Despite all the precautions taken to avoid human error, incidents are still a very real possibility, and occupational health and safety (OHS) officers need to have their fire and emergency systems in place to quickly and effectively respond to emergencies.

Even with the best policies, practices and personal protective equipment, companies are at risk of an incident, whether it be the injury of an employee, a fire or a natural disaster. OHS officers should have a plan in place to ensure that employees and the company can respond quickly and effectively to an incident. They can start by making all emergency contact information easily accessible and available to staff.

To prepare for a fire, OHS officers should conduct frequent fire drills to ensure that employees are aware of the procedures for when a fire does occur. Clear signs need to be placed around the workplace to help indicate what is required of employees and the alert systems, such as sirens and flashing lights.

OHS officers can also take the additional precautions of ensuring that all the fire safety doors, equipment and systems in the building are compliant with regulations. In September 2018 three firefighters died when a government building in Johannesburg caught alight. Jacob Mamabolo, Gauteng MEC for infrastructure development, claimed the building was only 21-percent compliant with safety regulations. It was suspected that the fire was started by an electrical fault.

In June 2017, the Grenfell Tower, a residential apartment building in London, caught alight and 72 people died. The building reportedly had uncompliant fire doors and a faulty ventilation and alarm system. It also had no external fire escapes, only one stairwell (not compliant with modern building regulations for high-rise buildings) and no wet main – a series of pipes running to the top floor with water actively circulating – for firefighters. If these safety measures had been in place, the loss of life could have been greatly reduced.

The Occupational Health and Safety Institute of South Africa (OHSISA) provides services and products to assist companies with fire safety. Pieter Henrico from OHSISA notes: “The reason why fire safety is so important is that it affects everyone in the workplace. Fires can lead to serious injuries to employees, a loss of company property and critical infrastructure damage.

“OHSISA provides a wide range of services for this purpose, from basic firefighting training to evacuation officer courses and firefighting equipment.” The OHS officer should have these basic skills or appoint a fire marshal to attend the courses. There should always be more than one individual who can act as a fire marshal in case one is ill or on leave. Ideally, fire marshals should not take leave at the same time. OHS officers should also make sure that fire extinguishers are available and filled, and that the contents have not expired.

OHSISA also offers the Fireball – the latest technology in fire prevention. Explaining how it works, Henrico says: “The Fireball is placed above a high-risk area. It does not need to be monitored or manually activated. Once mounted, it will go off only if there is a fire. When it comes into contact with a fire, the ball’s fuse will be lit and only then will it activate and extinguish the fire without any human contact.”

Since the Fireball is activated once in contact with a fire, it acts as a 24-hour fire extinguisher. It is also safer, as it doesn’t require someone to operate it. “Employees will be protected from fires even when they’re not around. Because it acts without the help of a firefighter (or any other person), the injuries caused by traditional methods of extinguishing fires will decrease,” he says.

To further assist with preventing and responding to fires, he advises: “It is essential that all health and safety policies are in place so that employees are competent in terms of the regulations. OHSISA is a one-stop safety shop.”

Companies are also at risk of intruders who might harm employees, equipment and property. There are several types of security services and equipment, including security cameras, gates and security officers. See page 84 for more information on security.

One of the most essential emergency services in any workplace is first aid. The OHS officers, or appointed employees, need to be able to perform first aid in the case of an emergency – especially where ambulance services might not be able to reach the individual in time.

Sarah Heep, marketing officer at St John South Africa, says: “The importance of having competently trained first aiders in the work environment cannot be stressed enough, which is why it is a legal requirement in South Africa. In any working environment, employees (and even customers) can become injured or fall ill while performing their work.

“It is important that they receive fast and appropriate first-aid treatment. Simply put, it can make the difference between life and death. Apart from this, loss of production hours due to accidents and injuries can have a huge impact on the company’s bottom line, not to mention staff morale.”

She adds that investing in the safety of employees through first-aid training helps staff become more safety-conscious and alert regarding potential hazards in the workplace.

“The Occupational Health and Safety Act No 85 of 1993, as amended by the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act No 181 of 1993, states that an employer must take all reasonable steps necessary under the circumstances to ensure that employees in the workplace receive prompt first-aid treatment in the event of injury or medical emergency,” Heep says.

The Act specifies that, if there are more than five employees in the workplace, the employer must provide a suitable first-aid box to assist in treating any injured employees. If the company has more than ten employees, the employer must ensure that for every group of up to 50 people there is at least one person readily available during normal working hours with a valid first aid certificate issued by an organisation approved by the chief inspector at the Department of Labour (DoL).

“St John offers a variety of hands-on first-aid courses suitable for offices, shops, restaurants and factory environments. Our training courses include CPR/AED courses, Basic Life Support (BLS), Fire Safety and Health and Safety in the Workplace. We can tailor our courses to match a client’s specific risk profile to ensure that all possible emergency scenarios in the workplace are taken into consideration,” Heep explains.

“A basic first-aid course, referred to as DoL, Document C – Level 1 training, will equip an employee with the skills necessary to provide emergency scene management and treat medical emergencies such as shock, unconsciousness or fainting, suspected spinal injuries, severe bleeding, various types of burns (including chemical), bone and joint injuries, and other medical conditions such as seizures, diabetic emergencies, allergic reactions and more. It will also teach the employee how to administer adult and child CPR and provide wound care.”

In order to act as a qualified first aider, an employee will need to complete the Occupational Part Qualifications/Skills Programme, which comprises three units that all need to be passed. Heep believes, however, that it is important for skills to be refreshed at least every six months as first-aid techniques are updated.

She advises companies not to skimp on this valuable training. “Employees are a company’s most valuable asset, and are legally entitled to work in an environment that is safe and is able to offer the necessary emergency medical care should they require it.

“No business can afford unproductive downtime due to a lack of safety standards and training in the workplace. Encourage regular safety days or drills. When staff are more aware of the possible safety risks within their workplace, they become more alert to dangers or unsafe practices generally, which can help reduce a company’s overall safety risk.

“Make sure that the first aid kit is regularly checked and refills ordered,” Heep concludes.

St John South Africa is registered in accordance with the provisions of the OHS Act, Act 85 of 1993 and is registered with the DoL as an Approved First Aid Organisation in terms of Regulation 3(4) of the new General Safety Regulations.

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