The Occupational Health and Safety Act states the following: “An employer has a duty to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that the working environment is safe and without risk to the health of his employees, or anyone that can be affected by their acts or omissions”
What is a Safety file and why do I need one?
A safety file, as defined in the Construction Regulations, is a file, or other record containing the information in writing required by the Regulations.
The Construction Regulations, section 7(1)(b), states the following:
A principle contractor must open and keep on site a health and safety file, which must include all documentation required in terms of the Act and these Regulations, which must be made available on request to an inspector, the client, the client’s agent or a contractor
Taking into consideration that this information is published in legislation, it must be understood that, having a safety file on site, is a legal requirement, which means that, if you do not comply, you can be held legally liable.
The legal implications of the Construction Regulations Amendment of 2014 are that everyone becomes responsible for health and safety, but employers remain responsible to ensure that everyone complies with their duties.
How can we expect our employees to work safely if we do not provide them with the means to do so? A safety file is a document that explains safety procedures, drawn up by a competent person, to the employees, and ensures that they comply. A safety file is needed every time that you go out and perform work on a site, regardless of the duration of the project. If you do not have a health and safety file, which is compliant, the following can happen:
- Nothing, if you are lucky enough to not get caught, OR
- You can be removed from the site that you are working at (this can be done by your client, the client’s agent, the Department of Labour, or any third party agent affiliated with the project). You can also be fined by the client, which will be specified in the client’s health and safety specifications, AND
- You can be fined for up to R50 000 per transgression of the Act or Regulations by the Department of Labour, AND
- You can be imprisoned for up to 1 year
Remember that you work with other contractors. If you are not working safely and obeying the law, you are endangering the lives of their employees as well.
Why is a safety file so expensive?
Looking at the responsibility and legal liability that lies with you as an employer, and the implications of what can happen when you do not comply, the amount quoted for safety files are not as steep. If you pay a once off amount, and if you do not have a competent person for this function on site, pay a small monthly fee to ensure that your safety is up to standard, you can save yourself a lot more money than you will end up spending. The person compiling your safety file should be qualified to do so, and for some plans in the safety file, like the Fall Protection Plan, they also need additional training as well as a registration with the Institute for Working at Heights. You are allowed to ask for their qualifications and proof of registration before using them to compile your file. The file will contain legal procedures, policies as required by legislation, and appointment letters, and if done correctly, it will provide you with a full system to ensure health and safety compliance on the site that you are working. It should be communicated and explained to you and your staff and it must be maintained. A safety file is not only a document, it is a working file that needs to be continuously updated.
Now, “as far as is reasonably practicable” is where we can assist you. You need to comply with certain regulations to ensure the health and safety of your employees, and if you don’t, and something happens, you will be held legally liable.
Here is how we can help: