ILO report highlights the fragmentation of OHS legislation

Enforcement of legislation is a challenge with poor employer compliance and limited human resources capacity for inspections.

Although South Africa has a progressive occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation regime, the country needs to fast-track the process of merging legislation, according to a recently released report.

The Profile of Occupational Health and Safety South Africa report further calls for the development of a national policy on occupational safety and health.

Employment and Labour Deputy Minister Boitumelo Moloi said the launch of the report was a milestone in the country’s history and she acknowledged that fragmentation of legislation and working in silos was harming efforts towards zero harm. She said the OHS legislation currently being amended also needed to be strengthened to protect workers.

The report is a project commissioned jointly by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Department of Employment and Labour and provides a historical analysis of occupational health and safety in South Africa.

The report contains a number of key themes and insights that came out of the confidential, semi-structured in-depth interviews with 34 purposefully selected participants, representing seven stakeholder groups: worker organisations, employer organisations including informal economy, government departments, professional bodies, bargaining councils, standardising bodies and training institutions participated..

According to the report’s respondents the legislation generally excludes informal economy and domestic workers. The respondents also viewed legislation as punitive.

The report said enforcement of legislation was perceived as a challenge with poor compliance by employers and serious limitations with human resources capacity for inspections. Enforcement was perceived as generally reactive.

Findings from quantitative data point to good efforts in inspections by the Department of Employment and Labour despite the fact that they are under-resourced. In 2019 over 28,000 inspections were conducted with fewer than 300 inspectors.

The report said inspections show poor compliance by the wholesale and retail sector and the construction sector. The wholesale and retail sector records the highest number of Compensation Fund claims, which exceeds even the police and the security services. Iron and steel industry also has a high number of incidents.

Participants highlighted that Covid-19 has revealed opportunities that South Africa had not explored before: for example, technology was used to make information quickly available.

Some participants pointed out that the OHSA does not explicitly express the right of workers to refuse to do dangerous work. They claimed that it is common for workers to be dismissed for refusing to do work that they find to be dangerous, especially in the farming sector.

Business Unity South Africa director Deidre Penfold said the private sector was committed to finding mechanisms to drive compliance with legislation and regulations through partnerships with the key and relevant government representatives.

“There is no doubt that Covid-19 immediately brought OHS at workplaces to the fore,” Deidre said.

Black Business Council (BBC) chief executive Gregory Mofokeng said the number of workplace incidents still remains unacceptably high.

Mofokeng said the BBC wanted to work closely with the government to expose companies that do not adhere to legislation.
Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) secretary general Riefdah Ajam said Covid-19 had “exposed shortcomings in our workplaces”.