Are you aware how severe health and safety non-compliance penalties can be? Do you know how you are at risk of incurring these penalties, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS Act)? Maybe? Maybe not? And here lies the problem. Sometimes, it isn’t willful disobedience of health and safety legislation (although sometimes it is). Sometimes, companies will find themselves breaching the finer details of the OHS Act or SHE legislation entirely due to lack of knowledge.

It’s essential you know what can incriminate you. With this article, we want to help you avoid being slapped by heavy fines, by showing you all the different ways you could be violating the Act – and not even know it.

Penalties (or punishment) can vary

Penalties can range from light ones, which the Department of Labour (DoL) can order a corrective measure to be implemented as soon as possible with just a warning or slight fine, to much more severe ones, such as the shutting down of the premises or jail time served by the company owners.

Refusing to act is just as bad as acting in the wrong way

If you refuse to do any of the following, you are in direct contravention of the OHS Act:

  • Appear before an inspector
  • Fail to remain in attendance at a subpoena until the inspector excuses you
  • Be sworn or to make affirmation as a witness after being directed to do so
  • Answer or fail to answer (to the best of your knowledge and belief), any question posed to you by a DoL inspector
  • Comply with a requirement to produce:
  • a book
  • a document
  • anything specified in a subpoena
  • anything you are in possession of.

When are your actions willfully non-compliant?

If you act in any of the following ways, you are guilty of contravening the OHS Act:

  • Offer information or make a statement that is false in any material respect.
  • Hinder or obstruct an inspector in the performance of his functions.
  • Pretend to be an inspector.
  • Tamper with or discourage, threaten, deceive, or in any way unduly influence someone with regard to evidence they need to give or with regard to a book, document or thing they need to produce.
  • Prejudice, influence or anticipate the proceedings or findings of an inquiry.
  • Tamper with or misuse any safety equipment installed or provided by an employer or user.
  • Fail to use any safety equipment at a workplace or in the course of your employment (or in connection with the use of plant or machinery), which your employer provides.
  • Are reckless in the use of any machinery or equipment your employer provides (which could endanger the health and safety of you or anyone else).

When is an employer liable for contravening OHS legislation?

If you as an employer fail (or an employee with an employer who fails) to do any of the following in the promotion of health and safety in your workplace, you could be penalised by the DoL.

  • Provide and maintain a safe, healthy work environment that is without risk to employees.
  • All employees have the right to be informed. An employer must ensure each employee clearly understands the health and safety hazards of any work being done, anything being produced, processed, used, stored, handled or transported, and any equipment or machinery being used. The employer must then provide information about precautionary measures against these hazards.
  • Employees have the right not to be victimised by the employer. No employer may dismiss an employee from their service, reduce an employee’s salary or alter or reduce an employee’s service position to terms or conditions that are less favourable to the employee, because:
  • the employee supplied information required from them (in terms of the Act) to a person that is charged with administering the OHS Act
  • the employee complied with a lawful notice (such as a contravention notice or a prohibition notice)
  • the employees does something that (in terms of the Act), should have been done
  • the worker did not perform an action or do something prohibited by the Act
  • the worker has given information or evidence before a Labour Court or a Court of Law on a matter regarding health and safety.
  • The employer must provide the necessary information, instructions and training to employees.

When is an employee liable for contravening OHS legislation?

Although the OHS Act largely places the duty for health and safety on the shoulders of management, the workforce are also bound to comply with certain legal prescriptions.

  • It is the duty of every employee at work to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and others.
  • The unsafe acts of the worker may not negatively impact or endanger others. Other persons normally include co-workers, contractors, visitors and even the public.
  • The employee is also duty bound to co-operate with the employer where the OHS Act imposes a duty or requirement to be performed or complied with. Workers are legally bound to comply with the prescriptions of the OHS Act.
  • Employees should always carry out and obey lawful orders and obey the health and safety rules and procedures laid down by the employer.
  • If any unsafe or unhealthy situation is observed by an employee, he or she must report it to the employer or to the health and safety representative of the workplace.
  • Whenever an employee is involved in any incident or observe any unsafe or unhealthy situation, it must be reported to the employer or the health and safety representative. These incidents need to be reported as soon reasonably practicable, not later than the end of the particular shift. An employee may also give information to an inspector from the Department of Labour when required.
  • No employee may intentionally or recklessly interfere with damage or misuse things provided for health or safety; this includes safety equipment and personal protective equipment, firefighting equipment, etc.

Employee involvement is just as important as management involvement. Health and safety involves all levels of the workforce, from the top to the bottom. Employee involvement should be encouraged by management. It is important to establish participation, communication and trust between the various role players in order to create a positive safety culture.

Let’s talk about money… and prison.

Non-compliance with the OHS Act could result in receiving a contravention, improvement or prohibition notice from one of the Department of Labour inspectors and if not rectified in a specific period of time could result in a fine of R25,000 to R50,000 for EACH contravention. If someone is injured and OHS non-compliance is present, then the responsible individual /s (employer & employee) could be held criminally liable and receive a jail sentence as well as a fine.

Having a thorough understanding of the occupational health and safety act is important to any one in charge of managing employees and the workforce, especially CEOs.

Source: NOSA (National Occupational Safety Association)


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The information and material published on this website is provided for general purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. We make every effort to ensure that the content is updated regularly and to offer the most current and accurate information. Please contact one of our consultants on any specific labour problem or matter. We accept no responsibility for any loss or damage, whether direct or consequential, which may arise from reliance on the information contained in these pages.