

As per section 8 of the OHS act, employers have several critical duties and responsibilities to their employees and others at the workplace:

  • At all time creating a healthy, safe and prepared working environment
  • Ensuring employee adherence to the OHS Act
  • Assessing workplace hazards and reducing risks, by Conducting and maintaining risk assessments
  • Holding regular health and safety meetings
  • Providing and maintaining personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Offering training and development as per legislative requirements
  • Making sure that the workplace is supervised in terms of OHS

Employee Responsibilities under the OHS Act

As per section 14 of the OHS act, employees also play a vital role in health and safety and adhering to the OHS acts requirements and assisting in maintaining a health and safe workplace by:

  • Complying with the safety act and different safety regulations,
  • Understanding and adhering or cooperate with health and safety instructions and policies
  • Using machinery, tools and equipment safely and correctly
  • Reporting all workplace incidents and hazards promptly
  • Wearing and maintaining PPE
  • Participating in safety training and evacuation drills

safe workplace

The Role of OHS Policies in the Workplace

A cohesive OHS policy is important for maintaining clear and thorough health and safety standards. This policy should include:

  • A health and safety policy statement, signed by the CEO, MD, or an Executive
  • Health and safety team organogram and supporting appointment letters
  • Have a clear risk assessment and management plan
  • Establish arrangements for safety protocols and procedures to be implemented
  • OHS Committee with regular employee updates and engagement
  • Promote a culture of safety and responsibility

occupational health


In conclusion, occupational health and safety is a shared responsibility between employers and employees. By adhering to the OHS Act and continuously improving safety standards, businesses can protect their workforce and enhance overall productivity. Regular training, access to reliable resources, and a strong OHS policy are key to achieving these goals. For ongoing education and training in OHS, explore the resources available through FAFST and other credible sources.

Ready to take your knowledge of Occupational Health and Safety to the next level? Enrol in our comprehensive course on The Occupational Health and Safety Act today! Equip yourself with the essential skills and understanding needed to ensure a safer workplace for everyone. Click the link to learn more and secure your spot now!

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