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Workplace Health and Safety Representatives 

                                                              

One of the key principles of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Act 85 of 1993) is that work-related hazards and risks should be addressed through good communication between management and workers. Workplace health and safety representatives play a crucial role in this regard.

 

By Tinus Boshoff

2022/07

 

Section 17 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS Act) stipulates that an employer who has more than 20 workers in their employment at any workplace, must appoint health and safety representatives for the said workplace.

 

Health and safety representatives represent workers’ health and safety matters to management. Representatives must be full-time employees who are democratically nominated and elected by their co-workers. These suitable individuals must be familiar with the circumstances and conditions of the particular section of the workplace that they have been designated to oversee.

 

A collective agreement must first be concluded between the employer and registered trade unions before representatives are appointed. General Administrative Regulation 6 (GAR 6) of the OHS Act stipulates that the employer must meet with the registered trade unions of the said workplace in order to consult or bargain in good faith and conclude an agreement.

 

The following aspects must be discussed in order to reach a GAR 6 agreement: 

  • the nomination or election of health and safety representatives;

  • terms of office, circumstances and manner in which representatives can be removed;

  • the manner in which vacancies are to be filled;

  • the manner in which health and safety representatives must perform their functions in terms of the Act; and

  • the required facilities, training and assistance to be provided to workplace health and safety representatives.

 

Where there is no registered trade union, the employer must consult with all employee representatives in the said workplace in order to conclude an agreement.

 

How many health and safety representatives must be designated for the workplace? 

Section 17 of the Act requires a minimum of one health and safety representative to be designated for every workplace with more than 20 workers. No designated representative is necessary if there are less than 20 workers at the workplace.

 

In the case of shops and offices, one representative must be designated for every 100 workers. This means that one representative must be designated for 21 to 100 workers and two representatives where 101 to 200 workers are employed, etc.

 

In the case of other workplaces (not an office or a shop), one representative must be designated for every 50 workers or less (hence, any part of 50). For example, one representative must be designated in the case of 21 to 50 workers, and two representatives for 51 to 100 workers.

However, depending on circumstances, an inspector for the Department of Employment and Labour (DEL) may require the designation of more representatives, even if the number of workers is less than 20. For example, the layout of a plant may be of such a nature that one representative for 50 workers is insufficient. The inspector may then require the designation of more representatives for that particular plant. The GAR 6 collective agreement may also allow the employer and workers to decide and agree to the appointment of more than the prescribed number of representatives.

 

Where additional workers are occasionally employed (for example, seasonal farm work during harvesting) and the number of workers exceeds the prescribed amounts, the designation of additional representatives would be necessary.

 

Facilities, assistance and training 

According to Section 18(3) of the Act, it is the employer’s duty to ensure that representatives are provided with the necessary facilities, assistance and training to perform their prescribed duties as health and safety representatives. The training of representatives must take place during ordinary working hours.

 

Rights, powers and functions of representatives 

Section 18(1) of the Act stipulates that a designated health and safety representative may perform the following functions: 

  • review the effectiveness of health and safety measures;

  • identify potential hazards and major incidents at the workplace;

  • in collaboration with the employer, examine the causes of incidents at the workplace;

  • make representations to the employer or a health and safety committee on matters arising from the above, or where such representations are unsuccessful, to an inspector;

  • make representations to the employer on general matters affecting the health or safety of the employees at the workplace;

  • inspect the workplace;

  • participate in consultations with inspectors at the workplace and accompany inspectors on inspections of the workplace;

  • receive information from inspectors as contemplated in Section 36 of the Act; and

  • attend meetings of the health and safety committees of which he / she is a member, in connection with any of the above functions.

 

Section 18(2) stipulates that representatives shall also be entitled to: 

  • visit the site of an incident at all reasonable times and attend any investigation or formal inquiry in terms of the Act;

  • inspect any document related to health and safety matters;

  • accompany an inspector on any inspection;

  • be accompanied by a technical advisor, if approved by the employer; and

  • participate in internal health or safety audits.

 

Liability 

Section 18(4) stipulates that a representative shall not incur any civil liability if the representative has failed to do anything he / she may do, or is required to do.

 

For further information, training, audits or consultations, contact Tinus Boshoff at [email protected].

 

This article does not constitute legal advice. For an informed opinion and/or assistance with health and safety related matters, readers are encouraged to arrange a formal consultation with the author.

 

 

 

 

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