Furthermore, the fund would investigate cases where individuals were permanently disabled and make payments in accordance with fixed criteria.
In order to gain an overview, the inspectors would investigate all workplace injuries and they inspect those workplaces in order to assess how the injuries occurred.
The Department of Labour can also pursue prosecutions against the businesses and, if necessary, against the directors of the businesses.
Notoriously, the Compensation Fund has been dysfunctional and over the past 20 years many individuals have complained about the lack of service, the lack of response and, in particular, the lack of payment.
Many businesses are still complaining about the non-responsive attitude of the staff and the administration. The fund’s new commissioner is trying his utmost to overcome the enormous backlog which he inherited and has put into place new systems to create a more functional and responsive department.
I still regularly receive complaints, queries and cries for help from the public. Once I have written to the commissioner I do get timeous responses, but one would expect the public to get the responses themselves without having to resort to direct complaints to the commissioner himself.
It must be remembered that people who are injured at work or going to and from work do have the state insurance of the Compensation Fund and do expect to at least be covered for their injuries.
Once this expectation is not met, it is easy to understand why the public expresses enormous negativity. This negativity has to be tackled and overcome as soon as possible.
Investigations have taken place with regard to the top 20 injuries at work and the fund is doing its utmost to see why these injuries occurred, how they occurred and in what way they can be avoided in the future.
For instance, an investigation conducted by the Department of Labour over the past few months shows that there were 1360 injuries reported with regard to the right hand, going all the way down to 500 injuries with regard to the right arm. We have also been given the statistics with regard to which industry reports the most claims, and that has been the food retail sector, which has reported 13327 injuries over that period.
Interestingly, forestry is almost at 10000 injuries. I am aware that the department is investigating both forestry and the food retail sector as to why this has occurred.
One particular retail group shows far more injuries than any other. We also see more male injuries than female injuries, and obviously most of the injuries occur in Gauteng and the Western Cape.
The inspectorate of the Department of Labour did respond immediately with regard to this particular retail group and visited the senior management and engaged them with regard to the types of injuries and the ways and means of avoiding them in the future.
The retail group was given a presentation on their performance in relation to the Compensation Fund figures of other companies in the same sector. That entire presentation was made available to the senior management of that company. In essence it is the duty of both the employers and the department to ensure that injuries are avoided rather than managed.
The department has promised to train and employ more inspectors and has conducted blitz inspections over the past few months, with follow-ups planned in the near future. The department has promised to not only investigate large companies, but also smaller companies throughout the country.
Obviously, Workmen’s Compensation must work very closely with the occupational health and safety (OHS) inspectorate and the legislation. The OHS Act does outline the general duties of the employer and self-employed persons. The larger the company, the more onerous it is for the company as they have a duty to have health and safety committees and health and safety representatives.
There are well-structured regulations on how instances have to be reported and how diseases have to be reported. There are general safety regulations in place pertaining to first-aid and emergency equipment, work in confined spaces and work in elevated positions. There are certain thermal requirements, as well as lighting and ventilation requirements.
One of the most important issues is that of fire precautions and means of escape. Staff should always have access to sanitation, drinking water and adequate facilities.
Hopefully, with the department moving towards prevention rather than cure, we will see better terms and conditions for staff across all industries.
* Michael Bagraim is a labour lawyer.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media