All construction projects costing more than R13-million ¬– which is above the Construction Industry Development Board's level six grading – will, by August 6, have to apply to the Department of Labour (DoL) for a construction permit, according to local health and safety organisation the Institute of Safety Management (IOSM).
IOSM education officer Denver Vermeulen explains that, previously, no application for approval was needed and construction companies were required to only notify the DoL about a new project.
However, once the Project and Construction Management Professions Act 2013 and the Construction Regulations 2014 are promulgated, construction companies must submit an application that includes a baseline risk assessment of the construction project; the health and safety specification, based on the risk assessment. and a health and safety plan approved by the DoL.
Industry insiders tell Engineering News that construction companies will not be permitted to start construction on a project unless they have applied for a permit and appointed a registered professional construction health and safety agent to oversee the project.
Vermeulen adds that the criteria that health and safety inspectors must meet to approve an application, are yet to be published.
Vermeulen says the new construction laws will have significant ramifications for the construction industry. He adds that the industry is accustomed to a planning and permit process of about 14 days, but that the new laws will increase this process by a full month.
Although unable to provide Engineering News with an exact figure, Vermeulen warns that this shift in the industry norm is bound to be expensive for construction companies. He believes, however that, owing to the necessity and inevitability of these regulations, it is the responsibility of construction companies to deal with this proactively.
Vermeulen establishes that the new requirements for construction firms constitute mainly a restructuring of the somewhat ambiguous Construction Regulations 2003, rather than a series of completely new ideas and regulations.
He maintains that the construction industry is being forced to spearhead industrial change regarding health and safety regulations because of the industry’s poor performance history, but foresees that many other industries will soon follow suit.
He expects these changes to surface following the promulgation of the newly amended Occupational Health and Safety Bill, which is different to the Construction Regulations and is expected to be released in the first half of 2015. Although still to be released for public comment, it is expected that one of the amendments to the act will be an increase in penalties for noncompliant companies, which will face a maximum fine of R5-million, or five years’ imprisonment, or both.
Industry insiders highlight that the labour industry’s compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) is low, but that there are companies, particularly the larger ones, that strive to improve the conditions of their workers, the community and the environment at large.
There are many possible reasons why larger firms are more careful. Firstly, larger companies tend to have more industry experience and have realised the value of adhering to the OHSA. Secondly, as a general trend, about 20% of companies employ 80% of the workforce, therefore, larger firms are more likely to undergo investigation.
“For companies that don’t grasp their responsibilities in terms of the OHSA, the DoL is accelerating its programme towards ensuring compliance and the reduction of workplace injuries and diseases,” an industry source, who wishes to remain anonymous, asserts. The source adds that this is being done by appointing more inspectors, who are fully trained to assess the health and safety risks of the industrial environment.
It is believed that industrial management is slowly moving towards a positive attitude regarding workplace compliance to the OHSA and that the idea that safety costs money is slowly being replaced with the mantra that a lack of safety costs money.
The industry’s challenge is to get the message across to unconverted managers that reducing loss and injury in the workplace is just as important as enhancing profits. The King II and King III reports are important in this regard, as they require aspects of corporate governance to be reported. This means that companies with a poor governance record are identifiable, which affects investment.
Meanwhile, Vermeulen comments that a shift to greater health and safety awareness often requires a conversation that highlights the merits of achieving certain standards of performance, such as customer satisfaction, optimising productivity and maintaining a certain level of quality.
Further, it is crucial for managers to realise that occupational health and safety is part of a management strategy, similar to the way in which human resources, quality control and production management are part of good management strategies.
The health and safety profession is, therefore, not opposed to good management, but an essential component of it.
Vermeulen concludes that it becomes problematic when health and safety is regarded as a separate aspect of the business process, rather than an integral part of it.