In South Africa now, Google searches for “workplace safety” and “regulation” (as a related search term) have increased to the highest number of searches in the past year – amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic and South Africa’s lockdown regulations allowing more people to return to the workplace premises, it is essential for employers and employees to understand the basics of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS).
OHS systems mean that control measures are implemented to prevent the occurrence of accidents, incidents, deaths, or damage to individuals and property in the workplace. These control measures are guided by the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993. This Act stipulates many regulations to be followed for creating safe working environments. Different sectors have different regulations that they need to implement to keep the employer and employees safe from harm.
It’s not easy to instill constant mindfulness of OHS procedures in the workplace, especially in lower-risk environments such as office buildings or classrooms. However, it is a vitally important part of any workplace. Putting a Safety Plan and Risk Assessment in place for your workforce is the first step towards fostering mindfulness – and it holds many other benefits for the workplace too.
Safety Plans – what and why?
A Safety Plan is a comprehensive tool that details the framework of safety practices in your particular workplace. Furthermore, every Safety Plan is targeted to a specific activity or department. Many companies have dozens of Safety Plans in place for different operations and working conditions.
A Safety Plan, if it is well-written (relevant and detailed) and well-communicated to employees, it provides every worker with the information they need on exactly how to handle specific situations – whether it is an accident, death, or minor incident that places a colleague at risk of harm.
A major benefit of the Safety Plan, often overlooked by employers, is the effect of a well-communicated Safety Plan on employee perceptions. Having a robust Safety Plan in place goes a long way to show your organisation’s commitment to keeping workers safe and feeling secure while doing their job. Safety planning can make your team more productive and happier.
One of the most challenging things of creating a Safety Plan for your unique workplace is the comprehensiveness of each plan. When creating the Safety Plan you must provide a framework on how to handle each specific incident, being careful not to leave out any key steps or details that could derail your plan’s effectiveness.
Simple tips for creating an effective Safety Plan
While each Safety Plan will be unique to the situation and environment, here are a few important details you must address when outlining your Safety Plans:
- Immediate actions to take in the situation
- Procedures to secure the area of the incident
- Important personnel to contact regarding each incident
- Method(s) of communication to alert others about incidents
- Safe handling instructions and application
- Protective gear, such as masks, hard hats, or gloves
- Evacuation routes
- Reporting and data collection procedures
- Training plans
- Waste or equipment disposal
- Media relations (if applicable)
- Risk Assessments
Safety Plans can become incredibly complex when working in hazardous environments, and sometimes require the specialist expertise of a Health and Safety Practitioner in order to ensure each plan is comprehensive and realistic. On the other hand, too many workplaces overlook their Safety Plans’ importance because they consider it to be low risk and therefore low priority when there are so many other issues vying for the attention of the employer and employees. In the light of the renewed focus on the Occupational Health and Safety of workers returning to their workplaces across South Africa, each employer should take the time to review, update, or create their Safety Plans.