Any Health & Safety plan, no matter how comprehensive, will only ever yield results commensurate with how well it is followed. Both employers and employees are responsible, in an interdependent relationship, for the health and safety of everyone in the workplace.

Unfortunately, it will be necessary to enforce the health and safety regulations with disciplinary policies and sanctions when an employee behave in a way that could or did lead to an incident. To do so within the bounds of labour law, an employer will need an established disciplinary policy including the health and safety principles as well as clear consequences for transgressions.

The Labour Relations Act (LRA), Schedule 8, stipulates in section 3 that “all employers should adopt disciplinary rules that establish the standard of conduct required of their employees.”

“The right to apply these rules must be backed up by a clear disciplinary code to which the employees are held accountable.  If and when the employees do not adhere to the rules as established in the code, the employer should then be able to safely apply progressive disciplinary steps as needed according to the agreed guidelines in the code.” (JOBLAW, Procedurally fair disciplinary hearings, 21 May 2020)

It is important to keep in mind that an employee may not be disciplined for breaking a rule – no matter how serious the repercussions – that he or she was not aware of prior to the incident. This underscores the importance of implementing and communicating a disciplinary code, with health and safety provisions, as early as possible.

Rules and standards of conduct should clarify:

  • Serious offenses

Serious offenses, with regards to health and safety protocol, may include theft of safety equipment, insubordination by refusing to follow health and safety standards and guidelines, consumption of alcoholic beverages on company premises, arriving at work under the influence of alcohol or any substance having a narcotic producing effect, etc.

  • Disciplinary actions

The policy should clearly set out what disciplinary action may be imposed should an employee be found guilty of breaking any rule listed under serious offenses, particularly when a finding for misconduct and may result in a dismissal.

Structuring the code in this way will ensure that employees have a clear understanding regarding the consequences of unacceptable behaviour and health and safety violations. The integration of health and safety transgression into the company disciplinary policy is not limited to these charges and should be informed by the circumstances of the industry the company operates in and the tasks performed by its employees.

Record should be kept of the health and safety transgressions to analyse any trends emerging from the data. This information should be incorporated into health and safety audits and policy updates to increase safety measures.

Disciplinary measures should only be used as a tool as part of a holistic implementation of appropriate health and safety policies, guidelines, and training within a safety culture in the organisation.