Johannesburg - Labour inspectors would be empowered to push for the prosecution of employers who contravene the Occupational Health and Safety Act, an official said on Tuesday.

The inspectors' new powers came amid efforts by the department to strengthen labour laws, said its inspection and enforcement service deputy director general Thobile Lamanti.

Speaking at a risk seminar in Boksburg on Tuesday, he said employers would no longer be fined for contravening the act.

“For years, a number of companies had been budgeting for fines, in defiance and disregard of the law, and this will be a thing of the past.”

The labour department was also considering amending the Labour Relations Act, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the Employment Equity Act, the newly-introduced Public Employment Act.

Lamanti said a new regulation known as the major hazard installation (MHI) would be put in place to provide a medium for safe working environments and the protection of the public.

Labour spokesman Page Boikanyo said the MHI would enforce rules about the installation of machinery, equipment or any apparatus which could be hazardous to the public.

Lamanti said it was necessary to speak to concerned parties about the regulation.

“As a department, in times of economic distress and upheavals, we need to keep a vigilant watch on major MHI digressions to ensure safety of workers and the public,” he said.

“Major debates have been raging on over what types of installations qualify as MHI. The new regulations coming into force very soon will deal with a number of grey areas and provide clarity. We want to draw mainly from the experience of industry.”

Petro SA risk engineer Dylan Campbell agreed that control and responsibility of MHIs was poor and that the responsibility for MHIs currently lay with local authorities.

“In South Africa, the MHI process is detached from the planning process and therefore MHI's are rarely considered in land planning,” he said.

He recommended that competent and appropriately staffed organisations were needed to produce a good MHI regulation system. - Sapa