Health and Safety Roles in the Workplace

Health and Safety Roles in the Workplace

Human Resources

Author: Delene Sheasby (

As the company HR Specialist, are you responsible for Health and Safety? Are you fully informed of your organisation’s Occupational Health and Safety legal compliance requirements? You do realise that for noncompliance of the Act, an employer (and maybe you) could incur both civil or criminal liability?

Have you heard about an Occupational Safety Practitioner or a Safety Officer or a Safety Representative? Surely these are more or less the same? The answer is no.

There is a difference and depending on the type of organisation you have (i.e processes, risks, and employees, environment), you may need one of or all of these):

The Occupational Safety Practitioner is a person who applies their expertise gained from a study of safety science, principles, practices and other subjects and from professional safety experience to create or develop procedures, processes, standards, specifications and systems to achieve optimal control or reduction of the hazards and exposures which may harm people, property and/or the workplace environment. The Safety Practitioner will have the necessary qualifications and experience to perform their roles in a competent manner and should be registered as a Professional Practitioner with a professional body.

The Health and Safety Officer is usually a full-time job, commonly (but not necessarily) appointed on a construction site, in which case the Health and Safety Officer must be in possession of a relevant formal qualification. The Health and Safety Officer, in the construction industry, must also be registered with the South African Council for Project and Construction Management Professions (SACPCMP) in order to work as a Health and Safety Officer.

The Health and Safety Officer-s tasks include:

  • Developing, implementing, and improving the health and safety plans, programs and procedures in the workplace
  • Ensuring compliance with relevant health and safety legislation
  • Identifying OHS-related training needs in the workplace
  • Conducting safety inspections and risk assessments
  • Investigating workplace accidents
  • Reporting on OHS-related activities
  • Supervising junior health and safety employees

The Health and Safety Representative is required to be designated in writing in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in workplaces where the employer employs more than 20 employees.

Health and Safety Representatives act as the liaison between senior management and employees, and may be responsible for:

  • Assisting the Health and Safety Officer. (if available)
  • Attending Health and Safety Committee meetings.
  • Identifying hazards and risks in the workplace.
  • Listening to and investigating OHS-related complaints from employees.
  • Assisting with the investigation of accidents that occur in the workplace.
  • Making OHS-related suggestions to senior management and/or the Health and Safety Officer.
  • See Occupational Health and Safety Act Section 18

The role of Safety Representative is not always a full-time job and sometimes takes on the above-mentioned responsibilities in addition to their regular full-time jobs. While Safety Representatives are also required to undergo relevant training to assist them in carrying out their responsibilities, they do not necessarily need to study toward formal OHS qualifications.

Some workplaces do not require a Safety Practitioner or a Safety Officer, However, usually Safety representatives will be in place. If this is the case, senior management must take responsibility for employees’ health and safety and not expect or rely only on the Health and safety representative for compliance.