To ensure that machinery and equipment does not pose a danger to those using it, safety and health regulations require the appointment of a competent individual in each factory or structural work set-up responsible for monitoring its safety and general condition.
The individual who is given this task is termed the responsible person. He or she must fulfil criteria laid down for this task in regulations issued in terms of the Factories and Works Act.
The term “responsible person” refers to an individual in a factory or structural work set-up who has been given the responsibility and authority to monitor and control the safety status and general condition of machinery, equipment and other installations in these areas.
The person is appointed by the user or occupier in writing. Details of the appointment are then submitted to the chief inspector of factories.
These should include the name, qualifications and experience of the appointed person.
Interviews normally then follow, during which the appointed individual must satisfy the chief inspector and any other members of the Regulatory Authority, who may be present, that he is fit for the functions delegated to him. If he is not, then the user or occupier will have to appoint someone else, who will also have to be interviewed.
The regulations define a competent person as “a person who has served an apprenticeship in an appropriate trade or who has had not less than five years practical experience working with machinery and who has a thorough knowledge of the machinery of which he is in charge, or which he is required to examine”.
A qualified person is defined as “a person who is able to submit documentary proof that he has received a thorough theoretical and practical education and training in engineering to the satisfaction of a competent professional institution recognised by the chief inspector and who has held a position of independent responsibility for the control and supervision of machinery”.
The Factories and Works (Machinery) Regulations RGN 302 of 1976 (Part 1) Section 3(1) state that:-
“All machinery in operation in a factory or used in connection with structural work shall be placed in charge of some responsible person appointed by the user in writing; provided that :–
“(i) where such machinery includes prime movers capable of developing 375 kilowatt power or more, or machinery operated by electric power of the motors which may be used simultaneously is 750 kilowatts or more, the person appointed shall be a qualified person;
“(ii) where upon any premises steam boilers of a rated capacity of 5 000 kilogrammes per hour or more are used, the chief inspector may require that a qualified person shall be placed in charge;
“(iii) in the case of a boiler operating at a pressure not exceeding 550 kilopascals or a boiler the capacity of which is less than 100 litres, the attendant shall be a person who is experienced in his duties.”
The statutory regulations also give the chief inspector authority to determine the size of machinery or premises a given individual can be appointed to be responsible for. This is done to ensure that control/monitoring is optimised and such an individual controls only volumes of work which are manageable.
The same regulations state that no person shall be appointed to be in charge of a boiler or other machinery used on more than one set of premises without the permission of the chief inspector.
The chief inspector may require a user to appoint more than one qualified person where, in his opinion, having regard to the size of the premises and the amount of machinery, it is necessary to do so. Each such person should be appointed to be in charge of a particular portion of the machinery.
The qualified person or competent person in charge of machinery is responsible for the maintenance in good condition of all safety appliances and devices and protective guards. He or she is required to stop the working of machinery, where it becomes or appears likely to become dangerous.
The responsible person, to be effective, needs to be fully conversant with all legislation covering factory operations and structural works. He/she must also be widely read when it comes to supporting documentation such as different specifications, codes and standards which are meant to optimise the safety and health of workers.
The individual needs total support from management and the workers themselves, to enable him/her to identify possible hazards and engineer them out.
Users should give the responsible persons they have appointed the authority and resources they need to perform their duties. Appointing someone as window dressing without giving that person the necessary authority and resources, defeats the objective of promoting safety at the workplace.
Where accidents occur, an investigation should be held. The accident investigation team must identify the cause or causes and recommend action to prevent a recurrence.
The responsible person is in terms of the law answerable to the chief inspector. Where fatalities or serious accidents occur, he/she may be liable to prosecution if found to be on the wrong side of the law.
The regulations cited above are quite old now, having come into operation in 1976. Industrial best practice has since realised that safety and health risks are not confined to the use of machinery alone. Only a portion of accidents at work is attributable to the operation of machinery.
Employers are now required to employ safety, health and environmental (SHE) professionals to co-ordinate all safety, health and environmental programmes including the general promotion and awareness of safety, health and environmental issues, behaviour based interventions, hazops (hazard and operability studies), due diligence, training and induction of workers, auditing, inspection and closing out of corrective and preventive actions.
In many countries (South Africa included), the appointment of a SHE professional in certain sizes and complexity of operations is now a legal requirement. Zimbabwe will follow suit in a new harmonised occupational safety and health law.
Talking Social Security is published weekly by the National Social Security Authority as a public service. Readers can email issues they would like dealt with in this column to email@example.com or text them to 0735 041 278. Those with individual queries should contact their local NSSA office or telephone NSSA on (04) 706517-8 or 706523 5.