Understanding Occupational Health and Safety – Risk Management for South African Business

Every South African business is legally required to provide a workplace that is free of risks and hazards, but how is this even possible if your organisation is a factory, hospital, or industrial mining site? Can you create a job site without any hazards?

In this blog, we’re explaining the risk management approach to Occupational Health and Safety, how to apply it to enterprise compliance, and what risk management looks like in practice. Risk management is the way that South African businesses can operate safely and remain in compliance with the law.

What is risk management?

Risk management is a process of understanding the risks and hazards associated with your business operations — and then taking steps to ensure that individual hazards are assessed, eliminated (or controlled), and monitored.

Businesses face 3 different types of risk in their operations:

  1. Strategic Risk — risk linked to the strategic decisions of the organization’s business leaders, for example; acquiring a competitor’s processing plant which could weaken the company’s cash flow and liquidity.
  2. Project Risk — risk linked to individual projects, for example appointing an IT project manager without a proper contract, which puts the company at risk that they could leave the company before the network is fully transitioned to the new hardware.
  3. Operational Risk — is the risk of loss as a result of ineffective or failed internal processes, people, systems, or external events that can disrupt the flow of business operations. These operational losses can have direct or indirect financial implications.

In this article, we’re discussing Occupational Health and Safety risk and compliance, but larger organisations will usually create a risk management plan for each area of concern

How does the intro relate to occupational health & safety risk?  Where does OHS fit in?

Occupational Health and Safety Risk management in practice

In practice, Occupational Health and Safety risk management has 4 key steps that perpetually operate in a circle, as follows:


What is risk management?

Occupational Health and Safety Risk Management is practice. Practise what?  I don’t understand.

  1. Identifying risks and hazards

The first area of risk management is to identify individual hazards by physically inspecting your office, factory, or remote site — documenting each hazard and area of concern. Hazards can range from an open tin of flammable paint sitting on a workbench, to a young worker being allowed to weld without sufficient training, to the interior of a grain silo. – what about the interior of a grain silo?

  1. Assessing business risk

Once you have a list of hazards your next job is to assess the level of risk — to your business and to your workers. This is called a risk assessment and we’ve included below a quick example of how a single hazard might be assessed.

  • What is the nature of the hazard? — An example could be physical injury to – nurses while moving their patients. Nurses are highly trained and critical to business operations.
  • What could happen? — Nurses could sustain back strain and other musculoskeletal injuries.
  • What could be the severity of the hazard? — Nurses may require immediate hospitalisation, then lengthy rehabilitation before returning to work. Their back could be permanently injured.
  • How likely is it to happen? — Individual nurses move patients 3-5 times per day. There are not enough lifting aids in peak times so nurses sometimes move patients by hand. The likelihood is very high.

As individual hazards are assessed they are normally given a risk score which allows you to create a priority list for action and control.

  1. Controlling -Risks

Hazards must be controlled according to the Hierarchy of Controls as outlined in the WHS Regulations (include a website reference here). When a hazard cannot be eliminated it must be minimised to an acceptable level of safety using a combination of:

  • Elimination controls — completely remove the hazard where possible.
  • Substitution controls — change chemicals and processes to safer alternatives.
  • Engineering controls — use equipment and machinery that reduces contact with the hazard.
  • Administration controls — implement safe work procedures, supervision, and training.
  • PPE — have your workers -use personal protective equipment to protect themselves from the hazard.
  1. Review control measures

The WHS Regulations also require you to monitor and review each hazard at regular intervals, to ensure that control measures are working and that new hazards that may have been introduced to the workplace have been addressed.

  1. Keeping records

At each step in the risk management process, records should be kept to document compliance and assist with monitoring and review.

Risk Management and Occupational Health and Safety

Risk management is a legal requirement of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 in South Africa.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 intends:

  • to provide for the health and safety of persons at work and for the health and safety of persons in connection with the use of plant and machinery;
  • the protection of persons other than persons at work against hazards to health and safety arising out of or in connection with the activities of persons at work;
  • to establish an advisory council for occupational health and safety; and
  • to provide for matters connected therewith.


Rapid Risk is one of South Africa’s leading – risk management software solutions, allowing you to replace spreadsheets with a solution that allows you to access, assess, control, and review all your risk assessments and Occupational Health and Safety data in real time.

Tools and techniques

There are loads of risk management tools and templates you can download over the internet — if you want to develop a risk management plan via a spreadsheet or Word document. But a more cost-effective and comprehensive approach is to use business risk management software which allows you to manage enterprise risk and Occupational Health and Safety risk all in one place — and in real time.  It also makes sure actions are not forgotten or overlooked, so you have comfort your risk strategy is being executed as designed.

A digital risk management system will:

  • Categorise risk into different areas (strategic, project, operational) so you can manage all your enterprise and Occupational Health and Safety risks in one place.
  • Use a sophisticated risk matrix to analyse the severity of risk areas and individuals’ hazards.
  • Give you the tools you need to determine root causes.
  • Allow you to assign correction actions and control measures to key personnel.
  • Act as a repository for operational procedures and Occupational Health and Safety policy.
  • Consolidate your data into a visual dashboard, accessible 24/7 by desktop computer, tablet, and smartphone.
  • Send updates and notifications in real-time as risks and hazards are identified, assessed, updated, or eliminated.
  • Perpetually monitor and review individual hazards by Occupational Health and Safety


Rapid Risk was developed (and updated) by the international quality standard ISO 31000:2018 Risk Management — Guidelines.

Looking for a better set of risk management tools?

If you’re looking for a better way of meeting Occupational Health and Safety compliance and creating a risk management plan that encompasses all areas of enterprise risk — reach out to the OVS Solutions team today.

Our qualified consultants will walk you through a free demonstration of our Rapid Risk software and show you how to customise and configure the system for the unique needs of your industry and employment sector.