According to Pantelis Patric Eleftheriou, Managing Director of FTS Safety Group, despite the fact that the Occupational Health and Safety Act (1993) and Construction Regulations (2014) stipulate that every contractor or sub-contractor has to prepare a health and safety file specific to each work site, many choose to ignore this.
The Health and Safety File records all critical information and focuses on the proactive management of health and safety. Safety data sheets for hazardous materials, risk assessment, safe working procedures, a fall protection plan, necessary accreditation and training details of employees operating potentially dangerous equipment, first aid documentation and incident reporting procedures are just some of the issues that must be included.
A file is needed by everyone from construction companies to plumbers, electricians and shop fitters and even painters and carpenters.
But, Eleftheriou points out, this Health and Safety File is frequently regarded as a grudge purchase and, in tight economic times, is often the area where cash strapped contractors cut back. The only problem is that the owners of properties on which they are operating – including body corporates on residential housing estates or business parks and owners of residential, commercial or industrial facilities – are ultimately liable for any injuries that occur on their premises.
In addition to exposing them to massive claims for death or injury, employers of contractors without health and safety files also run the risk of extensive damage to their properties and stock. For example, a spark from a welding machine could ignite a massive fire.
“In South Africa currently two construction workers die every day while working on a site. This should be reason enough for all contractors to follow the procedure and embrace safety measures,” says Eleftheriou
This file is not just onerous red tape but actually also protects the SMMEs. A small business owner who cannot produce a legitimate health and safety file is not only likely to be prosecuted but could actually lose his business and face dire financial consequences following an accident.
Delays in producing a file could also result in lost contracts.
“The problem is that people become complacent and don’t understand the ramifications. For a small business it also shows that the company is competent, able to add value and do the job well,” he says.
With more and more tenders and contracts in both the public and private sectors stipulating that work needs to be sub-contracted to locally based SMMEs and enterprise development initiatives gaining momentum, Eleftheriou says the risks and the need for more stringent safety precautions will increase exponentially.
Already, accident and injury rates are high. According to OCSA, latest statistics indicate that two construction workers are killed every week. Anecdotal evidence indicates that employees acting unsafely is the cause of 80% of accidents. This will increase should figures from industry and the manufacturing sector were added.
“The importance of safety is beginning to trickle down. That means it will also get tougher and tougher for business who are breaking the rules to operate,” he warns.
Of course, there is also another side to the story. According to Eleftheriou, depending on where an SMME is operating, a health and safety file can cost anything from R5 000 to R20 000. This is a huge burden for a small company.
Small business owners are also often the victims of corruption and fly by night operators, having to dig deep to have a second file prepared when the original does not meet compliance criteria.
Worse still, many emerging enterprises do not even know about the legislation in the first place and do not understand the need to invest in safety and training in order to be complaint,” he says.
As a family business that understands the challenges faced by entrepreneurs, Eleftheriou says that the FTS Group can use its 33 years’ experience in both safety training and consulting as well as the sale of safety equipment to take the pain out of compliance and make it as cost effective as possible.
The idea is to bring down the costs of producing a safety file and to build an ongoing relationship with each small contractor through the creation of a health and safety file programme.
“We’re setting out to make safety, simpler, accessible and more affordable. For us, this is not a box ticking exercise for a contractor to get on site. Instead, we have created a programme that allows us to mentor a contractor so that he can fully appreciate the value of safety. We create a living document using our customised software. We can keep track of each company’s risks and any controls needed and, when that company requires another safety file, we have the necessary information to produce one within a maximum of 72 hours, “he says.
At this point, the price is also a far more manageable R2 500 – although Eleftheriou hopes to build sufficient volume within this side of the FTS business to actually bring down prices in the not too distant future.