Occupational health and safety (OHS) officers have many different roles in an organisation; from creating a safety culture to administering first aid. SHEQ MANAGEMENT investigates the various roles and the necessary training required.

While an OHS officer’s main responsibility is keeping employees safe, the role has various subdivisions including purchasing personal protective equipment, implementing a fire safety plan, providing employees with the necessary safety awareness training and ensuring a safe work environment.

According to the OHS Act, it is the responsibility of every employer to provide a health and safety policy; provide and maintain a safe work environment; eliminate hazards or potential hazards; and provide information, training and supervision where necessary to ensure the safety of employees.

Every company, in any sector, with more than 20 employees should have a dedicated OHS representative. OHS officers take on many of the responsibilities assigned to the employer under the OHS Act.

Legislation states that an OHS officer is responsible for reviewing the effectiveness of health and safety measures at their organisation, identifying potential hazards, investigating incidents and reporting findings to the employer or the company’s OHS committee.

It is not necessary for an aspiring OHS officer to obtain a four-year degree. A certificate from a recognised body is sufficient and should provide the OHS officer with all the necessary skills. The University of Cape Town (UCT), for example, offers a ten-week certificate course through its online educational platform GetSmarter.

It includes subjects on risk assessment and control, managing hazards, machinery, health stressors and training, preventing and responding to fires, as well as managing health and safety performance. The certificate is accredited by the South African Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Saiosh).

Other institutions that offer OHS certificates include the University of Witwatersrand, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and National Occupational Safety Association (Nosa).

In addition to the OHS certificate, UCT suggests
courses in facilities management, practical labour law, operations management, foundations of project management and advanced project management to assist OHS officers.

Many OHS officers will also be the fire marshal for their organisation. Nosa offers safety courses such as fire safety and first-aid training. For industries such as mining, construction and agriculture, Nosa offers more specific courses. Its mining course offers OHS officers more information on reptile risk management, for example.

After acquiring the basic skills, it is important for an OHS officer to get recognition by joining a professional body like Saiosh. Organisations such as Saiosh and Nosa also host numerous events throughout the year to assist OHS officers to keep up to date with regard to best practice and new legislation.

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