Occupational Health and Safety Act: Regulations: Ergonomics

The South African Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993 says explicitly that an employer needs to bring about and maintain, as far as reasonably practicable, a work environment that is safe and without risk to the health of the workers.

This means the employer must provide and maintain all the equipment that is necessary to do the work, and all the systems according to which work must be done, in a condition that will not affect the health and safety of workers.

Employers have a duty and responsibility to prevent occupational diseases and injuries relating to exposure to ergonomic hazards in their workplaces. This applies to all workplaces, even those we sometimes assume are safe areas and excluded from these regulations. Werefer specifically for example to offices and employees sitting behind desks.

The new Ergonomics Regulations

The new Ergonomics Regulations, in terms of section 43 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993 of South Africa, were published by the Minister of Employment and Labour in the Government Gazette on the 6th of December 2019. These require the employer to implement a programme to control the exposure of employees and other people affected by their actions, to ergonomic hazards.

Effectively this means responsibly managing human wellbeing and overall system performance.

So what exactly is Ergonomics?

According to the International Ergonomics Association, “Ergonomics is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design to optimise human well-being and overall system performance.”

Promulgated in December 2019 the Regulations were designed to:

  • Lessen discomfort and risk of workplace injuries
  • Improve efficiency and productivity
  • Develop employee engagement
  • Promote a proactive health and safety culture
  • Reduce costs

As an employer, this is what you need to know about the new regulations?

  • Implement an Ergonomics Programme 

As part of your existing health and safety programme, employers need to implement an ergonomics programme, which will help protect the health and safety of any person exposed to ergonomic risk in the workplace. 

  • Train Your Employees

Employers need to educate all employees and contractors about the basics of ergonomics, including what the risks are and what procedures have been implemented to address ergonomic-related issues. 

  • Consider Ergonomics

As far as possible, designers, manufacturers, importers or suppliers need to ensure that machinery, plant or work systems optimise human well-being and overall system performance. 

  • Implement Risk Controls 

An employer or self-employed person must, as far as is reasonably practicable, remove or reduce exposure to ergonomic risks by implementing control measures in accordance with the hierarchy of controls.

  • Implement Medical Surveillance 

A medical surveillance programme needs to be in place to ensure that ergonomic-related injuries/diseases are monitored and tracked. This programme must be overseen by an occupational medical practitioner.

The surveillance is three-part, firstly an initial, periodic and exit health examination.

  • Recognise Ergonomic Risk Factors? 

Job activities involving any of the ergonomic risk factors below may contribute to or result in an increased risk of strain and injury.

  • Awkward postures
  • Bending
  • Compression or contact stress
  • Forceful exertions
  • Insufficient rest breaks
  • Lifting
  • Lighting
  • Noise
  • Pushing, pulling
  • Reaching
  • Repetitive motions
  • Static or sustained postures
  • Temperature extremes
  • Vibration
  • Stress

It is important to note that it is NOT ONLY the physical Risk factors BUT also the Cognitive Risk factors that can cause “Health Issues” which can lead to stress and increases the risk of Musculoskeletal disorders.

Reg 8. Temporary Exemption

On 24 June 2020 the Department of Employment and Labour published a notice regarding the implementation of an Ergonomics Risk Assessment and Medical Surveillance and granted employers a temporary exemption from Regulations 6 and 8 of the Ergonomics Regulation. Therefore as of 1 July 2021, an employer is required to perform an Ergonomics risk assessment and place an employee under medical surveillance if:

(a) the Ergonomic risk assessment referred to in regulation 6 indicates
the need for the employee to be placed under medical surveillance; or

(b) an occupational health practitioner recommends that relevant
employees must be under medical surveillance

in which case the employer may call upon an occupational medicine
practitioner to ratify the appropriateness of such recommendation.

An employer must ensure that the medical surveillance contemplated in sub-regulation (1) consists of-

(a) in the case of a new employee, an initial health examination before the employee commences employment or within 30 days of commencement of such employment.

(b) a periodic health examination informed by the Ergonomic risk assessment, at intervals specified by an occupational medicine practitioner, but not exceeding two years; and

(c) an exit health examination informed by the Ergonomic risk assessment.

Offences and Penalties you need to be aware of

Any person who contravenes or fails to comply with any of the provisions of regulations 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10

  1. Is guilty of an offence and liable, upon conviction, to a fine or imprisonment for a maximum of 12 months and,
  2. in the case of a continuous offence,  to an additional fine not exceeding R200,00 for each day on which the offence continues or
    to additional imprisonment of one day for each day the offence continues:
  3. provided that the period of such imprisonment will not exceed 90 days.

In summary

Formulating an Action Plan

Employers have a legal and moral duty to create and maintain a management programme that ensures that their workplace is free from Ergonomic hazards and risks. These include:

  • Perform Ergonomic Hazard Identification and Risk Analysis
  • Establish an Ergonomics management and auditing programme
  • Implement supervisory controls to protect people against MSDs
  • Execute a planned procedure to strategically reduce Ergonomic risks
  • Ensure Ergonomic suitability of all tools, workstations, plant and equipment
  • A “Risk-Specific” awareness programme of Health and Safety Information, Instructions, Training and Promotion.
  • Reporting of possible MSDs to Supervisors and Health & Safety Representatives
  • Consultation and feedback at all levels

If you are unsure or require assistance here are our preferred training Specialists:

Ergonomic Training Provider Specialist:

Ergonomic Risk Assessment Specialist: