Wanted: Health and safety for emerging contractors
Small, medium and micro-enterprises (SMMEs) play a vital role in developing economies because they absorb a significant part of the unemployed labour force, but they need to focus on health and safety
In the South African context, SMMEs have the potential to be an engine for black economic empowerment and the reduction of poverty. The sustainability of the SMME sector can be promoted through the enhancement of the health and safety systems.
The International Labour Organisation estimates that only ten percent of people in developing countries are covered by occupational health and safety laws. South Africans are fortunate to have legislation governing health and safety and a Compensation Fund to protect injured workmen.
According to the Construction Industry Development Board Act of 2000 (Republic of South Africa, 2000), an emerging contractor can be defined as a person or enterprise, which is owned, managed and controlled by previously disadvantaged persons, and which is overcoming business impediments arising from the legacy of apartheid.
These enterprises are also termed small construction enterprises and small-scale contractors. Emerging contractors are generally characterised by limited capital resources, plant, equipment and managerial support, which negatively affect their ability to acquire skilled labour and employ professionals.
The ISO 45001:2018 guideline is applicable to all organisations, regardless of size, industry, or nature of business. It is designed to be integrated into an organisation’s existing management processes and follows the same high-level structure as other ISO management system standards, such as ISO 9001 (quality management) and ISO 14001 (environmental management).
ISO 45001:2018 enables organisations to implement a health and safety management system. It is intended to help them manage risks and improve their occupational health and safety performance by developing and implementing effective policies and objectives.
Although ISO 45001:2018 is applicable to all organisations regardless of size, emerging contractors may not have the capacity or capability to implement such an extensive health and safety management system.
The Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act requires employers to provide employees with a working environment that is safe and without risk to their health “as far as is reasonably practicable”.
Reasonably practicable in terms of the OHS Act refers to:
a) The severity and scope of the hazard or risk concerned;
b) The state of knowledge reasonably available concerning that hazard or risk and of any means of removing or mitigating that hazard or risk;
c) The availability and suitability of means to remove, or mitigate, that hazard or risk; and
d) The cost of removing, or mitigating, that hazard or risk in relation to the benefits deriving therefrom (OHS Act, 1993:5).
According to Ferrie (2009:31) the Act suggests that the employer does not have to provide absolute protection, but can use reasonable practicability to identify how far to go to achieve compliance with the law.
Reasonable practicality involves weighting up the risks and balancing these against the resources necessary to control them. Emerging contractors are faced with inadequate financial and organisational resources and have limited health and safety knowledge and preventative capacity.
The South African Council for the Project and Construction Management Professions (SACPCMP) is empowered by Section18 of Act No.48 of 2000. The SACPCMP is the designated registration body for construction health and safety practitioners operating in South Africa.
Further investigation is required to determine whether emerging contractors can afford to employ health and safety practitioners as part of the legal requirement, and how effective the registration of SACPCMP has been in terms of reducing injuries in construction.
My research incorporates “reasonably practicable” to indicate the relevance of a system that is feasible and possible to implement by emerging contractors.
The research will attempt to gain a better understanding of health and safety practices of emerging contractors in South Africa.
Initiatives aimed at enhancing the knowledge and capacity of SMMEs to combat health and safety risks and to prevent work related accidents can be of great benefit for small businesses and their workers.