Legal safety

Legal safety

LexisNexis recently hosted its annual occupational health and safety (OHASA) seminar. THINUS VAN ROOYEN reports.

On October 24, LexisNexis, a leading global provider of content-enabled workflow solutions, held its occupational health and safety seminar (OHASA) at the Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs (ENS) auditorium in Sandton.

The seminar aimed to provide information about new developments and the latest trends in occupational health and safety law. The topics ranged from common law liability of the employer, for damages from occupational diseases, to compliance with construction regulations.

The OHASA seminar hosted a selection of authoritative speakers, who all have vast experience in this field of law.

One such speaker was Willem le Roux, a director at ENS, with over 37 years of experience in the legal realm. He played a role in the creation of the 1996 Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA) and is the author of Mine Health and Safety Law, published by LexisNexis. Le Roux presented sessions on proposed amendments to the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA), and provided guidelines to define whether a workplace is safe or hazardous to employees.

The Department of Labour (DoL) states that COIDA aims to provide compensation for disablement caused by occupational injuries or diseases sustained or contracted by employees in the course of their employment. It also focuses on diseases and death resulting from such injuries and the matters connected therewith.

One new aspect that the DoL intends to introduce in this compensation legislation is the requirement for the rehabilitation and reintegration of employees into the workplace, in the event of such persons having been disabled. It is proposed that this obligation must be absolute.

Le Roux stressed that such an obligation must be limited to a measure of “reasonable practicability” – that one must take into account the hazard to which other employees and the employer may be exposed, if the employee is to be reintegrated into the workplace after sustaining an injury.

A simplified example would be that if a reintegrated employee is wheelchair bound, and the wheelchair endangers his fellow employees, a legal catch-22 is caused.

Regarding safety and the recognition of hazards in a workplace, he cited the Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA) as a benchmark most industries can employ to define the safety of a workplace due to its specificity and structure.

Among other things, the MHSA aims to promote a culture of health and safety, provide necessary enforcement, and regulate the duties of employers and employees in identifying, controlling and minimising risk.

Le Roux noted that industry awareness is important when assessing hazards. “Always keep in mind what is happening elsewhere in the industry,” he said. “Research organisations are necessary to pre-emptively avoid the repetition of history.”

Le Roux also suggested caution when assessing the hazards in a workplace, and that all facets of a situation should be taken into account. “Objectivity in one’s investigations is crucial to make sure that companies aren’t closed without sufficient reason,” he said. “One swallow doesn’t make a summer. After all, brashly closing operations scares investors.”

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