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Free health & safety files and the impact on industry

Following an outcry from Safety practitioners on the news that SHEQFile is launching free health & safety files for download, SABizonline took a look at the impact this initiative will have on the Construction Industry and why this lucrative industry of “file building” is now facing some challenges.

Costs vs Profits

Small contractors in South Africa often do not have the resources to establish their own safety systems. Many cannot afford full time safety personnel to create their own files, and projects are too few and far between to warrant this expense. They rely on safety consultants to provide them with files for each project, some even at tender stage, before they know if they will get the job or not.

This has resulted in a lucrative money making racket operated by the safety fraternity since 2003. Some unscrupulous practitioners simply copy and paste stuff from the internet and then charge the contractor for their “intellectual property and skills” anything from R800 to R25 000 for a file.

With the free health & safety files being made available to construction contractors, they can create their own files and just ensure they have the competent people on site to manage H&S.

The benefits from these free health & safety files are:

  1. A huge annual saving for the industry as a whole
  2. A gradual move to a standard of the H&S file for construction
  3. An overall reduction in construction delays when it comes to the “file” approval process.

Profit vs Loss

File Factories on the other hand are obviously going to loose out, once this initiative proves effective in realising the benefits above. So we can foresee an initial increase in the rejection of these free health & safety files, which may be of a very high standard, out of pure jealousy. During an initial announcement of the initiative on social media, a Graduate SAIOSH member and Safety Manager of an American manufacturer of personal protective equipment, immediately indicated these files will be rejected by her. This serves to prove the level of abuse within the file approval system. One cannot wonder why a person would make such a bold claim, if these free health & safety files have not seen the light yet. Nobody knows what it looks like, what’s in it, or how the contractor will make it specific to the project, but “reject” is already shouted via the rumour mills.

The reality of the matter is that File factories will have to adapt to a changing market. The lucrative industry is about to get an arch-rival and abuse of authority is the wrong approach to take.

Innovative consultants will hopefully see the benefit the free health & safety files will bring, and will be more supportive in their role as advisors to the industry. But those whom everybody hoped would “disappear” with the registration process, are going to be the biggest “rejecters” of these Free health & safety files.

The OSHAct are ineffectively applied.

There seems to be an overwhelming large number of Safety practitioners that have lost sight of the purpose of the OSHAct, and were sucked in by the slipstream of trends like sheep following sheep. While the intended purpose of the Act is to protect people from injury and illness, health & safety practitioners have become the protectors of companies against liability. And while this may have rightfully originated in the Construction Industry, competition within the over-supplied H&S market, has resulted in an exponential growth in the “demand” for H&S files outside of the Construction Industry. We have found transport companies, beauty salons, and even private households employing domestic workers, making enquiries on where they can buy these files.

It has become evident that the H&S File is slowly overtaking the OHSact as the primary driver of H&S compliance, but sadly, to the detriment of the South African workforce as a whole.

A Piece of String

When you ask a H&S practitioner what must be in a H&S File, you will get the answer to the “length of a piece of string”. Any number of documents can be required, regardless of its relevance to the OHSAct. It all depends on who types the index to these files. Some files seeks to comply with the Income Tax, BCE Act, BBBEE Act, Companies Act, Labour Relations Act, etc, etc, where very few attempts to address HSE related laws outside of the OHSAct. The NEMA, the Health Act, the Waste Act, The Biodiversity Act and Air Quality Act are all part of the HSE sphere and almost never included in these H&S File indexes.

It is time CEO’s wake up!

Company CEO’s need to wake up and smell the coffee. It is time for CEO’s to start questioning where their profits go, and take a careful look at their H&S costs. We are not saying to reduce H&S spending, but suggesting you spend it correctly.

We did a quick cost benefit analysis on the issue and found that companies who employ safety officers  at the lowest possible salary in an effort to save on CTC payroll, are 10 times more likely to waste money on administrative systems and its impact.

A typical scenario recently presented itself, where a food manufacturer ran into some labour issues with 15 of their forklift operators who refused to sign their letters of appointment. The HSE manager just insisted to throw them off the machines for failing to comply with the law in fear of COID rejecting a injury claim in the absence of the letter of appointment. A blind man can see the motive behind this action.  It is not about preventing injury. It is about preventing an unsuccessful claim pay-out. Advice from practitioners on social media supported this idea,  but when the error was pointed out, he just said it is company safety rules. The refusal to sign a letter of appointment, valid or not,  is nothing more than an indicator of a toxic safety culture and has no benefit. No legal issue, and no safety issue is solved. Instead, the actions could result in a strike, or in the event of a dismissal, an unfair labour practice claim and wasted money spent at the CCMA. All in the name of “Safety”.

On the other hand, practitioners with sufficient experience and knowledge about H&S costs a little more every month, and will save large amounts of administrative costs, time and consumables, which in the long run, will outweigh their employment costs. Are we becoming penny wise?

We cannot help to wonder what the benefit of Legal Liability training is, other than to get a check on a ticksheet. In the case above, the labour issue can easily be avoided by reading DMR18(11) which does in fact NOT require a letter of appointment. It only requires an employer not to allow an untrained operator to operate a machine. This can easily be overcome by using a “training card” system, and issue cards to trained operators.

Likewise, CR23 does not require a letter of appointment, but written authority. This written authority is nothing more than a “permit system” and does not require the operator to sign it.

These and many other scenarios are illustrations of how the lack of knowledge of the OSHAct, adds to contents, policies, procedures and inspection forms, which takes money to print, people to check on, and time to comply with, all at the unnecessary cost of the CEO and the company. (Not including those who cost taxpayers huge fortunes in any case.)

FREE Files will benefit employees, and companies

The benefit of free health & safty files, as a baseline document cannot be criticized. We believe this is a step in the right direction to improve H&S in construction. It will reduce abuse, and will shorten the approval time. And as it is not Copyright protected, it cannot be plagiarised.

These files are not something new, but have been used by contractors working for some large companies and it also have been subjected to audits by Masterbuilders and the Department of Labour. Obviously the audit results were influenced by the commitment of the contractor and the level of assistance they received on site.

As to the question “Why are these files free?” the answer is “That is our secret.” But we will share something with you. For 10 years, the information on this website was free and it still is. For 10 years many people got the benefit of highly skilled professionals sacrificing their time and sharing their knowledge to the H&S fraternity. But when the previous owners introduced a paid subscription, the objections were quickly raised and many unsubscribed from the website.

Is it therefor not fair, that the same free service the H&S fraternity insist on, be provided to others?

The free health & safety files will only be available to contractors registered with the NHBRC, or the CIDB and have a COID registration number. Despite being free, it therefore also promotes legal compliance in other aspects of construction quality and risk management.

It is however designed to exclude access to people who intends to profit from it through resale.

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SABizonline is Africa's largest independent online Business Magazine, hosting over 1 000 articles and news items since 2009. SABizonline.net is owned by the Cygma Group, a global provider of business management and compliance solutions and is a registered digital publication.
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