Workplace Safety

Health and Safety in Small Business
Whether you have two employees or two hundred, issues regarding health and safety in the workplace are important and will affect you. Your employees have a legal right to work in safe conditions for their personal health and safety and it is therefore important for you to offer this type of workplace environment.

If you don’t, you will be in breach of the regulations and could put your employees in danger of personal injury or ill health. You could be held liable, and have legal action taken against you, which might damage your business financially, as well as its good name and reputation.

Accidents can cause damage to the assets of the business and key players in the business can be put out of action, thus affecting production and efficiency. It is important, therefore, to maintain proper health and safety precautions to avoid disasters.

Workplace Safety
Workplace safety is governed by the Health & Safety Employment Act 1992. This Act entitles employees to work in a safe environment and requires you, as an employer, to provide a safe workplace. It was amended by the Health & Safety Employment Amendment Act 2002, which came into effect on 5 May 2003.

Briefly, the Health & Safety Employment Act 1992 requires you, as an employer, to:

  • Identify and control hazards in the workplace.
  • Train and supervise all your staff.
  • Provide all staff with a safe environment.
  • Keep all staff informed and involved in the health and safety issues and processes.
  • Record all accidents and report any serious injuries to OSH (Occupational Safety and Health Service).

Everyone in the workplace needs to know their rights and obligations if they are to be adequately protected and kept safe and healthy. The need to know what to do if an accident or a “near miss” incident occurs.

Establish Rules for the Workplace
One of the great things about running your own business is that you get to set your own rules. This may sound attractive, but with the freedom to be your own boss, comes responsibilities. If you set up bad rules they can be oppressive and cause inefficiencies, whereas good rules will help your employees be more productive, as well as avoid conflicts and problems in the workplace.

The correct rules for your business will depend on the type of business you have and the type of work you do.

Some general guidelines applying to every business include:

  • Workweek: Your business workweek should be fully defined, including the hours the employee is required to work.
  • Salaries: Full details of salary guidelines should be made available, including when employees can expect reviews.
  • Vacation: Time off for vacations, or illness, or funerals etc, should be firmly established.
  • Drugs, alcohol, etc: Rules regarding consumption of alcohol and smoking should be clearly set out so employees know where they stand.
  • Sexual harassment: Employees need to be aware of what constitutes harassment, because many people do not consider sexist jokes or unwanted physical contact to be sexual harassment.
  • Use of Internet and email: Put in policies that will administer and control the use of email and the Internet, because these areas can result in lost production and increased costs.
  • Reviews: Your employees should be very clear on the period when their job, as well as their remuneration, is reviewed.

Offences and Penalties under the Health and Safety Laws
It is an offence for any employer to fail to do anything they are required to do under the Act, or to do something they are not allowed to do under the Act - if they know that it is reasonably likely to cause harm to the employees. As an employer, you can be imprisoned for up to two years or fined up to $500,000, or both. If you fail to comply with Health and Safety law, or regulations, there is a fine of up to $250,000. It is illegal to take out an insurance policy against any fines or fees imposed under the law.