Every employer who has more than 20 employees in his employment at any workplace must appoint in writing for a specific period a safety representative. The number of representatives required will be 1 per 100 employees (or part thereof) in the case of shops and offices and 1 per 50 employees (or part thereof) for all other operations. The safety representatives should be elected by the workforce. I have found that this very often does not work. Only full-time employees are eligible to be appointed.

When deciding on health and safety representatives, one should subdivide the operation into meaningful units, e.g. raw material stores, plant A, plant B, plant C, finish goods store, workshop, laboratory, administration etc. Each should have a representative.

Where there are two or more safety representatives, you should have a safety committee. All safety representatives should be members of the committee. The employer must make a proper meeting room available for the committee to meet; it will meet at least once every three month. Minutes must be made of all the meetings; these minutes must be endorsed and must be kept for three years.

The safety representatives have certain duties. These include:
a. Review of effectiveness of health and safety measures
b. Identify potential hazards and potential major incidents at the workplace
c. Assist the employer in examining the cause of incidents / accidents at the workplace
d. Investigate any complaints from employees regarding their health and safety
e. Make recommendations to the employer through the health and safety committee regarding matters mentioned above. If it fails he may report it to the Dep. of Labour Inspector.
f. Make representation to the employer on general matters affecting the health and safety of the employees at the workplace.
g. Do regular inspections of the workplace and report on any unsafe act or equipment.
h. Participate in consultation with inspectors at the workplace and accompany them on inspections of the workplace.
i. Receive information from the department of Labour Inspectors.
j. Attend meetings of the health and safety committee.

A health and safety representative may:
a. Visit the site of an incident / accident at all reasonable times and attend any inspection in loco.
b. Attend any investigation or formal enquiry held in terms of the Act.
c. Inspect any document which the employer is required to keep in terms of the OH&S Act.
d. Accompany an inspector on any inspection
e. Participate in any internal health and safety audit.

The employer shall provide the necessary facilities, assistance and training of the health and safety representatives in order for him to be able to carry out his function.

The health and safety representative shall not incur any civil liability by reason of the fact only that he failed to do anything which he may do or is required to do in terms of the Act.

In a nutshell: A company should have safety representatives – they should represent the different sections of the operation. They have certain rights and duties, which the employer must assist in complying with. They must be trained! They must be drawn in the running of the health and safety program. They have no liability should something go wrong – that remains the responsibility of management.

Written by Frans Wilbrink of Wilbrink & Associates, tel. 031 – 266 9035