The SA OHS Act health and safety file process causes delays, plagiarism and corruption. Labour inspectors seem to allow illegal trade in safety files.
Following years of criticism of the way in which the health and safety file process is enforced in construction, consulting practice activist Rudy Maritz called on the Department of Labour to resolve this ‘national dilemma’.
The construction projects and the industry are bogged down by the official vetting process, also referred to as the Safety File Approval Syndrome. See an article by Master Builders North safety manager Doug Michell and several comments by readers at http://sheqafrica.com/construction-safety-file/
Maritz writes; I invited a number of role players to find a solution to this problem with its negative implications for compliance, consulting, corporate culture, and ultimately for safety itself.
The best response I received was from an academic who pointed out that the health component of the health and safety file should be equally important.
How many consultants selling copied and pasted safety files have the ability, skills and training to address health and ergonomic risks? It is a legal requirement, but these elements appear in only four of the almost 2000 files I have seen since we started keeping records three years ago.
Safety files are not for sale
I realise that the Construction Regulations Amendment is due this month, in February 2014, but I do not believe the changes will resolve the problem. However the Department of Labour already has a mechanism to stop the File Approval Syndrome and to stop project delays.
Section 22 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act prohibits the sale of articles enabling compliance with a requirement prescribed by regulation or a health and safety standard, unless such a sale complies with that requirement.
The OHS Act defines a Health and Safety Standard as any standard, irrespective of whether or not it has the force of law, which, if applied for the purposes of the Act, will in the opinion of the Minister promote the attainment of an object of the Act.
A Client Health and Safety Specification falls within that definition, and most specifications refer to an HS File that complies with the Construction Regulations, which states that such as file is “opened and kept on site”.
The file is populated with content as the project goes along, with content referred to in the HS Specification, and the H&S Plan as opening documents.
In a presentation at the SAIOSH conference in November, Prof John Smallwood of the NMMU hit the nail on the head; the file is created at close-out. He outlined the content as follows;
1. ‘As built’ drawings and plans
2. Design criteria such as design loadings
3. Potential hazards included in the structure
4. Construction methods and materials used
5. Equipment and maintenance facilities
6. Maintenance procedures and requirements
7. Manuals (operating and maintenance) for plant and equipment
8. Location and nature of utilities and services.
This health and safety file is what the law intended. Prof Smallwood noted that the H&S File should be;
1. A record of information for the end user (building owner)
2. Alerts to those responsible for the structure and equipment, of significant HS risks that need to be dealt with during, construction such as alteration, refurbishment, maintenance, cleaning and demolition
3. Information for future HS plans.
The logic behind his argument lies in Construction Regulation 9(4) and (5); an owner of a structure shall ensure that inspections of that structure, upon completion, are carried out periodically by competent persons in order to render the structure safe for continued use, at least every six months for the first two years, thereafter yearly. Records of such inspections are kept and made available to an inspector on request.
Origin of File Approval Syndrome
The most popular argument in favour of File Approval is Construction Regulation 4(4); No client shall appoint a principal contractor to perform construction work, unless the client is reasonably satisfied that the principal contractor has the necessary competencies and resources to carry out the work safely.
Construction Regulation 5(10) gives the Principal Contractor the same duty. What better way to determine the competency of a contractor than to evaluate an HS File from a completed project?
If you really have to see what a fire extinguisher inspection form looks like, would a completed one not prove ‘competency’ more than a blank?
There are a variety of ‘approval’ requirements from a number of clients. Some want you to courier a blank file from Durban to Johannesburg, others want you do drive from Cape Town to George to get the local Labour office to stamp your notification of construction work before your file will be approved for a project in Laingsburg, if you want to comply with the HS Specification.
