As a health and safety professional, you want to ensure that you have everything that is absolutely necessary to managing and minimising risk in your workplace. But, even in health and safety, there is such a thing as overkill. What you need is a benchmark against which you can assess your internal health and safety processes, to ensure you meet the minimum legal requirements.
Here are the three non-negotiable elements you must include. (Please note: this is not a finite list and there will be other elements you will need to include depending on the nature of your business.)
- A written health and safety policy/statement
This is by far the most important piece of documentation you will need. Section 7 of the OHS Act states that employers are obliged to provide one if the Department of Labour’s (DoL) chief inspector has instructed that they should. It’s therefore not compulsory, but even if you aren’t necessitated to create one, at the very least it is still your duty to inform your employees of all work-related risks and dangers, and the measures you have taken to manage these. A written policy will make communicating this easier anyway.
Your health and safety policy solidifies your commitment to protecting your employees from accidents and occupational diseases, and also provides direction to all company activities and the criteria to measure and evaluate efficiency.
There are no hard and fast rules about what to include in a policy. Create a policy that is suitable and sufficient to address the health and safety needs of your company.
- Legally required safety signs
It will depend on your individual workplace, and you will need to consult the relevant regulations to see precisely which safety signs you are required to displayed. There are five categories of safety signs, some or all of which you will be required to display:
Informative, firefighting: These are square in shape, with a white background and red border. The symbol must be in red and placed in the centre of the sign. Typical examples of such signs are the location arrow, fire extinguisher, fire hose, etc.
Informative, general: These are square in shape with a green background and the white symbol centrally placed. Typical examples of such signs are those for first aid equipment, general direction arrows, direction to escape route, etc.
Mandatory sign: These are round in shape with a blue background, and the symbol placed centrally in white. Typical examples of such signs are those advising that certain pieces of protective clothing must be worn (e.g. goggles, respiratory protection, hand protection, etc).
Prohibition sign: These are round in shape with a white background and a circular band and diagonal bar in red. The symbol must be black and placed in the centre of the sign without obliterating the cross-bar. Typical examples of such signs are those prohibiting smoking, fire and open flames, the use of cell phones, etc.
Warning sign: These are triangular in shape with a yellow background and black triangular band. The symbol or words must be black and placed in the centre of the sign. Typical examples of such signs are those warning of the danger of explosion, electric shocks, slippery walking surface, etc.
- Fire safety
Preventing a blaze
The first and most important aspect of fire safety is preventing one from actually breaking out. You will have to hire a government accredited service provider to assess your risk for fire and put steps in place to reduce these as much as possible.
- banning smoking in certain areas, especially near potentially flammable materials or enclosed spaces
- testing all electrical equipment on a regular basis for potential fires hazards
- using plugs with trip-switches; making sure electric cables aren't laying around on the floor and so on
- assigning employees to do a sweep of the office/workshop every day; make sure electrical equipment is switched off, and to identify potential fire hazards
- training some members of staff in fire safety, risk assessment and emergency procedures
- making sure all employees adhere to these rules and continuously revise/update your prevention strategy to avoid becoming complacent.
Assessing your risk
Before you relax and think you already have all these measures in place, remember that inspectors can visit your premises at any time to check that you've had a fire risk assessment done and are in possession of all necessary documents in compliance with occupational health and safety legislature.
Hire a reputable, government-approved assessor to do the required checks. Once you've met all the requirements, make sure you receive all the relevant certification. Find out how often to repeat the process in order to minimise risk and stay on the right side of the law.
Fire detection and containment
- Should a fire accidentally break out in spite of you taking all these measures, the earlier the fire is detected, the better chance you have of limiting the damage.
- Installing a fire detection system is a worthwhile expense, so you can contain the fire as soon as possible and evacuate employees if necessary.
- Make sure you have SABS-approved fire extinguishers placed at various points, especially in high-risk areas. Make sure employees know how to use them properly (this may require training).
- If your business is a high-fire risk, it's worth installing a sprinkler or similar system so a dangerous situation doesn't become a disastrous one.
- Even the best equipment will not help you if it doesn't work. Make sure your fire equipment is serviced regularly and complies with SABS standards.
If there is a serious fire, the evacuation measures you put in place will ultimately save lives. Time is of the essence, so it's important that your employees are familiar with your company’s evacuation plan.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do my employees know what to do in the event of a fire? Will they jump out the window/first try to take as much as they can with them/get in their cars and rush home?
- Do they know the number of the nearest fire brigade or emergency services?
- In the event of a serious fire, do they phone for help first or evacuate the building first? (In case you're wondering, they should evacuate first.)
- Are all fire escapes and exits clear of furniture or anything that may prevent someone from getting out in a hurry?
- Do my employees know where to assemble so you can take a roll call?
Taking the appropriate fire safety measures can not only save lives, but it could also mean the difference between minor damages or your business burning to the ground. When you think about it that way, there's no question whether these steps are necessary.