The Health and Safety policy of a company or organisation communicates the general and specific commitments, company rules and regulations to achieve the goal of a healthy and safe environment for all who may be affected by it. The question that often causes some confusion among employers is whether a company needs a Health and Safety Policy in addition to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).

The answer, according to Section 7 of the OHSA (Act 85 of 1993), is that it is not compulsory to have a health and safety policy unless or until directed to do so by the chief inspector.

Section 7 – Health and Safety policy

(1)     The chief inspector may direct

(a)         any employer in writing; and

(b)         any category of employers, by notice in the Gazette, to prepare a written policy concerning the protection of the health and safety of his employees at work, including a description of his organisation and the arrangements for carrying out and reviewing that policy.

(2)     Any direction under subsection (1) shall be accompanied by guidelines concerning the contents of the policy concerned.

(3)     An employer shall prominently display a copy of the policy referred to in subsection (1), signed by the chief executive officer, in the workplace where his employees normally report for service.

However, when reading the Act in its entirety, it becomes rather obvious that the question should be moot. Even when a company is not obligated to have a bespoke Health and Safety policy, the employer is still duty-bound to ensure that all workers are informed of work-related risks and dangers, and how these can be prevented. This is where carefully planned health and safety policies proves to be an invaluable tool. Whereas employers must comply with minimum standard legislation and the OHSA, these standards may not fully cover the particular risk and dangers of their operation. As it is still the duty of the employer to communication these risks and dangers to workers, it is best to do so in a written form, thus creating a company-specific Health and Safety policy.

A good policy will dictate the company’s commitment to the health and safety of its workers and customers as well as be broad enough to cover all aspects of the organisations’ activities. It will have been drafted with input from the employer, employees and experts in occupational health and safety and follow and comply with the OHSA. It will also help to avoid the expense, inconvenience, and consequences of workplace accidents by making sure that all role players are informed and know what is expected of them.

The health and safety policy should include:

  • A description of the organisation
  • A statement of the company’s dedication to complying with the OHSA
  • The organisation’s basic health and safety philosophy
  • Roles and responsibilities of management and workers
  • The consultation process between management and employees
  • Guidelines and procedures on how to remove, minimize or control risks
  • Supervision and consequences of non-compliance

A Health and Safety policy should be continually updated after regular reviews with input from the latest inspections and feedback from workers to ensure it remains effective.