Here is a typical Specification for a Health and Safety File received from a client for my opinion. It was given to them by the Client Agent:
1. HEALTH and SAFETY SPECIFICATION
2. ACTS and REGULATIONS
3. ORGANOGRAM and ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE
4. LETTER/s OF GOOD STANDING
A. Third Party Insurance
B. BEE Certification
C. Tax Certificates
5. HEALTH AND SAFETY DOCUMENTS
A. Occupational Health and Safety Policy
B. Sheq Policy
C. Health and Safety Site Rules and Regulations
D. Health and Safety Inductions
6. CONTRACTOR LETTER OF APPOINTMENT
7. MANDATARY AGREEMENTS
A. Client Agreements
B. Sub-Contractor Agreements
C. Non-Disclosure Agreements
8. SKILLS MATRIX
A. Certificates/Proof of Competency
A. Quality policy
B. Environmental policy
C. Drug & alcohol policy
D. PPE policy
E. HIV policy
10. RISK ASSESSMENTS
A. Baseline Risk Assessments
B. Daily Risk Assessments
11. MANAGEMENT PLANS
A. Safety, Health & Environmental Plan
B. Emergency Procedure
C. Emergency Response and Evacuation Plan
D. Fall Protection Plan
E. Waste Management Plan
F. Traffic Management Plan
A. Health & Safety Organogram
B. Index of Appointments
13. STACKING AND STORAGE
14. METHOD STATEMENTS
15. SAFE OPERATING PROCEDURES
A. Audit Schedule
B. Audit Templates (Basic & Full)
C. Daily/Weekly Safety Reports
D. Health & Safety Representative Checklists
17. SHE COMMITTEE
A. Members list
18. INCIDENT INVESTIGATION AND REPORTING
A. Annexure 1
B. Near Miss Register
C. Incident Register
19. CHECKLISTS AND REGISTERS
20. PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE)
A. PPE Risk Assessment
B. PPE Registers
B. Petrol (unleaded 95/93)
C. Duct lubricant
D. Expanding foam
E. Isopropyl alcohol
F. Spraymate spraypaint
G. Grade 60/70 bitumen
22. AWARENESS TRAINING
A. Toolbox Talks and
B. Planned Task Observations
Daily Site Diary
In my response I asked if it was a spot-the-difference quiz, with items 5A, 5B and 9B being confusingly similar. The poor inspector visiting that site will have a hard time making any sense out of the HS Plan.
Health and safety file costs
Health and safety files are selling on Gumtree.co.za for as little as R850, up to R2500. This would include a complete risk assessment, a fall protection plan, an emergency plan, and legal appointments and inspection forms; an entire HSE management system in one file?
These files are pre-fabricated and have no relevance to the project. A hazard identification, assessing and evaluating the safety, health, and ergonomic risks and developing a plan of safe working procedures cannot take less than two days of work if you have all the information available, and do not need to drive around from the designers, to the engineers and back to collect information relevant for the risk assessments.
Health and safety file syndrome cure
No operator could determine or complete the contents of an HS File before Project Close-Out. At best, a File should initially contain information which the client and principal contractor should give for free.
In my opinion it is thus a contravention of Section 22 to sell, or offer for sale, a Health and Safety File that complies with these requirements. The practice of file approvals is against the letter and spirit of the law. I propose three optional solutions.
The construction industry should adhere to the process within the law; Specification, then Plan, Negotiate, Approve, Appoint, commence work, and file it later.
Alternatively, industry should review previous files as a means to determine competence of a potential bidder, and not hold up projects to see if a file with blank records contains copies of laws (even the Employment Equity Act must be in some files before approval).
The DOL should prohibit pre-fabricated files, unless the seller applies for exemption from the requirements of Section 22. This process should involve approval of the product to be sold as a blank template. It should then also be a condition of the exemption that the file must be provided in electronic format, allowing the buyer to edit it as needed.
Alternatively, a co-operative solution could be for the SACPCMP Code of Conduct to require a registered person to report another registered person not following the code, which includes (par 3.3) being objective and truthful in professional reports, statements, or testimonies, including all relevant and pertinent information therein.
Petty approvals versus health and safety
Two years ago I took a client file to a principal contractor for approval. It was reject on the basis that the content was in the incorrect sequence. He gave me a document titled “Index for Health and Safety File”.
I took the file back, downloaded a biography of Marilyn Monroe and copied the text between the headings of the Health and Safety Plan. Under the heading “Reinstatement of Road surfaces” it read in part; “With the movie contract came a new name and image; she… dyed her hair blonde. But her acting career didn’t really take off until… Her small part in John Huston’s crime drama The ASPHALT Jungle… That same year, she impressed audiences and critics alike with her performance… etc.”
The principal contractor approved the plan. I still have the file and the acceptance certificate. As long as we accept downloaded, copied and pasted HS Plans and files with a copy of content such as the Canadian OHS Act of 2004, we will suffer the syndrome and its symptoms.
As soon as the market no longer needs HS Files to get a contract, the health and safety file process and approval syndrome will be cured.
Clients and contractors should realise that health and safety is not a cheap practice, and not for sale on the web. Yet we continue to present files to engineers and designers with useless information. Small wonder they do not respect us.
• Rudy Maritz is part of the executive of the consulting institute NIOCCSA. He writes in his private capacity as a health and safety consultant.