The training of Health & Safety Representatives has very little positive outcome in industry. The content of training provided and asked for by employers does not satisfy the legally required functionalities of the Occupational Health and Safety Act( 85 of 1993) or the General Administrative Regulations.
Why is there no election process? Why is training provided after the Health & Safety Representative has signed the letter of appointment? Why do employers send their new Health & Safety Representatives on one, two or three-day training? Why is training for all the Health & Safety Representative elections and functions not provided? Is there a lack of support for Health & Safety Representatives at the work place? Why don’t Health & Safety Committees function as prescribed? Why don’t service providers enlighten the employer regarding the functional content of the Act? Michele Bowmer, looks at the situation.
Lack of Employer Understanding and Knowledge
Many employers do not have sufficient knowledge of the content and intent of the Act regarding Health & Safety Representatives. Often the employer selects Health & Safety Representatives and does not understand the importance for them to be elected by their co-workers. No process of nomination and election takes place; and worst of all; the selected Health & Safety Representative signs the appointment letter without understanding the duties and responsibilities which are being laid on their shoulders.
The general understanding by employers in industry is the Health & Safety Representative walks around once a month with a checklist, ticking off items as they go. With this type of thinking, the Health & Safety Representative training seems to be sufficient to the employer. Some employers pay the selected Health & Safety Representatives extra money each month. This makes being an Health & Safety Representative very lucrative for the worker; even though they have little or no interest. Health & Safety Representatives need to have a passion for keeping their workplace safe and healthy, the fact that Health & Safety work is done during normal work hours means it becomes part of their daily routine which they are paid for anyway.
Training of Health & Safety Representatives
The one, two or three-day training is usually conducted in a classroom away from the work site. This means that if any practical exercise is done during the training it often can’t be related to the Health & Safety Representative’s work environment to which they return to work after the training.
The Health & Safety Representative tries to complete their duties and functions without any work situation practical knowledgeand understanding of the importance of doing inspections using risk based thinking or how the completed inspection and deviations have an impact on the health and safety of the workforce by preventing potential incidents. The Health & Safety Representative doesn’t fully understand the risk assessment process and can’t identify risk behaviour or conditions for the same reason.
Back at Work – Lack of Support
The Health & Safety Representatives will do their monthly inspections, but there are a few problems in this area. No inspection schedule is implemented which means the inspections are done on any old day. Sometimes work comes first and inspections take a back seat and either don’t get done or are rushed resulting in insufficient attention being paid to things that could go wrong and result in incidents.
When managers and/or supervisors are given the inspection report, they often sign it off without reading it. Some will read it and take no action to correct problems.Making the Health & Safety Representative feel as if what he does is unimportant. The fall-out of this is the Health & Safety Representative feels a lack of achievement which ends with the inspections becoming a paper exercise.
This also adds to the lack of participation in the Health & Safety Committee meetings where the Health & Safety Representative has not done the inspection and therefore has nothing to bring for discussion.
Suffice it to say that managers and supervisors need to be trained in the role of support for Health & Safety Representatives and what their legal duties and responsibilities are.
Health & Safety Committees
The Health & Safety Representatives have not drawn up an Health & Safety Committee constitution (because they were not trained to do this). No meeting schedule or set agenda has been implemented. The meetings are chaired by someone selected by management and not elected and voted in by the Health & Safety Representatives. The officers of the committee are mostly from management.
There are more management selected attendees than Health & Safety Representatives, making it impossible for fair voting practices; and often creating a situation whereby the Health & Safety Representatives don’t want to participate in discussions because they will be shot down by management and what is the point anyway when the decisions will be made by management. Because the chairperson is probably from management, what is presented at management meetings does not carry the concerns of the Health & Safety Representatives. Or if the chairperson is an elected Health & Safety Representative, he/she is not included at the management meetings, the Health & Safety Committee meeting minutes are read but no action is taken, or the chairperson does attend, but is only permitted to speak for a short time not allowing for sufficient coverage of the minutes.
Training that doesn’t Comply
Service providers are in business, should income be the first goal; or should correct and adequate service provision be the driver?
Providing training consisting of one, two or three days which doesn’t adequately cover all the requirements of the Act and regulations doesn’t constitute the full training an Health & Safety Representative needs to have. The lack of on-site related practical exercises and evaluation of assessment defeats the whole purpose of the Health & Safety Representative functions; not to mention the total lack of complying with the SAQA requirements for training.
The employer may be told that Health & Safety Representatives must attend other training as well to complete their knowledge and understanding. This is fine, but the employer may only send his Health & Safety Representatives for the other training months down the line. When the training is split like this the learner seldom connects the dots and is unable to link previous training which happened months ago, to the training now being given.
The employer is not told that the nomination, election, training and appointment of Health & Safety Representatives is a process controlled by law. Is it not incumbent on service providers to present their services based on the legal requirements?
It all looks great on paper, but in truth; it doesn’t really exist. At the end of the day everybody is responsible.
- It starts with the employer and service provider. The employer needs to have the training done, but the service provider doesn’t present the legal requirements to the employer.
- The employer or person requesting the training doesn’t have sufficient knowledge of the legal requirements, the training decision is based on price and the amount of time away from work, rather than adequate training.
- The Health & Safety Representatives return to work after training without having the ability to carry out their functions as per the law.
- Managers and Supervisors do not know what their role is or what is required of them to provide support to the Health & Safety Representatives.
- And finally, companies that don’t comply with the legal requirements as employers will have many incidents which could result in significant losses, because they don’t really understand that the Health & Safety Representatives are the eyes and ears in the workplace, preventing losses every day.