“The common law and various pieces of legislation give employees the right to a safe working environment. Additionally, proper information about risks should be provided transparently so that employees can make informed decisions.  The courts have shown that they take this duty of care seriously, and employers need to think through the implications in today’s complex business environments.  One complexity is the growing flexibility in terms of working styles and workplaces. A company might have independent contractors or the employees of a third party working on its premises, and some employees may be working from home. Employers need to understand their duty of care in these cases because the courts are interpreting employers’s duty increasingly broadly, and the consequences can be severe for the company and the CEO personally”.

From Duty of care to workers is grave business, by Dr Van Loggerenberg is regional medical director, Southern Africa, for International SOS, which first appeared today in BDlive published by Business Day.


MOST organisations that employ a substantial number of people understand employers have legal and moral obligations to their employees. However, many small and medium-sized enterprises that employ more than 60% of SA’s formal workers, lack access to quality professional advice on their legal duty of care.

The proposed silicosis class action suit against South African mining houses is an example of how employees are increasingly turning to the courts when they perceive their employer has failed to create a safe working environment. As we become increasingly litigious, legal action against employers for perceived lack of safety standards and risk mitigation processes is likely to increase.

Changes in the law and heightened risks are making it essential for companies to develop a cohesive and comprehensive strategy that ensures they fulfil their obligation to reduce risks to their employees. The legal obligations are complex and ever-changing, but International SOS’s 30 years experience in the field shows that companies that take good care of their employees have a workforce that is more engaged and loyal, and that boosts the bottom line.

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In the case of employees working outside SA, it is important that the company has a plan in place to deal with incidents.

When employees are travelling or doing business outside SA, an impulsive response to an incident can set in motion a chain of events with unforeseen consequences.

It is very important that companies have processes in place, and that employees know what they are.

Such cases can be complex, especially as the host country will have its own legal framework relating to the duty of care.

The fund established in terms of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act should form the linchpin of employer strategies relating to the duty of care.

The fund provides comprehensive, tariff-based compensation for injury and illness sustained at work, and thus gives employees a reliable source of compensation.