What a disaster! Let’s talk about health and safety

With all the tragic stories unfolding in the wake of the storms in Cape Town and the devastating fires in Knysna and surrounds, disasters are top of mind for many South Africans.  As much as nobody can really prepare fully for uncontrollable and major disasters such as the aforementioned, we do need to keep disaster management and prevention in mind at all times.

Many people lose complete focus when they hear acronyms and when an acronym is followed by the word “Act”, it sends them straight into hiding.  Worst of all is when that Act is all about regulating safety and health.  Boring, right?

Unfortunately, too many people find the Occupational Health and Safety Act or OHSA boring, so much so that it is often ignored or at best, complied with very reluctantly and only because you have to “tick the box”.  Anything to do with Health and Safety is often ignored by the average person because it’s not really your thing and why can’t the building guy sort it out? Sad but true – disasters and accidents don’t discriminate, it affects everyone.

Accident risk management and disaster risk management touches us all and there are very crucial aspects in the OHSA which you should take seriously.

Did you know, that as an owner of a business, you are responsible for the safety of all your employees?  Not the building guy or the operations manager. You.

In terms of the OHSA, a CEO or owner of a company could be criminally prosecuted if the OHSA is not adhered to and even worse, should an employee, visitor or client get hurt due to such non-compliance, you have truck loads of trouble.

As a landlord, you have a responsibility in terms of keeping your buildings compliant and ensuring that all your tenants are compliant.

Any good Act is long and filled with detail and the OHSA is no different. Much like eating your way through a supersized gatsby, it is done so one bite at a time.  The good news is that there are elementary things which could be checked and complied with immediately, such as making sure that you have a copy of the Act available to all employees, that “glow in the dark” fire escape signs are in place or that your fire extinguishers are serviced.  Other items are more complicated and might require expert intervention.

To give you an idea of how you could practically approach OHS, I will just touch on the event of a fire.  You can apply these questions to any type of accommodation: to your rented business space, to your residence in a shared building and to your home, hotel or guest house.

  • should the main entrance be blocked, are people able to safely escape the building through an alternative route?

  • if there are gates and locked doors, could they be opened in the case of an emergency or will people be trapped?

  • where do we run to? I have no idea how the building lay-out works!

  • do I have anyone in my employ who are trained to administer first aid or are certified fire fighters?

  • can I actually use the fire escape door and the fire escape passages? Are they clear and safe to use?

  • do we have fire hydrants, where are they and how to they even work?

  • does my building have a fire alarm and a public-address system so that people can hear when there is an emergency?

  • does my building or premises have a fire detection system which is linked to an alarm or fire panel to alert people that there is a fire?

  • how will the fire brigade know we have a fire?

As you can see, there are so many things to consider! And this is just one element of health and safety.

Another aspect which is often overlooked by firms and yet a crucial piece of risk management, is a disaster management plan.

A disaster management or disaster recovery plan should be in place for the eventuality of an emergency or disaster affecting the premises from which your business operates.  For instance, if your premises is in the Cape Town CBD and it is announced that the whole of Cape Town is on lock down due to floods,  you can physically not get near your premises.  What is your plan? You have clients in other cities or globally, how will you continue your business or will everything just grind to a halt?

It is therefore very important to sit down with your firm’s senior role players and decide how you will operate in the case of a disaster.  Some of the questions that need to be answered are:

  • do we only have one set of servers which will possibly be annihilated in a disaster or do we have remote servers elsewhere?

  • who are the key people in terms of running the business? What other alternative premises can they work from?

  • which people can work from home?

  • who will be driving the process, i.e. main project coordinator? (by the way, it is a good idea to assign partners to each other so that the main coordinator does not have to contact everyone).

Grabbed your attention a little? It is never my intention to make you paranoid, but it’s important that you view health and safety prevention as a type of insurance – prevent as much as you are able to, so that you can be ready should something bad happen.

Don’t know where to start? Contact me at letsconnect@equivivere.com – we can have a discussion regarding your requirements or shortfalls, after which I can guide you on what is required and which professional (e.g. a fire consultant or certified OHSA trainer) needs to be consulted so that we can get you and your business right on track.


Copyright © 2017 by Natalie du Preez.

This article was written by Natalie du Preez and is original content,  which is property of the author, all rights reserved. This article or any portion thereof may not be copied, shared or reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the owner.

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