In accordance with South Africa’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, every company with more than 20 employees must appoint health and safety representatives – at least one per 50 employees.
The Necessity of Health and Safety Representatives
These representatives must be full-time workers who are familiar with the workplace and must be trained during working hours. Their duties are to monitor, investigate and report on health and safety matters, to accompany inspectors during inspections and attend health and safety committee meetings – which must take place every three months when more than two health and safety representatives are employed. Essentially, the role of the health and safety representative is to make sure that there is nothing that could jeopardise the health of any employee, and their duties may include reviewing the effectiveness of health and safety measures, identifying potential hazards and major incidents, examining the causes of incidents and investigating complaints – as well as advising the committee and the employer. Representatives also visit incidents sites and attend inspections, investigations or formal inquiries, accompany inspectors and participate in internal audits. Health and safety representatives may contact the Department of Labour to report dangerous conditions and request and investigation, but the DoL may also launch their own investigations without notice. Because the appointment of health and safety representatives is required by the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the failure to appoint one is a direct contravention of regulations and is punishable by up to a year in prison, or up to R50 000 in fines, or both.