Creating a safe and healthy physical space for employees and other people who routinely access your business’ premises has many benefits.
For starters, it reduces productive time lost due to sick leave and workplace injuries; and in more serious cases, there are costs associated with recruiting and training new replacement employees.
Secondly, the small business owner may be deemed responsible (e.g. through negligence) for harm experienced by customers and suppliers, opening the way for criminal and civil suits which could bankrupt the business or cause significant reputational damage.
In South Africa, there are industry-specific occupational health and safety guidelines, regulations and standards (e.g. for the mining, chemical, construction, education and hospitality sectors) which have been developed by the South African Department of Labour and other role players. Depending on the size of the workforce (i.e. 20 or more employees), South African legislation also prescribes that there should be a certain number of health and safety representatives (drawn from employee ranks) who receive training on an annual basis. S
mall business owners should be aware that health and inspectors from the Department are authorised to enter any premises to inspect documents or infrastructure. Concern about health and safety in the workplace is therefore also a compliance issue.
Effective voluntary measures that small business owners can take to promote health and safety in the workplace are:
• Conducting ergonomic assessments - e.g. checking that chairs and desks used by employees are the right height, checking the intensity of lighting.
• Encouraging employees to exercise and lead healthy lifestyles – small business owners can set aside a modest weekly/monthly budget to buy healthy meals and snacks for employees; employee gym memberships can be subsidised.
• Putting up visible warning signs notifying people of potentially risky situations.
• Recognising that emotional and psychological stress (e.g. resulting from bullying or harassment) can be just as detrimental to well-being and taking punitive action where cases have been reported.
• Installing an alarm system and making sure the equipment is fully functional at all times, and the service provider can be relied upon to provide a quick response.
• Ensuring that electrical equipment is well-maintained e.g. there are no exposed wires without insulation, plugs are earthed correctly.
• Providing regular cleaning services to prevent insect infestations and the spread of disease.
• Making sure there is a fire extinguisher on hand, and there is always at least one person available who knows how to operate it.